Inclusiveness is not about thought policing. It’s also not about turning everyone into a liberal.
It’s a normal learning process for humans to apply our latest discovery to everything we encounter for a while.
When my former neighbor’s young daughter learned about the physical differences between boys and girls, for days she did nothing but talk about anatomy and ask adults in the supermarket about theirs. When my dad learned about the cultural differences between generations, he processed everything he observed from that perspective for several weeks. An incessant social scientist, I chuckle every time I notice the way I filter the latest current event through the lens of my “latest religion” with the zeal of a recent convert.
Typically, we integrate our latest discovery into a richer, more balanced worldview. But when it comes to diversity and inclusion, too many organizations stay stuck in their own “latest religion” with potentially dire consequences. They embark on the well-intended mission to create a more inclusive culture, and soon find themselves off the path hitting landmines or sinking in quicksand because they’re indiscriminately inclusive.
Creating a more inclusive culture is not about including everything and everyone. To obtain meaningful results that matter without causing more problems than it solves, inclusion must be strategic, rooted in your existing organizational identity, values and business goals. High-performing organizations and teams are effective because they have a clear sense of purpose, expressed in clear goals. Having a clear identity is necessary to fulfill those goals, and identity is influenced by values. Whether conscious or not, every organization has values that are expressed in rules that dictate which behaviors are rewarded and which are rejected.
Organizations should not abandon their values, identity or goals for the sake of inclusion; in fact, being serious about inclusion will hone them. This may result in new rules. Just as it’s OK to exclude employees who come to work inebriated or who punch customers in the face, it’s not just OK to exclude employees who speak and act in alignment with white supremacist, misogynistic or homophobic belief systems (if those are counter to your values). It’s necessary. Expecting employees to share a certain set of values and behave in a particular way is effective leadership and is not oppressive or exclusive. While it’s always critical to review policies with legal counsel, in general you’re not depriving anyone of their freedom or right to work by taking a clear stand on what’s acceptable in your organization, just depriving them of their freedom or right to work for you. You’re also depriving them of their ability to disrupt your culture and interfere with your goals. To allow such disruption and interference is poor leadership that lets down your high performers and loyal customers!
While taking a clear stand on what and who you will include, there are three important considerations.