Inclusion is a difficult concept to quantify. How do we know if our efforts to include another person are successful? What does it take to make someone feel included? How might someone else perceive our attempts at inclusion?
These are perhaps some of the questions we ask ourselves when contemplating the possibility of initiating interactions with someone we might not know very well. These are also the questions that can lead us to do nothing at all when it comes to reaching out. And while these fears or insecurities are valid and can certainly be surmountable, perhaps the most worrisome aspect of inclusion is when we don’t realize we need to achieve it.
Say a new person at work has joined your company. You’ve been very proactive in introducing yourself to him, you say hello when you pass him in the halls, and the two of you have chatted in the office kitchen. You feel certain that you have done a good job of being friendly and making this new coworker feel included on the team. However, you and a couple other coworkers have a regular coffee run to the local cafe every afternoon. You don’t think to invite your new teammate because it’s a tradition that the three of you engage in regularly.
However, this new coworker happens to love the cafe you get coffee from and can’t help but feel slightly excluded at not receiving an invite. He doesn’t tell you this, nor does he feel brave enough to invite himself.
The Lack of Inclusion
Is the above example a very minor instance of lack of inclusion? Of course. But this lack of awareness about inclusion is also visible on a larger scale – say the controversies in Hollywood over neglecting to nominate people of color for the 2016 Oscars, or the consistency of all-male speaker lineups. Though no one can say whether these instances of exclusion are intentional, they are certainly present. And the first way to address a lack of inclusion is to be aware of it.
The Benefit of Inclusion
So once you begin to be aware of what inclusion truly looks like, you might wonder how does being proactive benefit you? Naturally, inclusion spreads kindness to another person or group of people, but what it also does is break us out of our own boxes.
Many times, we live in segmented existences, working alongside people who are like us. We form friendships with similar minded (and looking) people, and often our neighborhoods and families are filled with more people who are like ourselves. And while it’s important to feel comfortable and safe in our environments, we also can’t grow as much without challenges or diversity.
Including other people into your circle who are new and different works to break up this monotony, and also helps to build cultural awareness. With this in mind, it’s up to you to lead the way. Let your inclusion behavior light the way for others to follow. Be the one to invite that new coworker to your coffee runs with you, or to befriend someone from a different background than yours.
If everyone relied on other people to lead the way or start a movement, then nothing would get done. Don’t be afraid to take that first step. You might just make a bigger difference than you realize.