Why you might not be as inclusive as you think you are (and what to do about it)


This week I have either seen or heard several examples of people being disadvantaged, or even discriminated against. This is because of the characteristics that make them who they are.

Examples of people being disadvantaged, or even discriminated against:

  • The business owner unable to attend a network event of their choice because of a lack of wheelchair access
  • A special education needs (SEN) student who’s challenges were exposed for all to see because of their teacher’s (poor) teaching style
  • A mother wanting to return to work on different hours, so that she can care for the child she brought in to the world AND do a job she loves (which btw is good at) have her request for part time working turned down.

And we only have to read the papers to know about examples such as Ryanair and Phillip Green (ok so no one is surprised by Mr Green’s alleged behaviour, but even so!!!)

So, who are we really kidding when we claim we are inclusive, and that we value diversity and treat people fairly???

Not those who directly experience this treatment that’s for sure. Not their friends and family who have had to see their loved-ones suffer because of their treatment; and not those who get to hear about these incidents.

Yet more and more organisations are claiming they are ‘fair and inclusive’.

They publish their list of policies on equality, diversity and inclusion. They state organisational values claiming they ‘value and promote fair-treatment and inclusion’.

They put posters up everywhere, and they say they have trained their people in both the legal and moral reasons for treating people fairly.

But if policies and value statements and training are the answer, why do we still see and hear examples such as the ones I have listed? I think there are several reasons.

Barriers to being fair and inclusive:

  1. Leaders of said organisations think a policy, a few written statements, and a training session are all that is needed to help their people do the right thing. They don’t look at the wider approaches that support a culture of inclusion
  2. People don’t have time to think (we live in a very busy world)
  3. People don’t think – they can’t or don’t want to
  4. People are actually biased – it’s a fact! Us humans are biased (OMG – shock horror!).

People may choose to be biased. This is something known as ‘conscious’ bias (otherwise known as rude, prejudice, bigoted, narrow-minded, intolerant and/or just-not-very-nice-people).

Or they may be blissfully unaware (not that ‘blissful’ is probably the right description, so let’s use ‘unconscious’).

Unconscious bias

This is a recognised human trait that occurs when people favour others who are like them and/or share their values (not that being unconscious makes it ok though – just for the record!).

What is ok though, is to accept that we are biased, even if we don’t at first recognise how. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that we are perfect and that we have created the perfect environment.

Let’s challenge ourselves as to what our unconscious bias is, so that we can be conscious to it, and therefore be mindful of it.

Do a test if that’s what floats your boat. Try the Harvard test (link below) – go on – I dare you ;-).

For me it’s easy though – if we ask ourselves how we would want our loved ones to be treated we may just stop and think.

Would the person in charge of the network event have wanted a friend isolated that way? I doubt it, and so they would probably choose a venue that provides access as standard.

Would the teacher of the student with SEN have wanted their child exposed like that? You bet they wouldn’t, they would want teaching methods that are adaptive, supportive, nurturing. Not ones that disadvantage individuals because of what makes them them.

And would the manager who said ‘No’ to the flexible working request have wanted their partner’s career cut short or their child to miss out on the benefits of having a working parent? Nope – I suspect they’d be expecting someone to be more accommodating if it were their partner and their child.

Be brave – take a stand

Be that event organiser who says no to the venue because they are not disability-friendly.

Be that teacher that treats their students as if they were their own.

Be that manager who can be flexible in the way they organise their team to work so that they can attract and retain the best people.

Be Google, who have sacked 48 people (including 13 senior managers) over sexual harassment claims since 2016.

Be human!

More importantly, be human!

Recognise that a policy and some statements about values are not enough, recognise that being inclusive requires a mindset that starts with challenging ourselves and our bias.

To take the test to see how unconsciously biased you are click here

Click here for my blog on diversity and inclusion

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