We can interpret diversity and inclusion in many different ways. Kate Beales reflects on how we are all learning to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to practicing inclusion in the workplace.

This is a moment of change for many people. The interruption to normal working life and the move to virtual work gives us the chance to think how we can further shift our organisational cultures and make them more inclusive.

Working on virtual platforms in lockdown has already led to some positive outcomes.

  • Virtual platforms at work are a great leveller and can reduce the sense of hierarchy. No-one is taking up more space than anyone else at the meeting – we are all in exactly the same sized box. And everyone, from the top down, is dealing with competing work-at-home commitments, homeschooling our children, sharing an office with a teenager or spouse, or managing a barking dog while on a call!
  • The egalitarian nature of the virtual platform means that we are less likely to make assumptions about others based on first impressions. For instance, I worked recently with a client who is eight months pregnant. She is very happy that it is up to her to manage when she reveals her pregnancy to people, rather than it being the first thing people notice when they see her.
  • I’ve also been working with a facilitator who uses a wheelchair. She has pointed out that on Zoom, she is for the first time sitting at the same height as everyone else at the meeting and has the same amount of mobility within the visible frame.

This change of mindset and associated behavioural change can stimulate true cultural change. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at Manpower Group and professor at University College, London and Columbia University says: “behaviours, not thoughts, should be the target of diversity and inclusion interventions”

One of the verbs in the title of this article is “Practicing”. In the theatre, we understand that it is through practice and rehearsal that we adapt and change not only our behaviour but the thoughts that go with it. We don’t wait until everybody is thinking differently to try something new – it would take forever! Instead, we begin by trying out new behaviours to see what new ideas emerge. We “fake it till we feel it.” An actor, like a musician or a sportsperson, will practise, over and over – until it feels right. And they will always understand that there is more that could be done!

Rather than just thinking it would be a good thing, we all need to practice empathy, perspective taking and listening in order to move beyond lip service and build real, open-minded relationships and inclusive cultures at home and at work. Let’s all try walking the talk.

Here are some ideas:


1) Empathy

Understanding that other people have lived experiences that we can’t share – and that the fact we can’t share them doesn’t mean they don’t exist

Empathy practice: Pay attention to your conversations. Are you expressing interest in another person’s experience and acknowledging the emotions they may be feeling, or simply waiting until it’s your own turn to speak? Are you hiding behind the culture of your workplace, allowing ‘the organisation’ to be an excuse for how you deal with real people?


2) Perspective-taking

A willingness to accept that it is possible to see things from angles other than our own – even when that requires deep humility and vulnerability on our part

Perspective-taking practice: Pay attention to what you are doing when others are speaking – particularly if they are saying something you don’t agree with. What happens if you change your position – sit at their side, for example, rather than directly opposite. You will quite literally see what they see and it may help you to experience their point of view.

What happens if you breathe deeply – does it help you to relax and listen?

Is your body language open or closed? To be congruent, it helps to embody our metaphors – so if you would like to be perceived as open-minded for instance, it’s useful to model open body language.

The other verb in the title of this article is “Embracing” – and while it’s obviously a metaphor, try experimenting with approaching conversations about inclusion with your arms in an open position, rather than folded shut.


3) Listening

True listening is not about telling others what to do or attempting to solve their problems for them. Instead, it is about taking time to understand what they are saying – even when it’s a difficult truth.

Listening practice: How can you take the time and prepare yourself to listen effectively? What are the distractions that prevent you from giving others your full attention? How much are you thinking while the other person is speaking? If your own inner voice is the loudest thing you can hear, take a deep breath and try to focus on what is actually being said. Are there any emotions behind the words? Do you hear anger, frustration or anxiety? If so, feedback that you have heard those emotions and check your understanding. Listen beyond the words in order to support your colleagues and get to the bottom of what they are trying to tell you.


4) And finally… Storytelling

Through our stories, we learn about the world. What stories are we telling ourselves? Are they stories that support – or challenge – our own world views? Are there other stories we could listen to, in order to develop empathy, broaden our perspective, and practice listening to those whose voices may not traditionally have been given space to speak. Try watching this amazing TED talk, The danger of a single story, by award winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to learn more about the danger of having only one perspective.


If we are willing to take time to work on these behaviours, we may find ourselves truly able to practice inclusivity.


Some more useful links on this topic: 

Kate Beales

Kate Beales is a Senior Facilitator at Visionworks.

For more information on how we can help you improve your presence skills and practice inclusion, please contact us.

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