Could it be that... Society

Inclusion is the new diversity?

Composite image of a diverse group of people superimposed on a woman's profile

Composite image of a diverse group of people superimposed on a woman's profile  

Diversity has become a cold word enunciating our differences into otherness. Inclusion, on the other hand, is the element of reaching out to connect and to support

I once worked with a man from a thinktank — someone who goes to Davos and hobnobs with the biggest names in the development sector. He told this very inappropriate joke at a meeting: A group of three, him included, sat together discussing research work. They realised they were all Christian men, and the only element of diversity they had was that one of them (my colleague) was brown. They joked about having more diversity by including a single black woman, who was lesbian and Jewish.

I was too shocked to react but that’s the kind of conversation the word diversity leads to. It’s as if you’re doing everyone a favour by putting their names down as a part of the team. Much like in school, where the boys were asked to add two girls to the cricket team, and everyone groaned — the boys at having someone slow their game down, the girls at being talked down to, having decisions made on their behalf, denied a voice, and treated like crap once they were on the field.

Inclusion, on the other hand, is about seeing someone sit on the sidelines and asking them to come join a game, or about a person opting in and getting amalgamated into the team without a song and dance about how different they look or dress. It’s still not ideal, because the person is an ‘outsider’ until accepted, but it has less of a demeaning ring to it. Diversity is ‘allowing’ your son or daughter to marry ‘out of the community’ and then acting like you’ve done everyone a favour; inclusion is believing and saying to them that no matter who they bring home you’re only looking out for the couple’s happiness.

As someone who changed nine schools across 12 years — my father was in a transferable job, I didn’t get thrown out of schools — I was often faced with situations where I knew no one, and felt I stuck out like a sore thumb: I was tall, dark, and spoke in English, and very different from most students in the way I looked and communicated. I don’t remember any school that helped with inclusion, but I do remember that certain students took it upon themselves to help me in whatever way they could — showing me the bathroom, or sharing the time table with me. It is little things that go a long way.

It is this element of reaching out to connect, to support, that is inclusion. Diversity has become a cold word enunciating our differences into otherness. It’s a term used by a bunch of people who sit in privilege, ticking boxes patronisingly. Inclusion builds our resilience, and is a reflection of our emotional health in offering and receiving help; it gives us a chance to expand our being and a chance to belong. Diversity reinforces bias and stereotyping and is a buzzword used by ‘evolved’ HR teams to show how good they are.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:17:33 PM |

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