3 of the biggest myths about workplace inclusion

November 15, 2019 Joe Gerstandt

4-minute read

The work of designing and delivering a more consistently inclusive employee experience is relatively new. In fact, I would say it is still in its infancy and, as an emerging body of work, it is conceptually and linguistically underdeveloped. While the idea of inclusion has become incredibly popular in recent years, there continues to be a great deal of confusion about what it is and how it happens.

Below are three of the more common misperceptions I encounter.

  1. Inclusion is an HR initiative.

One of the greatest constraints facing this work today is that it is almost always an HR program or initiative. I don’t have anything against HR (some of my best friends work in HR!), but in addition to the facts that HR is pulled in 11,000 different directions, frequently under-resourced, and lacking clout in the organization, this work reaches far beyond HR. Properly understood, this work belongs to leadership. HR can certainly play an integral role, but inclusion is, more than anything else, the product of a certain kind of leadership. If you want your organization to be more inclusive, there is no more powerful lever toward that end than to change the way leadership and management are deployed in your organization.

  1. Inclusion is about everyone.

At a conference recently, I made the point that organizations need to get better at removing leaders who are not inclusive. An audience member jumped up and said, “That doesn’t sound very inclusive to me!” An organization has finite resources. There is a limited number of people who can be included. Workplace inclusion cannot be about including everybody – it must be about including the right people. This means it also requires us to be intentional about not including the wrong people.

I would suggest the biggest disconnect in most organizations today regarding diversity and inclusion is that they continue to hire, retain, and promote people who are not willing or able to behave and lead in inclusive ways – which makes the work more difficult. Inclusion does not suggest that we are not going to judge or evaluate people. It just means we are going to work hard to not judge or evaluate them based on who they are or who we think they are. We still have to hold folks accountable for their behavior and performance.

If safety is important to your organization, you should feel no obligation to hire or retain people who are not willing or able to behave in safe ways. If ethics are important to your organization, you should feel no obligation to hire or retain people who are not willing or able to behave in ethical ways – even if they are freakishly talented. If inclusion truly matters to your organization, you should stop hiring and promoting folks not willing or able to behave in inclusive ways.

  1. Inclusion requires a lowering of standards.

I get the sense from some managers that efforts toward a more inclusive organization mean throwing out all the rules and putting everyone on the road to chaos. As with many beliefs regarding inclusion, this is nearly the opposite of what the work is about. Inclusion does not require us to throw out the rules. We should, from time to time, review our rules (policy expectations, performance standards, etc.), but common purpose and common expectations are actually very important to the work of inclusion. We just need to make sure that those rules are explicit and applied consistently to everyone. We also want to do as much as we can to get rid of unwritten rules, as they tend to be applied even less consistently than the written ones. I would suggest that this work is about raising our standards, or at the very least being more committed to our existing standards. And it requires a more deliberate and mature form of management.

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About the Author

Joe Gerstandt

Joe Gerstandt is a speaker, advisor, and author bringing greater clarity and impact to organizational diversity and inclusion work

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