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Inclusion Starts With "I"

Inclusion, or rather exclusion, is something that most of us have felt at some stage in our lives.

We know when we have felt excluded.

We have watched someone been excluded.

And we know when we have excluded someone else.

We have all experienced each of these. Myself included. I know when I have spoken over others in my haste to have my opinion heard or wanted to conclude a meeting quicker or when excited about a specific topic. I have also been told my accent needs to be softer and mimicked in "jest" about how I pronounce certain words.

Inclusion is a sense of belonging and being valued in our families, communities and workplaces. It affects every single human being.

While everyone may have experienced it in some way it does affect some of us more than others though. I am the founder of a women's network and business. I am also a woman so I speak from this lens. At Back Yourself Mentoring I speak to women daily from all industries, sectors, roles and in different countries and cities.

One of the recurring theme is how to have your voice heard in a room where it looks different to you, and where you do not feel heard.

I believe that when we have a challenge that we need to have a conversation about it. A challenge shared and discussed, with a positive intention, and tangible solutions can make a difference. So I invited Amy Cahill to host one of our monthly Live Conversations to discuss and share her experience on "Inclusion In The Workplace - Where Do I Start?. She is an inclusion advocate, having initiated Diversity and Inclusion Forums and led the See it Be It Creative Industry programme for Cannes Lions.

Amy in her very elegant and clear way introduced the topic simply by clarifying inclusion is the ability for people to be authentic.

It is about being in an environment that regardless of who you are, you can be who you. Regardless of age, gender, colour, core beliefs, role, seniority, hierarchy. You belong.

With such a broad topic a one hour discussion cannot cover everything, so we focused on what can "I' do. Each one of us is responsible for being inclusive. So that can I do to be inclusive? How can I make a difference or a change? How can I safely raise it when I see someone else or myself being excluded?

Here are the top five tips I took from our discussion;

1. An Inclusive Culture Starts With you (Quote: Amy Cahill)

Inclusion starts with every single one of us. We cannot wait or pass the responsibility on to the CEOs, the Executives or HR teams. We need to find a way to use our voice and speak up. When each of us uses our voice, and we practice that muscle we can make a difference.

We can all be our own role models.

2. Ask For A Meeting And Voice How You Feel

One of the questions that is often asked is - how do I address behaviour that is not acceptable? And more so if they are more senior than me or/and my job may weigh in the balance?

If you notice someone has said or done something inappropriate it does not need to addressed in that moment. Ask them for a meeting afterwards. Before attending the meeting, prepare what you wish to say, practice it so you find the right worlds and allow yourself to let go of any burning emotions. In the meeting, explain the situation in question, provide the context, how it made you feel and why it was not appropriate. Share that you are raising this out of genuine care for the person and the environment of the workplace.

Most people will not realise what they said. The majority of people are genuinely good in the world. Trust that if you approach this in a non-judgmental way and with positive intention it will be received as that.

Practice with a colleague or friend first!

3. Inclusion Starts With Small Steps

Inclusion appears in different guises. When we see the need for change, we need change agents. Start with common and tangible pain points. Engage allies in the office, official or unofficial ones. You recognise those people that you know will listen and can present and collate areas that need focus on.

Start with a conversation. The conversations can be anything from raising issues like consistently working long hours, having to cancel days off due to client demands, excluding certain staff from projects, specific functions being unrecognised within the organisation, menstruation products in staff areas, offering non-alcoholic socials for all colleagues.

4. Find a Senior Champion To Create Inclusion

When you want to start a conversation or wish to create an initiate, find a senior champion. This person will influence and endorse the conversation. Someone who already recognises that there is an opportunity to make change, even if they do not have the capacity or skills to do so.

Be clear about what you want and start off with a clear objective. Build a team around you that is passionate and that are role models in the business already.

5. Be Patient

I have a core belief that everyone should exercise. I do believe that everyone should do some physical exercise. Try changing my mind! Until I spoke to someone that is suffering such ill health that she cannot walk more than one mile at the moment.

Conversations cannot be had once, and hey presto change happens! It may take ten times, twenty times even. It may take 6 months. It will happen though when you are speaking to someone who wants to be more aware and inclusive.

Voice what you are feeling, if you are feeling others will be too.

And if you feel like, this is above my pay grade or too big for me to tackle I will leave you with this story. A good friend visited me yesterday with her family, including her 11 year old daughter. Last year Anna, her daughter heard her cousin say that in their school they have no homework in the month of June. Anna was getting homework right up to the holidays. She went into school and asked 117 children in the primary school to sign a petition asking for the change to no homework in June. It was a long task to go around to reach and every child.

She then presented the findings on a pie chart, showing how many people wanted the change (unsurprisingly the majority), she also represented those that were afraid to vote in case the headteacher and other teachers would look unfavourably on them and represented also the percentage that were absent when the petition took place. She went to the headteacher who listened, took it away, thought about it. And then approved it. Isn't that incredible!

If a young quiet, thoughtful and courageous girl can make a difference so can you. So can I.

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