The past few weeks, I've been thinking over and over again trying to rationalize how to best foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity. This in the context of creating a productive work climate of trust and respect.
I think it is fair to say we all want other people to feel welcome and respected. Where that gets difficult is that feeling welcome and respected means something different to different people. What seems harmless to you could be hurtful to another. For example, some people tend to be more concerned about the use of crude or sexual language than others. It's a complex issue based on a range of factors including gender, race, age, geographical location and more. There is also a lot of academic research about the fact that derogatory and vulgar language or sexually graphic behavior creates a hostile environment. These two facts combined, makes it a popular topic in the context of diversity and inclusion.
However it is not just a popular topic, it is also a very difficult topic. Why do we feel defensive and argumentative when confronted with a value and belief system different from our own? It is one thing to challenge someone's take on, say, a country's healthcare system, it is another thing to challenge someone's beliefs. Challenge someone's beliefs, and you challenge their sense of self.
Given all this, is it possible to be inclusive of everyone? For example, can we be inclusive of those who are easily put off by sexually graphic or vulgar language and at the same time be inclusive of those who often use crude or sexual language? Does supporting one group of people mean turning away others? I hope not, but I'm not sure. Can we find a balance when we have conflicting behaviors? Sometimes we need to change behavior (eg. tone down or refrain from using bad language), and other times we need to understand when no offense was intended, and try to accept and accommodate cultural differences.
Answering these questions to define our culture is very difficult. It is even harder to put them into written rules. I strongly believe that being inclusive is a mindset first. It is about wanting to be a good person to all other people. Once you have it in your mind that you want to make others feel respected and comfortable around you, you'll find that you'll be looking for ways to do so. The key is to be appreciative of our differences. If you show respect and sincerity and remain open to hearing differing opinions, we will automatically become more aware of how our actions affect people different from ourselves. We'll automatically become more inclusive and more diverse.
By the same token, being appreciative of how we are different also means you should be willing to give the benefit of the doubt in case you are offended. It's only through fostering an environment where it is safe to make mistakes and learn from each other that we can achieve diversity and inclusiveness in our community.
Last but not least, it also presents a tremendous opportunity to learn about new cultures. I hope to learn from people who are different than me and talk honestly about our differences. If you are one of these people, I hope to ask you questions respectfully to learn more about how your values differ, and would love to find out how you want to be treated.
I'll continue to think about how to best foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity, but I wanted to stop and listen first ...