How to be Inclusive

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Do you remember when you were a fresh grad and everything was black or white? You were sure of yourself and quick to censure those who fell below your high standards. Then life taught you a thing or two about yourself. That you have defaulted on the very values you were all high and mighty about. And that you are biased

and judgemental. In fact we all should being our career with an honest declaration. This acknowledgement is the first step towards being inclusive. The brain is wired to jump to conclusions but while it is human to form opinions instantly; those opinions may not be valid. So when I meet someone new, I consciously ask myself “why do I like (or dislike) this person? Is that a good enough reason?”

Key: Doubt first impressions 

Being an inclusive person can affect every aspect of your life. You can start by greeting the watchman (he works 12 hour shifts at minimum wages). A wonderful consequence of acknowledging people is that the whole world seems brighter. You encounter smiling faces, nods and familiarity. If I choose to ignore those who cannot benefit me, then I will live in a very small, a very boring world. So I’d rather take an interest in everybody and everything. Respect people to inspire respect and awe.

Key: Be friendly and approachable

By excluding disabled kids from studying in regular schools, we disable normal children from being able to interact with people having different abilities later in life. Inclusion means acknowledging difference not ignoring it. When you allow access to minorities and give them a place at the table, you are really saying ‘I see you.’ I am aware of your presence and your place in the world. And I truly believe that accidents of fate alone do not define a person.

Key: Accept unique identities

Did you know kind people are the most attractive people? Give me accommodating, helpful and humble people over busy, rushing, aggressive, brash people any day. There is always that one team everyone wants to join. You can spot this team from afar, their body language will be relaxed and they will be noisy too. Everyone will speak up and each will feel free to call for attention to his or her point of view. Yet the team leader will be easy to spot.

Added bonus: you are sought after!

Inclusive people have a broader world view so they are more relaxed. When faced with intense stress at work, they carry their weight lightly as they are ever mindful of their privileged position and aware of what things are really important in life. A family and friends, a home and a pet! That’s more than what 90% of the rest of the world has.

Key: Recognize privilege. (Surprise: it’s a stress-buster!)

Of course it’s tough to become inclusive overnight. That journey begins at home; how weaker members of the household are treated, whether harsh words are used to resolve conflicts and how ‘success’ is defined.

Key: Kids observe and kids imitate. And they are the future

There is a flip side to Inclusion. And that is including you as a shareholder in the wellbeing of your community and organisation. So the problems of the organisation and community are your problems too and you must contribute to finding solutions. If I am going to stand on the side as a spectator, then I have failed in my larger role as citizen or loyal employee.

Key: Get involved

I once led a team of four and had to hire an additional resource. HR sent two candidates, a girl and a guy both with 4-5 years’ experience. It was a tough choice and several years ago we did not have a ‘diversity’ target. He was the son of a bureaucrat, suave and well-spoken. She was the first ‘working girl’ from her community and it had been a tough journey. He seemed the better ‘fit’ and looked the part. So I hired him and it turned out to be a mistake. Had I given points for her persistence and ‘can-do’ attitude, I would have hired her.

Key: Bad decisions often have their roots in bias

So how do we build an inclusive culture?’ The question can be answered simply – through clarity on vision and acting out that vision. I believe behaviour at workplace is definitely influenced by the work ethic set by the leaders and peers. The top management should convey their vision of inclusiveness and fair practice by adhering to set norms in all aspects of the business. Human resources should also clarify what is acceptable or unacceptable workplace behaviour through awareness training.

Key: Don’t assume compliance, actively influence corporate culture

Many a career women owes her success to bosses or mentors who threw out resignations, overlooked career breaks and even swallowed temporary under performance. They never gave up on her and supported her while she overcame these hiccups.

Key: Never give up on people with potential

A colleague once asked me “can you calculate the exact value of an employee to the organization?’ We will pay a sign-on bonus and higher pay to attract top performers but what about existing employees? Do we recognize their value? I have analyzed exit interviews of hundreds of ex-employees and most of the time they actually quit their Managers. An employee who has spent years with the company is a valuable source of information about team dynamics, culture and required change. Listen to her. Listen to your vendors too.

Key: Seek feedback

Being polite and diplomatic is highly underrated. A gentle reprimand from a Manager who is normally mild carries the same weight as choice expletives from a habitual abuser. Here, we women bosses have to walk a tightrope. Too mild and your feedback may be ignored! Follow through on warnings and give regular feedback- preferably in private.

Key: Extend simple courtesies

For business leaders, being inclusive means leading diverse teams – and that team includes not only the good performer but the average and bad performers too. Market conditions change faster than employee capabilities; you have to prepare and train your team as new hires are expensive and risky. And while appraising performance, take cognizance of the ‘luck’ factor too. A bull market may prop up the fortunes of the trader. A sluggish economy or killer competition may defeat the best of efforts and skill.

Key: Be aware of the context

Often I am told by Companies we have 20% minorities or 30 % women. But I ask them to show me their top management composition. Companies with hundreds of employees can hardly call themselves inclusive if their boardroom contains clones. Being inclusive really comes down to giving maximum importance to merit and competence alone. And that’s why it makes business sense. In fact ethics, inclusion and sustainability are related. The future of work may be dramatically different but the ‘right thing to do’ will always remain just that. The values of ethics and equal opportunity will continue to be the rock-solid foundation on which the organization can survive for a 100 years.

Key: Be genuine; inclusion really is the best strategy

Being inclusive is not only about hiring a diverse team. It is about unpalatable decisions and forgoing short term gains for long term benefits. It’s about supporting everyone at the table: the introvert, the cross-industry hire, the Gen Z, the activist, the woman back from mat leave, the gay person who just came out of the closet and (in the near future) the competent man who reveals that he’s actually a robot. And that’s no easy task.


Author- Priyanka Awasthy is an experienced specialist in Diversity & Inclusion, Employee engagement and corporate social responsibility. She has founded two non-profits and an HR Analytics firm. She is a Mentor to women entrepreneur networks and advisor to knowledge centers and non- government organizations. She has worked at senior positions in banking and financial services. She leads the Cormorant consulting group.

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