Why Diversity and Inclusion are Important — and Difficult

Engage in it anyways and be prepared to fail, over and over

Why Diversity and Inclusion are Important — and Difficult

An often repeated phrase is that diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard. If more voices are heard, then more people will feel valued and, if more people feel valued, then we will have achieved a noble goal. But if people feeling good is not a worthwhile goal, then the driver of that value toward higher performance and better outputs is at least an objective that most businesses understand.

Diversity and inclusion help people live better lives. It also solves a business problem — today’s workplace needs to reflect social values, the needs of the client, and optimize the potential of every individual. The way to do that is to recognize ourselves in one another and choose empathy over apathy, acknowledge that compassion for other human beings must extend to the powerless and appreciate how humanity has behaved inhumanely.

But this is hard. Our perspectives and theoretical frameworks inform the resolution of tensions between private and public interests. What happens when you climb the steps of ideology and fall off at the highest point? How a person approaches exclusion and assimilation is complex. We must humanize equality because the consequences are otherwise incomprehensibly inhuman. Inequality means being equals born into an unequal world and the harm we do, we do to ourselves. As Anatole France observed, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to be in the streets, and to steal bread.”

What is ultimately important is the effect of what is happening, the message of marginalization that is conveyed. Approaches to equality must recognize that the law is rarely better than the lawmaker and we must be mindful of our own myopic vision. It is better to persuade than to compel and only a few individuals have the opportunity to be born in opposition to one’s beliefs.

We have the opportunity to live in opposition to long-held beliefs. We can fight our battles not in the hope of “better, later” but with the knowledge that we can listen to one another’s remarkable stories and influence feelings by taking action. People cling to hate because without it, they must deal with pain. But psychological discomfort helps us learn and grow, contribute, and be recognized for doing better once we know better.

Diversity and inclusion are worth the effort. And we will get it wrong, over and over. We will ask the wrong questions, use the wrong terms, and even hold the wrong beliefs. The key is to stay connected to those things that unite people, not those that divide, and remember that life will present unexpected opportunities to learn and be vulnerable with another human being. It is hard to know in advance what those important moments will be, but the direction of our lives bends toward our convictions.

Instead of working toward diversity and inclusion, become diverse and inclusive. Look for ways to confirm your beliefs to be wrong and, when people take the time to explain, hear what they have to say. Build competency, not perfection, and strive to listen, learn, and grow — sometimes, painfully. What is the one thing that you can do today that will meaningfully change the systems of the future? What is the one thing that you can do today to change what goodness you find into greatness?

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