Simply put, Nova perfectly sums up the risk of losing sight of the word “Inclusion” in the acronym “D&I” and underlines the importance of proactively pursuing actions and attitudes that promote not only a culture, but also a sustainable modus operandi for all*.
If Diversity is a fact, Inclusion is an action.
More specifically: Inclusion is a set of measures, both large and small, that can be easily integrated into both the professional realm and into everyday life.
The good news is that improvement is easy and change always starts with us.
It is common to think that an inclusive model of behaviour has to do with others. Instead, it is important to start from ourselves and our own level of awareness, openness, and information on the subject. The more we work on ourselves, the easier it will be to be sensitive to others and the more natural operating in an inclusive way will be.
But where to start?
Here are seven simple strategies to become more aware about inclusivity in your daily life!
1 / Mindful communication: listen more, talk carefully
Communication is the first aspect to work on. Often, if used inappropriately, our words can express wrong intentions or create misunderstandings.
Here are some examples:
- When addressing a group, avoid using gender-specific words such as “ladies”, “dudes”, “men”, “guys”. Especially in the presence of gender non-conforming or mixed gender individuals, appellations may turn out to be misplaced, cause missgendering, and cut off group members.
- Listening is important. Do not interrupt. Don’t overtalk. Respect the time of the person in front of you, be attentive and sensitive to what interruption, over-talking and over-splaining may involve. To understand this concept better, it’s worth reading the following excerpt from the article “How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace” by Robin DiAngelo:
Another example: I am coaching a small group of white employees on how racism manifests in their workplace. One member of the group, Karen, is upset about a request from Joan, her only colleague of color, to stop talking over her. Karen doesn’t understand what talking over Joan has to do with race; she is an extrovert and tends to talk over everyone. I try to explain how the impact is different when we interrupt across race because we bring our histories with us. While Karen sees herself as a unique individual, Joan sees Karen as a white individual. Being interrupted and talked over by white people is not a unique experience for Joan, nor is it separate from the larger cultural context. Karen exclaims, “Forget it! I can’t say anything right, so I am going to stop talking!
- Use the right pronouns. Not sure about the kind of person you are talking to? Ask which pronoun they prefer to be called. Asking is a sign of care for the person you are talking to and a way to give them the space to feel comfortable with their identity.
- Avoid assertive language and words: Introduce your contribution with “In my opinion” or “According to my experience” or “Based on what I’ve read and learned”. Leave space for questions and replies, make sure you do not lecture when you get involved in a conversation.
- Do not dismiss or disrespect other people’s contributions. Make sure to be welcoming and open to what they say,regardless of whether or not you are in agreement. By using “I see your point”, “It’s a new perspective to me”, “I understand what you mean, but…”, “I never thought about it that way”.
- Avoid weird facial reactions. Making faces and expressing immediate feelings through your body language while interacting with others may freeze, discourage, or make your interlocutor uncomfortable. Make sure to remain neutral and think of how you can express agreement or disagreement by simply carrying on the conversation as mentioned above.
2 / Challenge stereotypes
Unconscious biases, prejudices, lack of information, influence of the media, and teachings coming from our cultural and social beliefs may all impact the way that we interact with others. For example, we are often informed by the beliefs and value systems we are exposed to, including through our family and friends and the things we learned at school. These deeply ingrained belief and value systems can also lead to actions and reactions that can sometimes be exclusive and unfair.
When we meet a person, it is important to try to recognize the power and/or biases embedded within first impression.
Listening and observing, as written above, can be of great help. Be present, don’t let your judgmental instinct influence the interaction. If you know that you are about to approach someone culturally or characterically very different from yourself, try asking yourself these questions:
- What are my expectations of the other person?
- Can I recognize stereotypical or unconsciously biased aspects in these expectations?
- What is the goal of the meeting, confrontation, conversation?
- What is a common interest?
- What could be my limits in dealing with this situation?
If you realize that in answering these questions there are elements that refer to purely identity aspects, such as origin, ethnicity, gender, culture, religion, education, financial background, try to exclude them from your mind and then try to focus on the goal of the meeting and the aspects that you might have in common.
In everyday situations, our cultural and educational patterns may be more difficult to identify. But it is a matter of practice.
Be aware of your reactions and thoughts: on the subway, while walking down the street, when in the office, at a party, at a dinner with friends,or in a restaurant.
What does your inner voice say? What are the details, insecurities, shyness, irritability that occur instinctively and can be observed and analyzed?
You can start with these questions to become more aware of your bias and try to deconstruct it, and you will see that it will be easier to interact in a more conscious and inclusive way.
3 / Avoid assumptions
One of the most common mistakes in everyday interactions is to make assumptions.
Assumptions are a difficult starting point because they take for granted that our audience shares the same requirements and experiences as we do.
Although assumptions are often developed unconsciously, it is important to recognize the moment when we apply them in our interactions with others.
- For example, it is important to avoid assumptions about the gender of the person or groups we are speaking with and always try to use gender inclusive language.
- It is important to avoid assumptions about one person’s identity marks: sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religious affiliation, level of information and education.
- You can challenge your immediate associations. E.g. Avoid questions like “where are you really from?” as it implies you are making assumptions about people’s origins or nationality.
Avoid terms like boyfriend or girlfriend, and use the more inclusive term, partner, instead.
- Avoid making comments about someone’s body or physical traits. Doing so may make people uncomfortable.
- If you meet a group of people, do not assume there are couples within it. Do not assume familiar relationships or socio-economic backgrounds based on their accessories.
- Do not assume everyone is equally healthy as you are. Consider disability as invisible as well.
- If you meet a disabled person, do not assume what they are able or not able to do something.
- Furthermore, it’s a good practice to avoid expressions like “As you all may know” or “As you all have experienced” or “As everyone knows” and similar.
4 / Ask yourself and others (the right) questions
As you may have understood from the previous points, a fundamental practice to be more inclusive is to ask questions.
Asking many questions helps in the process of awareness and discovery of the other, but it is also important to ask the right questions.
What does that mean?
Start with uncomfortable ones:
- How much do I know about realities that are not similar to mine?
- How might my positions and beliefs be limited and/or limiting when approaching those of others?
- Am I informed or educated enough on a given topic?
- Is my opinion required? How does my intervention contribute to the conversation?
- By using my language, am I really giving space to everyone to participate in this conversation?
- By using my body language, am I really giving the chance for everyone* to feel safe and comfortable in joining the conversation?
However, asking questions without going beyond our own cultural patterns can lead to answers that reproduce the same structures of thought and attitude.
If you think that the questions to yourself do not lead to much, try to involve someone who, in your opinion, can help you.
Before asking questions, make sure that the person you are asking feels comfortable and agrees to talk about the topic or answer certain questions.
Create a safe situation for the other person, make your intentions known, and respect the boundaries of the discussion, making it clear that they can stop when they want to.
When you start with the questions, respect the response time and have a safe conversation: don’t interrupt, don’t insist if you notice discomfort, don’t press the person with further questions, and listen carefully without being distracted.
5 / Be aware of your privileges
Talking about privileges can be difficult and often very uncomfortable.
However, being aware of our own privileges is a crucial first step to adapting a more inclusive attitude.
A privilege can be defined as “a right, license, or exemption from duty or liability granted as a special benefit, advantage, or favor” (“Diversity and Social Justice — A glossary of working definitions”).
Privileges are social, political, and cultural constructions that are translated into hierarchical relationships in our everyday and professional lives. Part of a broader system, these constructions are solidified through structural and institutional dynamics, and they serve to reinforce fabricated societal divisions based on perceived or constructed divisions and/or pretenses.
The discourse around privileges is often translated into a discourse around situated power relations between different groups in a given context. It can refer to White Privileges and to discourses around identities.
Privileges can be institutional, personal, societal, physical, political, etc. and operate through different levels, situations and forms. Identity marks as white, male, middle class, heterosexual and western are commonly understood as “privileged conditions”.
Privileges generally are not created at a personal level. Rather they are the products of the artificial divisions that are perpetuated by the structures, systems, and institutions that exist in our world.
Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge how this system of privileges works and also where we position ourselves within it.
We also need to consider how this position may affect individuals situated in less privileged positions, according to the same system.
If you want to read more about privileges, I recommend the following authors: Tim Wise, Robin DiAngelo, Paul Gorski, Peggy McIntosh, author of the 1989 article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”.
6 / Be proactive in educating yourself on the topic
Critical Race Theories, Disability Studies, Queer Theories, Gender and Women’s Studies, Feminist Critic, Psychology, Antrhopology, Sociology, Medicine and further disciplines are constantly researching about Diversity, Inclusion and Equality.
By doing a simple research online, you can find many essays, articles, reports, academic and non-academic resources on the topic.
Don’t have time or desire to read articles or reports? Try to follow Instagram accounts of people who advocate on the topic, accounts that educate about inclusion and equality. There are also many youtubers, bloggers, Facebook pages that can help you better understand the dynamics of marginalization, discrimination and exclusion. It doesn’t matter which channels you use to inform yourself, but it matters that you do it in a proactive way.
Don’t wait for the people affected by the problem to show you how to be better. Everyone is responsible for improving their own reality, everyone has the power to change things and learn how to make the world more livable and sustainable for everyone. Doing your part by educating yourself proactively is a fundamental step to becoming a supportive ally.
Working collectively and feeling part of a community with common goals leads to more effective and suitable results for all.
7 / Stay open, stay curious, and do not fear mistakes
Becoming and remaining inclusive is a process, not an objective to be achieved. As in all processes, it is important to remain open and curious, to continue looking for opportunities to learn about various topics. To remain open and curious means, above all, to attract people and situations that allow us to challenge (both in a positive and negative way) our beliefs and our cultural and personal patterns.
Negotiating our spaces of knowledge and experience is a healthy way to interface with others and to broaden the spectrum of knowledge and awareness about both ourselves and those around us. Doing so creates an environment where everyone can feel accepted and valued.
However, it is important to remember that, as with every process, not everything comes immediately.
It is not always easy to question one’s own patterns and change behaviours. Therefore, it is not always a linear path. Taking the risk of becoming better for oneself and for others means not being afraid to make mistakes and not being afraid of feedback. Instead, feedback — both from our own reflections and from those around us — is a vital tool in teaching us how to become more inclusive both in the present moment and in the future.
Do you want to learn more about Diversity, Inclusion and Equality?