Workplace Inclusion | 5 Min Read


The Individual Inclusion Journey: How Inclusive are YOU?

Kalpana Tatavarti

Founder and CEO, Parity Consulting

In their quest to create inclusive workplaces, organizations in India are setting in place many policies, practices and processes; the focus primarily is on addressing the differential needs of diverse groups (gender, generation, differently abled, etc) besides unconscious bias training for employees.

And this Organizational Inclusion Journey is important, to counter the unconscious biases in systems & cultures and provide equal opportunities for all groups.

It has resulted in bringing in diversity into the workplaces; but the real business driver behind this, which is harnessing diversity, is still a challenge. To be skilled in leveraging diversity, requires each one of us to consciously work thought the Inclusion Pyramid… which is primarily an Individual journey; I call this the Individual Inclusion Journey.

How do YOU respond to differences? 

Aware: Do you consciously watch for how others are different from you? I remember one CEO sharing how the style used by one of his team during a tough customer negotiation, was distinctly different from his own: a very soothing and non-confrontational style.

“How are you different from me?”

Accept & Appreciate: What happens to you when someone is thinking differently from you? Has an opinion different from you? Has a different style of decision-making? The VP of a BPO recently was railing against her manager who had a very hands on style of managing people & performance and trusted only the same style. Her own style leaned more towards delegating & empowering, which delivered results too. But the Manager rated only team members who manifested her own style as hi performing! This is not at all an uncommon scenario.

“How does the difference play out?”

Respect: I recently rejoined my gym and hired a new trainer, Murli, since my old trainer had left for newer pastures. As I finished my first session with Murli, I was seriously considering replacing him. He seemed very disorganized and unplanned. I was using the template of my old trainer who was very methodical in explaining every week the approach for our workout. This suited my very organized and methodical mind perfectly. Murli was different, he had a plan in his head and would randomly (it seemed to me) work with a variety of equipment & body parts. I invited him for a chat and then understood he had an eclectic approach to working out. But to even invite him for a chat and to listen to his approach, required me to ‘respect’ that perhaps his different approach had value. It requires me to suspend ‘judging’ without waiting for and observing results.

“Is this difference delivering results? How can this difference add value to optimal performance of team?”

Leverage: Once we are able to the value of the difference, the question now is to identify any challenge or peblem and leverage the differential strengths of the team to solve the problem. The CEO and his report can combine their complementary strengths of confrontation & harmonizing to enable an optimal negotiation; the VP and her Manager can integrate the best of both their styles to create optimal teams & performance. And I can use my methodical style to complement Murli’s eclectic approach to fitness.

“How can I leverage this differential strength to solve a problem?”

By our very nature, we are uncomfortable with differences (goes back to our primate response). Differences make us feel threatened and out of control. They can also generate mistrust. To be able to leverage diversity, conscious effort and training is required.

I believe there is tremendous opportunity (and an urgent need) in training and coaching leaders & managers through this Individual Inclusion Journey: the ability to appreciate and leverage others’ diversity… of experience, background, perspective, working style.

Inclusion should be (and will soon be) a critical leadership competency.

Diversity initiatives currently seem to focus too much on bringing in diversity and addressing the differential needs of ‘different’ people; and too less on leveraging the differential strengths of ‘different’ people.

Once each one of us is able to respect, appreciate and leverage our differential strengths, a culture of inclusion will prevail and attract diversity. And once we see the value of differences we will also seamlessly adapt to differential needs.

This is true inclusion.

To read more of Kalpana Tatavarti’s writing visit her blog, woMan work life, at Follow woMan work life on Twitter and Facebook

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