Podcast Ep. 59: Radically Rethinking Inclusion: A Bold New Approach to Succeeding Together

Mar 24, 2021

In this episode of The Forum Podcast, Rebekah Steele(Rebekah Steele | Diversity Breakthroughs) and Alison Maitland (author, speaker, coach) discuss the “INdivisible approach” as a way to radically rethink “feel good” inclusion initiatives.

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Global disruptions unveil the limits of isolated “feel good” inclusion initiatives that fall short of driving the systemic transformation needed for all to thrive. The “INdivisible approach” offers a more effective way. Linked to business priorities and social impact, it helps an organization harness the “collective superpower” of a full mix of people by weaving inclusion into how it operates. This approach addresses behaviors and structures as well as feelings, and engages everyone – sr. leaders, managers, and individuals – in collaborative innovation and accountability for impact.

As a whole-system framework for sustainable results, The INdivisible approach considers both internal and external dynamics, helping organizations demonstrate leadership and impact in addressing broader disruptions and opportunities including climate change, Covid-19, and Black Lives Matter.

Learning Outcomes
  • Discover how to overcome the limits of piecemeal efforts with a whole-system approach to inclusion
  • Deepen understanding through a case example of a comprehensive, business-linked inclusion strategy
  • Gain practical insight into immediate steps to initiate your whole system approach to inclusion

Sponsored by

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The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Voice Over: The Forum on Workplace Inclusions 2021 Podcast Series is sponsored by Best Buy. More diversity in tech means more ideas that can change the world. Learn more at bestbuy.com/moreofthis.


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Ben: Hello, and thank you for joining us for today’s podcast Radically Rethinking Inclusion, a Bold New Approach to Succeeding Together, sponsored by [00:02:00] Best Buy. Today’s guest are Alison Maitland of Alison Maitland Consulting and Rebekah Steele of Rebekah Steele D&I Breakthroughs. Co-authors of INdivisible Radically Rethinking Inclusion for Sustainable Business Results. I’m Ben [unintelligible 00:02:14] program associate here at the forum. Global disruptions unveil the limits of isolated feel-good inclusion initiatives that fall short of driving the systemic transformation needed for all to thrive.

The indivisible approach offers a more effective way. Linked to business priorities and social impact, it helps an organization harness the collective superpower of a full mix of people by weaving in inclusion into how it operates. This approach addresses behaviors and structures as well as feelings and engages everyone, senior leaders, managers, and individuals, in collaborative innovation and accountability for impact. As a whole system framework for sustainable results, it considers both the internal and external dynamics, helping organizations demonstrate leadership and impact in addressing broader disruptions and opportunities, including climate change, COVID-19, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Join us to initiate your innovative transformation with a whole new approach to inclusion.

In this podcast, you’ll discover how you overcome the limits of piecemeal efforts with a whole system approach to inclusion, deepen your understanding through a case example of comprehensive business-linked inclusion strategy, and gain practical insight into immediate steps to initiate your whole system approach to inclusion. Alison Maitland is a business author, coach speaker, and facilitator specializing in leadership, inclusion, and the changing world of work. She has co-authored two previous books, Future Work and Why Women Mean Business, a former long-serving journalist with the financial times.

She is a senior fellow in human capital at the conference board and a senior visiting fellow at The Business School, formerly Cass London. [00:04:00] She is chair of the school’s Global Women’s Leadership Program, executive board, and was director of the conference board’s European council on diversity and inclusion in business for nine years. Rebekah Steele is a business strategist, innovator, and speaker with deep expertise in diversity and inclusion. Building on two decorates in the corporate world, including as a senior leader in Fortune 500 companies, Rebekah launched her consultancy focused on the intersection of diversity inclusion and human-centered design thinking.

She helps leaders in business government and non-profit organizations bring progressive strategies to life via her signature, D&I Innovation Labs, and distinctive ecosystem design process. Canada-based and globally engaged, Rebekah speaks widely on the next generation D&I and is also a senior fellow and council director with the conference board. Thank you so much for being here, Alison and Rebekah. I’m really looking forward to our discussion today.

Alison: It’s great to be here.

Rebekah: Yes, thanks.

Ben: I thank you so much for sending me a copy of the book. I really enjoyed reading it and I learned so much and so many different views of inclusion. Let’s just jump right in. Your book sets out an expansive vision of inclusion. Alison, can you start by telling us about that?

Alison: Yeah, sure. Of course Ben. Well, we really believe that organizations need to be and indeed can be much more ambitious with diversity equity and inclusion. For us, diversity is that vast mix of individuals, identities, talents, experiences, perspectives that are out there in the world and in the workforce. Diversity actually gets most of the attention. Inclusion’s often neglected. It’s a bit like that [00:06:00] poor relation, but you really can’t seize the opportunity of diversity without inclusion.

We say that inclusion is harnessing what we call our collective superpower, the collective superpower of diversity and goodness me, do we need that collective superpower right now? I mean, businesses and society facing hugely disruptive challenges, both internally and externally. We’ve got the climate crisis, this COVID-19 crisis, the challenge of deep-rooted systemic inequities, and other challenges like the challenges and opportunities presented by artificial intelligence. Really to find innovative responses to these challenges to create a sustainable path to the future, organizations need to call on the ideas on the perspectives, on the experiences of the broadest possible mix of people.

I’d like to give you three really important reasons why companies must focus their attention on inclusion, performance, preparedness, and purpose. First of all, there’s a wealth of research that shows that inclusion drives business performance in many different ways. Just for example, improving collaboration, improving innovation, reducing risk, and enhancing customer relationships. Second, there’s that being prepared for the future. To take an example, in a world of smart machines, if you build inclusion into your design processes, that really ensures that new technology, you know, AI-driven applications, do not unintentionally exclude or discriminate against significant sections of your workforce or your potential workforce, or indeed [00:08:00] your existing and potential customers.

Another example, inclusive skills, like appreciative listening, emotional intelligence, empathy, social influence. These are exactly the higher-level interpersonal skills that we need. We all need to thrive alongside machines. They’re the skills that also hold a dispersed workforce together. We’ve been really seeing that a lot during the COVID crisis with dispersed and virtual working. These are skills that organizations will need more than ever in the future. The third reason that we talk about is purpose. Companies are we know increasingly concerned to demonstrate that they have a purpose beyond profit.

A really powerful way to demonstrate purpose is to work, to advance inclusion in your organization and across society perhaps as part of collective action with others. This is a purpose around which we think that people can coalesce, will coalesce to create even bigger impact. These three Ps, performance, preparedness, and purpose, show how really valuable inclusion is. That’s the big picture context for why it’s so important that organizations get inclusion right and why we were actually, why Rebekah and I were motivated to write a book that was focused on inclusion.

Ben: Thank you so much for that. You are absolutely right. So many people focused just on and diversity just think, “Oh we’ve got people of color. We’ve got women, we’ve got LGBTQ people. We’re fine. Let’s just go. We’re all set,” but there’s so much more to that, to it than just that. You say many organizations are still taking a piecemeal approach to DEI. Rebekah, where do you think they’re going wrong?

Rebekah: Certainly, we have seen DEI progress that [00:10:00] has been made over the years, but we still need to do a lot better. The incredibly slow pace of change, the backsliding we see when change does not stick. Evidence that many DEI outcomes are just not yet good enough are signals that we have to take different approaches to get much better results. I can highlight four dynamics that are preventing organizations from advancing on DEI results that really matter.

The first to your point is this reliance on piecemeal approaches. By this, we mean initiatives that pop up on their own without being strategically linked. This can show up as maybe disconnected activities, such as an isolated event to celebrate diversity or maybe a bit of inclusive leadership behavior training and that siloed activity. As we describe in the book, to achieve widespread and lasting outcomes, organizations need a far more ambitious holistic strategy to create an organization where everyone can thrive. A second common problem is replicating so-called best practices that are not actually effective. I think a good example of this is unconscious bias awareness training.

Evidence shows that this is not actually effective in mitigating the negative impacts of bias. When we see so much wasted effort on practices that do not achieve intended outcomes, we know we need to take a different approach for successful results to come about. A third failure mode is when diversity and inclusion are not linked to business outcomes, such as product innovation or supplier cost savings or profitable growth. If we don’t integrate DEI into business strategies, we set it up as optional. Then, the fourth issue is also when you highlighted, Ben, that organizations working on DEI often focus primarily [00:12:00] on the diversity part, and they’re largely leaving inclusion out.

It’s typical to take a really light approach to inclusion that might focus mostly on maybe leadership behavior intended to make people feel like they belong, but inclusion is more than feelings of belonging. It takes more than just leadership behaviors to bring it about. It really has to be addressed holistically. We’re seeing the stakes rising for organizations to overcome these kinds of limits and others that I haven’t mentioned. They need to get this right, particularly as so many more organizations have made DEI pledges amid the critical calls for a reckoning with racial inequities and social inequities, not only in organizations but across society.

Ineffective and piecemeal practices where inclusion is glossed over and disconnected from the heart of the business, these prevent organizations from fulfilling those pledges and organizations that get inclusion right on the other hand are going to be better prepared for big risks and challenges and opportunities. They’ll be positioned to really achieve the benefits of inclusion that Alison just talked about. In INdivisible, we show how it is so much more effective to employ a holistic and a business-linked strategy that involves every function in an organization, from purchasing to marketing, to human resources, every policy, every process, and every business decision, and every person in every relationship, both internal and external.

Ben: Thank you for that. Then, it is really important to actually do that and tie business strategy into it because if that really gets people upper-level management is or higher level to really see the benefits of DEI. One of the words that you’ve mentioned is– you just [00:14:00] mentioned “belonging,” and one of your arguments is with the term “belonging.” You say it would be a mistake to be mesmerized by the buzzword “belonging.” Alison, what do you mean by this?

Alison: Well, what we mean is that belonging can sometimes be in direct conflict with inclusion. For example, we know that people can feel their greatest sense of belonging when they’re with others who believe and act the same way as they do. That can mean missing out on different perspectives. We’re very familiar with the dangers of groupthink, the risks of groupthink. At worst, it can also mean intolerance and antagonism towards outsiders. The words of belonging can also, in some context, have connotations of ownership or bondage which are really problematic in the context of slavery, both historic and modern.

Another reason we question or we have some concerns about belonging as just being another way of describing inclusion or just being the buzzword is that it’s another outcome. It’s an outcome rather than an input, and it doesn’t in itself actually explain what needs to be in place for inclusion to thrive in organizations and what actually does need to be in place for inclusion to thrive in organizations. We did research into inclusion in many different contexts. As we were looking for more effective ways to understand and measure and take action on inclusion, we came up with 10 core [00:16:00] components, what we call the 10 enablers of inclusion.

We clustered them into three different groups. One is about creating connection, and that’s things like openness and respect. The second is about creating opportunities. That’s things like fairness, transparency in your organization. The third is about creating common cause. This is really about things like shared power, how is power distributed in your organization? Is power exercised over people, or is it exercised with people? Participation and shared purpose.

These are all important parts of creating common cause. Maybe it’s helpful to have an example of what this looks like in practice because someone, a leader who’s really embodied some of these core enablers of inclusion is the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern through the way that she and her government have successfully handled the COVID crisis in New Zealand. She demonstrated openness and transparency with the people of New Zealand, with her country people by really talking very openly about just what sacrifices needed to be made right from the start and how tough this lockdown would be.

There was fairness there, but she and her ministers took a salary cut in order to show solidarity with people who had lost their livelihoods. Then, there was shared power, which in this case, was really about making it clear to everyone in New Zealand that they were accountable for the outcome. They were accountable for fighting this [00:18:00] disease together, and that each of them was responsible. She said, ”Be strong, and be kind.” She also demonstrated a shared purpose which was very, very clear it’s about saving lives, very, very clear. That led to huge, really high levels of trust in the government.

Ben: That is such a wonderful example, and every day, I wish I lived in New Zealand. [laughs] Seriously, she’s just such a wonderful leader, and that again, like I said, that’s such a great example. Thank you. You set out a radically different approach to inclusion in the book. Alison, let’s start with you. Can you tell us about that and how organizations can get started?

Alison: Yes, of course. The 10 enablers that I just mentioned are one part of it, and there’s a whole lot more. Our approach, which we call “Inclusion Impact,” clearly links inclusion with business-relevant results, which is what Rebekah was talking about just now. It also integrates inclusion consistently into every aspect of the organization. A quick framework to explain this really is to ask the following questions about inclusion, the who, the what, the where, and the why. Organizations typically try to measure and address inclusion through limited responses to these questions. Take the who.

That’s typically limited to individual employees with a few inclusion questions that are thrown into the annual employee engagement survey. The what is limited to feelings, feelings of inclusion, feelings of being valued or respected, or whatever. The where is limited to the internal workforce and the why, well, [00:20:00] the why is actually often unmeasured. It’s often unclear and often disconnected from real business results– business goals and results, actually. This limited understanding of measurement leads, of course, to limited action, limited results, and limited impact, which is why we see frustration for many leaders when they’re talking about the lack of progress with DEI.

When our impact approach, we’re looking at those Ws, again, I will say the who extends to everyone. It’s not just individuals. It’s teams, it’s managers, it’s senior leaders, and it’s the dynamics between all of those groups of people and those individuals in the organization. It covers people who are systemically marginalized, and it covers people who are in the mainstream population. It takes account also of the whole of people’s identities, instead of putting them into a single identity box. The what covers not just feelings, but also actions and organizational structures and how consistently those are aligned across the organization.

When we say organizational structures, we mean the processes, the systems, the signals, the written and unwritten rules in the organization that can either support or undermine inclusion. The what also takes account of those 10 core components or enablers that I’ve described just now. The where covers not only what’s going on inside the organization, but also relationships with external partners like contract workers, like customers, investors, and with wider society, and communities. It asks, how are you making these partners, these external [00:22:00] partners, part of your inclusion strategy?

The why asks and then shows how your inclusion strategy can help you to achieve your business goals, and to deliver a positive impact for individuals, for your business, and indeed, for society. Then, to these four Ws, we’ve added a fifth, which is when, because the when is important because inclusion is dynamic. It’s not a static thing, and it’s very much dependent on context and on experience. This checking in on inclusion has to be done intentionally, and it has to be done not once a year or once a week, but actually, in every interaction. What would you add, Rebekah?

Rebekah: Thanks, Alison. I think sometimes when we start to explain or describe this expanded view of inclusion that we see, people’s eyes get a little wide and they say, “This is a really ambitious approach,” and it is, but we do also make it realistic and feasible. in our work with organizations and also in how we describe it in the book, we have a model for achieving the kind of whole-system change that allows us to achieve this ambition with inclusion. It really starts with orienting to a whole new vision for inclusion and then engaging a step-by-step process to understand those gaps between the organization’s current state and what that future vision is.

Then, on this base, an organization can start to design the holistic strategy that it needs to achieve the meaningful impact that we envision. As we guide that broader process, we also offer more than 50 practical actions in the book. These are actions that every single individual [00:24:00] at every level can take right away to enhance inclusion today.

Long-term strategy with structural change is critical, and so is that immediate, individual action. I can give an example of how these individual actions work alongside the big organizational changes over time. Let’s suppose that a key business priority at your organization is to become more consistently innovative.

After some assessment, you learned that not everyone actually is being included or unable to share their distinctive ideas in ways that can actually boost innovation. To make it safe and easy and comfortable for all to speak up, you realize you need to design a whole system strategy to overcome the gaps and enact widespread changes to individual capabilities, to how you hold leaders accountable for how they cultivate inclusion, to processes and structures, to what you measure and so on.

As you work on this broader holistic strategy aimed at building a whole environment where all voices are heard, and all can boost innovation, you can also ensure that people at all levels start taking action today to foster those opportunities for all ideas to be welcomed and heard. For example, senior leaders can create signals that encourage everyone to speak freely. They can, ask at every single strategy meeting who will share a different idea to help us be more discerning, to help us be more creative.

It’s a simple practical way to get started with that signal for senior leaders and then middle managers, who of course, can be a really powerful force for inclusion at the heart of the organization. Middle managers can do something related to that with their teams, they can ask, “What can I do to make it easy for each of you to freely share your distinctive ideas and dissenting opinions?”

Of course, all individuals [00:26:00] at any level can start asking questions, and leaning into active listening, and creating a non-judgmental space for sharing and exploring new perspectives from all the others that they’re working with. A bold approach to inclusion is realistic when you use the step-by-step model to combine those big picture changes with specific practical actions every person can take to play their role in making inclusion happen.

Ben: Well, the expansion of inclusion in the book I thought was just so great. Like you mentioned, you make it clear and realistic and approachable. One of the best descriptions of inclusion were my favorite from the book was, “Inclusion is not a one-way street. Although many companies treat it that way, actually, inclusion is like a well-functioning traffic roundabout [unintelligible 00:26:54] action, where people pay attention to everyone else and takes turns to yield to each other and move forward and where everyone’s thoughtful actions have an impact on the success of the whole.” That really stuck with me. I thought that was just such a perfect way to explain it to people who are having trouble understanding this holistic view of inclusion. [crosstalk]

Alison: Absolutely, Ben. [crosstalk]

Rebekah: Oh, sorry. I just wanted to say that, that’s exactly right, and it’s not only individuals deciding to use that roundabout in an effective way, but there are structural things in how the road is set up, and what barrier might be in the middle and all the signs that are signaling what you’re supposed to do and so forth that create that structure in addition to the actions of individuals to make that roundabout really function. The same is true with inclusion.

Alison: Absolutely and imagine what would happen if we relied on the say, functioning of that traffic intersection, purely on how the drivers were feeling today- [crosstalk]

Ben: Exactly.

Alison: -or purely on the driver [00:28:00] behavior. Because if they were all feeling very angry, they might not be behaving in a really great way.

Ben: [crosstalk] never worked.

Alison: [laughs] If you don’t have the signals and the structures and the signposts that are all there, underpinning the whole, underpinning the behavior that you need, the behavior that you want to see, then it’s not going to happen. It’s not enough. It’s not sustainable.

Ben: It’d be chaos. It’d be pileups all over the place.

Alison: [laughs]

Rebekah: Exactly.

Ben: Rebekah, I want to follow up with you and continue with you. How to measure inclusion effectively as a theme that runs through the whole book. What is your advice for that?

Rebekah: One of the things that we do share in the book is a new and expanded set of inclusion metrics and also some examples of new scorecards for inclusion. Underlying all of these is a core message that organizations have to treat measuring inclusion as they would measurement for any other business driver. We like to give an example to compare inclusion metrics to marketing metrics, for example. Marketing departments do not simply count different consumers without understanding the reasons for their different purchasing patterns or how to change those patterns to help the company succeed.

They gain insights not only from numbers but also from things that are hard to quantify, things like brand reputation, for example. They address the messiness of human behavior around marketing. The analysis of marketing is actually remarkably complex, but companies don’t say, “Well, markets are just too complex to measure so we’re not going to bother with that.” They actually dig into the complexity. They hire experts, and they invest in technology, and they do the things they need to do to gain [00:30:00] the best insights they can so that they’re able to make smart decisions about growing market share, for example.

Just like marketing, inclusion is also a business driver, and because of this, measuring it has to receive the same rigor, of the same attention, the same kinds of resources. But really frustratingly, in our work with companies, we find that so many people are currently measuring inclusion very narrowly. Given the pressures of business today and the misperceptions around what inclusion really is, it’s not surprising that a lot look for easy one-off kinds of solutions. We see a lot of simple set of five or so employee engagement survey questions on how individuals feel about inclusion. I think this is understandable, but at the same time, it’s really not good enough.

The reality is that most companies are lacking the insight they need to make solid business decisions about inclusion and about its impacts on business success. More specifically, I think right now, many leaders really struggle to answer key questions like, “What progress are we actually making on all 10 enablers of inclusion and on feelings and actions and structures to advance inclusion? What inclusion efforts are actually leading to best results? What are those results? What efforts are giving us the best return on investment? What should we stop doing?”

“How widespread and sustainable are the results that we’re seeing? How is inclusion of putting our relationships with external partners? How is it helping us achieve our business purposes and goals and so on?” Important decisions are really being made in the dark, and of course, that elevates waste and risk. We have to embrace the fact that inclusion is a big concept like sustainability. Because of this, [00:32:00] organizations need metrics and scorecards that do address feelings, such as whether employees feel they can be their true self at work, but they also need to address actions and behaviors, such as, are employees consistently making space for others to speak up?

Organizations need to measure structures around things like systemic changes that improve fairness and transparency in processes that impact workers’ opportunities and experiences and rewards, and so forth. It’s important to demonstrate the impact of these three. The impact of inclusive feelings and actions and structures, and these then become leading indicators of performance, of innovation, of bottom-line achievements. In our book, we do provide samples of what these more meaningful scorecards look like, but what’s important here is that when we expect more from our inclusion metrics.

We can achieve insights that really do help us discern what gaps we need to address and what efforts are most effective, what practices might not be working and what impact, what impact inclusion has on individual and team and business success. Again, we must treat inclusion like any other business driver. Better information allows organizations to concentrate on how they’re making progress and achieving results.

Ben: That’s so true and such a great point. In the book, you say it’s not enough for organizations to focus on efforts only on marginalized groups. Well, Alison, you somewhat touched on that in your first answer. Could you tell us why not?

Alison: Yes, of course. Well, I want to be very clear, or we are very clear that we are not ignoring the fact that people who are systemically marginalized face really serious pervasive barriers and disadvantages [00:34:00] both at work and in society, and this is something that has to be recognized and addressed. Too often, organizations respond to this reality with an approach that, first of all, silos people. It ignores the multi-dimensional identities that we all have, and it ignores intersectionality. Secondly, it places often the responsibility for change on those people who are marginalized rather than on the mainstream.

By contrast, what we’re doing is we’re challenging organizations to see inclusion as relevant to everyone in all of our individual complexity and as being the responsibility of everyone. This means that we need to engage everyone to make the workplace better for all. Everyone is responsible, everyone must benefit, and no one must be harmed. One of the ways that we encourage organizations to get started with this new approach is to start engaging with the complexity of identity. This can be done in part by asking different questions.

In our book INdivisible, we include a demographic question that sets aside the usual catalog of identity groups, and it focuses instead on how individuals have experienced exclusion for themselves. It reads like this, “I would like the organization to address barriers to my inclusion that are related to,” and then they can select from a long list, which includes things like gender, age, education, ethnicity, culture, primary language, whether they’re [00:36:00] introvert, extrovert, where they are on that spectrum and more. This is recognizing that none of us can be divided into this sort of single discrete parts.

Individuals are asked to select all of those things that apply to them. Instead of identifying different categories of gender, say, or age, for example, we’re simply asking if they see gender or age as a barrier for them regardless of what that is exactly. This question, therefore, helps to break down those identity silos, and it acknowledges also that each of us, all of us can experience exclusion. It’d be really interesting actually to know what’s your reaction, what’s your take on that, Ben?

Ben: I think that is a great approach, and it reminds me of– as an African or a Black male in America, when the conversation is about these issues, it often excludes the majority, which is much more of the white population. It does focus on well– yes, as you said, it puts the responsibility and the onus on the minority population, the disenfranchised population, to solve the problem and just excludes the majority. It’s– gosh, it reminds me of this quote that I recently saw, which I’m not remembering it word for word right now, unfortunately.

But in regards to the issue of white supremacy that we’re having currently in the states where it’s basically rephrasing words like white supremacy isn’t being solved because it’s something that’s seen as a problem for [00:38:00] minorities to deal with as opposed to something that the white population needs to deal with, if that makes sense. The onus is just like, “Oh well, there’s nothing we can do to stop this because the majority is not being included in these conversations,” or when these discussions are being heard, and these decisions are being made in the workplace, they’re not thinking of the majority, they’re only thinking of the minority.

Like you said, it does silo people. Another thing that came to mind is at the forum, we are currently in a staff transitional period with staffing. At the moment, it appears that we are all cismale identifying staff, but if you layer it, you see that we have different religions, different sexual orientations, different backgrounds, so much diversity in the group still that you wouldn’t get if you just said, “Oh, well, you’re all males, you’re all the majority.”

Alison: Indeed.

Rebekah: I think those are really good applications of this concept, and it reminds me that one organization Alison and I worked with last year had a breakthrough with this approach because it’s not a US-based organization, and they’re in a country where it’s not legal to ask people their specific gender or sex, for example. [crosstalk]

Ben: Interesting.

Alison: It was ethnicity, I think. It was actually about– [crosstalk]

Rebekah: Oh, ethnicity. [crosstalk]

Alison: Yes, it was about ethnicity.

Rebekah: Oh, you’re right. I think that most countries can’t actually ask about gender, you’re right. Ethnicity, for example, and maybe some of the other, as well. This scheme is a real breakthrough to that organization because they could ask questions that would help them know where they needed to [00:40:00] dig deeper to understand who was facing what kinds of barriers for inclusion. You’ve given some really good US-based examples, Ben, and there also are different applications that help solve some long-standing challenges with this work in other parts of the world as well.

Alison: Absolutely. It was interesting for us, wasn’t it? To discover that the approach we were taking could help in this way in a country or a culture where it was very, very difficult to measure certain typical characteristics of identity by giving people the choice effectively to say what it is for them, how they experience it rather than putting them into boxes, pre-prepared boxes.

Ben: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I think that when you give people the chance to express themselves, then they really get to think about how they fit into the inclusion puzzle effect.

Alison: Yes. We really do need to run that home that we are all responsible for this. It’s something that we all have to take– That we all have to be accountable for and that if we– whether we take action or we don’t act, we have an impact.

Ben: Yes. I think one last example that came to mind is like if you tell people, “Oh, you’re a cisgender white male. You don’t have any issues or you are like–” They don’t feel like they can be part of the conversation. Then, and so they then turn off to the conversation and turn off to the possibility, like you mentioned, they could be an introverted person or they could have other things that make them diverse that would make them that would make them want to be included in the conversation.

Alison: Absolutely. Yes. Awesome.

Ben: This has been such a great conversation [00:42:00] and I hate to do this, but we are getting to our final question. Again, before I ask this final question, I just wanted to thank you both again for this wonderful conversation and wonderful podcast and again for the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I recommend all our listeners do go out to get a copy themselves. Rebekah and Alison I’m sure will tell you how to do that.

Alison: Sure.

Ben: Finally, I want to ask, what lessons should we draw for inclusion from the tumultuous events of the past year in the US, which I’ve mentioned, and across the world. Rebekah, let’s start with you. What’s what are your thoughts on these?

Rebekah: Yes, it’s a good question. Certainly, we couldn’t have foreseen all the complexities and difficult events that were going to come up in 2020 when we wrote the book, but it’s still very relevant. I think the keys for strong and compassionate, inclusive leadership, has maybe never been more evident than in 2020. The lessons really continue to drive change this year, and I’m sure they will into the future. Amid the pandemic, we have seen dramatic impacts to the workforce.

This includes things like the risks that face essential frontline workers who are often from the most marginalized, systemically marginalized populations among workers. It also includes, of course, a much more distributed workforce, as we talked about earlier, for those who are not on the front line particularly, and it includes the strains that families are facing while they try to manage work and childcare demands and so on.

As organizations respond to these dynamics, those inclusive skills and leaders and all individuals, actually, are critical. [00:44:00] Workers, whether they’re internal or those employed on a contract basis, they have to be shown in real terms that they are valued, that they are recognized as distinctive, and that they are supported to really thrive with ways that make sense to their own context and their own reality.

I think 2020 has also brought us a heightened social reckoning with the very real cost of the status quo, resurgence of movements like Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and Time’s Up, and so forth, as well as the disparate impacts of COVID-19. These really exposed how ongoing long-lasting patterns of exclusion and inequities, and injustice have horrific impacts. In light of this, we see a widening array of stakeholders speaking out and holding companies and their leaders accountable. We see investors and customers and boards and current and future activist employees and others, they’re all demanding not just action but meaningful systemic change with lasting impact.

That impact is oriented not only to business and organizations but to society as well. I think many, many more organizations and leaders really recognize that they must do better, that they must create organizations where a full range of people can fully contribute and thrive. Many more leaders are seeing that they have to play a role in advancing inclusion, not only within their organizations but also in broader society. This is a moral and a practical imperative, so we need to get inclusion right. Alison, what would you add?

Alison: Well, I do have things, just a few things to add to that. Just before we get [00:46:00] to the very end, as Ben asked us about where listeners can get hold of a copy of the book, you can get INdivisible on Amazon and from all good booksellers. We also have a website where you can find out more about the book and about us and all sorts of things related to the book. It’s INdivisible with a hyphen, so INdivisible-book.com. I’d like to add to what you just said, Rebekah. Actually, it’s a wonderful quote from Paul Polman who was the head of Unilever, the consumer goods group.

He’s now chair of something called IMAGINE, which is a social venture accelerating business leadership on sustainable development goals. He says businesses cannot survive in societies that fail. I mentioned collective action by companies, by organizations, at the very start of this podcast. We see this happening already to tackle the climate crisis.

Rebekah and I in the book call for collective action by companies to tackle exclusion across society. We really highlight how inclusion and sustainability are interdependent.

Just like the B core companies that meet these rigorous standards for environmental sustainability, we envisage what we call an in core of organizations taking this whole system approach to inclusion and using their combined power to create a more impactful movement for change inside their companies and across society. This is really the direction that we expect [00:48:00] pioneering leaders and pioneering organizations to take in the coming decade, and it will be vital to do so.

Ben: Thank you both so much for that truly transformative conversation. A special thank you to all our listeners and our sponsor Best Buy. If you’d like to learn more, you can contact either Alison or Rebekah at their websites, Alisonmaitland.com and Rebekahsteele.com. Their book INdivisible can be found at INdivisible-book.com. You can find more forum podcasts on our website, forumworkplaceinclusion.org/podcast and also on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Anchor, and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening, and have a great day.

Voice over: Thank you again for listening to the Forum on Workplace Inclusion podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe for a podcast to get updates and latest episodes. Also, tell us what you think by reviewing our podcast. We’d love to hear your feedback. For more information, visit us at forum workplace inclusion.org, or search Workplace Forum on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thank you very much and have a great day.


The Forum and Workplace Inclusion Podcast is reported at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of the most diverse private colleges in the Midwest, Augsburg University offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and 9 graduate degrees to 3,000 foreign students of diverse backgrounds at its campus in the vibrant center of the twin cities and nearby Rochester, Minnesota location. Augsburg educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. In Augsburg, education is defined by excellence in the local arts and professional studies guided by the faith and values of the Lutheran church and shaped by its urban and global settings. Learn more at augsburg.edu.

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