Inclusion Gone Wrong: How You Are Making Things Worse

It’s true, I am not going to commend you for creating a diversity, equity, or inclusion program or goal. Adding it in doesn’t mean you deserve a pat on the back. Let me be very clear, it isn’t enough to add it to your strategic plan, your HR manual, or even to intentionally recruit underrepresented groups to your company or organization. I’m here to tell you that what you are doing is not good enough and can do more harm than good.

Here are a Few Stories of Bad Inclusion

There is a local company and a nonprofit and a leadership group - I won’t name names but they all have an important issue in common. Their diversity plans have failed. All of them made a diversity goal and over the past few years they have intentionally sought and selected people of color, people with lived experience in poverty, people that identify as LGBTQ, and so on to be staff, volunteers, or board members. On face value the groups are more diverse than ever. All of their efforts, while rooted in a good place, have instead had a considerable amount of negative consequences for the “diverse” members of the groups and offices. While the stories and details are different, the results and issues are the same. Below you can read some of the pitfalls and advice on how not to do inclusion badly.

Preparing for Diversity - Do Your Homework Ahead of Time

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When you change the dynamics of a room and include more underrepresented groups, you need to re-evaluate everything from a minority lens. You need to examine everything from the perspective of these new members and their lives including timing of meetings, content delivery process, the content itself, the leaders, the agenda, etc. For instance, will your newly diverse participants/staff/volunteers be able to attend a daytime meeting without help with transportation or childcare? Will you need to change the language you use to be more inclusive? Will you need to analyze your content or presenters to create a more diverse environment?

Making Minorities Work Too Hard

People with lived experiences gathered together in a room with an otherwise homogeneous group are going to get exhausted if you haven’t adequately prepared yourself to help the rest of the group improve their equity intelligence. What do I mean here? If you don’t set the stage clearly, then systemic racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia will crop up in a room and as the minority representing this specific group they will be forced to work and educate the full group and people, it is exhausting. It also leads to a retention problem because who wants to work that hard to fight systemic issues at work or while volunteering as a member of group?

Baseline Education + Language

I think we can all agree that racism is bad, that homophobia is problematic, and that sexism is inappropriate. But most people suffer from some level of unconscious bias. When you intentionally diversify a group, you must bring everyone up to date on language and complete basic equity training so otherwise well meaning folks do not inadvertently disparage people in the room. It’s important that everyone has a baseline on what to say and what not to say; to understand the inherent bias in common words, phrases, and actions; and practices the ability to receive feedback, reflect, and correct their actions.

At the end of the day, lazy inclusion won’t work. You must marry any equity plans with hard work ahead of time to prepare your company or organization.