I’ve practiced Tai Chi for a few years. I remember myself looking at the instructor, listening to his instructions, imitating the movements in what seemed to me like a superb combination of imagination and talent, and feeling good about myself with the achievements of body and soul alike.
All this was true – until the exercises in pairs began. I always found these exercises to be an interruption to the good, meditative order of my movement with myself. Tai Chi pair exercises are a kind of highly-synchronized movement, with a very gentle touch – sort of touching -and-not-really-touching, forehand to backhand. The same movements performed in a pair. When one person
moves forward, the other moves back, and vice versa.
Only then did I understand, that I had done wrong some of the exercises previously performed alone. Only by gently touching the other could I feel the discomfort in the mirror that was put in front of my blind spots. The same movement took on a whole new meaning with someone else, but with a different challenge and quality. The essence stopped being my own movement with myself, and started being the joint, harmonious creation, which none of us could have created alone.
For me, that is the true experience of inclusion.
The seemingly liberal person that I am, is so aware of herself, gives each and every one around her an equal chance, and does not judge by external appearance, religion, ethnic origin, gender, etc. But only during moments of gentle contact – not necessarily a tough and conflictual one – I become aware of what I usually don’t experience: my unconscious biases towards those who are like me, my judgmental tendencies which must be pushed aside, the desire for someone to be like me, instead of the willingness to adapt.
Only then do I see how open I truly am for creating a new story – together.
“Inclusion” means inviting someone over, having them join you inside. And I am not even sure I want to have someone over. Maybe it would be better to create something new together and having both parties keep what is dear and important to them. And if that is true inclusion, how does one promote it in the organization? In the business unit that has a shared purpose? in every place where results play a critical role, as does a focused, goal-oriented language?
Strauss’ decade-long journey, which is still underway, has taught me five important guidelines in advancing inclusion. Things that happen in parallel, in the organization as a whole, and in every single person individually. I was tempted to organize them in numbers and put periods at the end, but in fact, they can not be numbered, and they are far from being absolute truths.
- Patience – there is no swift move, in which a great, orchestrated effort is made, and the result miraculously appears. Awareness and openness are very slowly built, with great effort. One more voice gets to be heard center stage, and then another, and then another. More and more people get a chance to look at their biases and to consciously make a different choice. There are ripple effects, ones that are not often seen, but rather accelerate underwater and emerge when the time comes.
- Bandwidth – a critical mass needs to be created, working in parallel on processes, awareness, skills, communication, rewards, top-down, bottom-up, sideways… and the list goes on and on…
- Modesty and openness – understanding that we probably don’t understand is critical. Once we know this, we take careful steps, so that we can manage the cost of making mistakes. This is important, because our mistakes influence people careers and wellbeing. We can not do this without listening to things that are less pleasant. We must assume that we do not have all the answers.
- Curiosity and a willingness to change – we will not bring here people who are different than us, only to make them like us. So let’s learn, take something from them, change ourselves, and explore further. Different people and communities bring different stories with them. Becoming familiar with these stories creates a common language and value to all those involved.
- Inclusion outside the comfort zone – inclusion must happen not in those places where it is easy for us to include, but in meaningful places, such as the decision-making table. Are all populations represented in places that are critical to the organization? Can all voices really make an impact?
Organizations don’t talk about “diversity and inclusion” these days, but the other way around – “inclusion and diversity”. Diversity happens from the outside inwards; inclusion happens the other way – from the inside outwards.
Our existence as a business depends on our ability to truly include – those who consume our products, those who supply to us, those who partner with us, those who work for us and have diverse skills – any one of our stakeholders.
Moreover, our existence as a society and as human beings depends on our ability to include.
Developing mangers as inclusive leaders is a lot more than “simple” gender balance, or the integration of the Arab-Israelis or people with disability. In today’s world, inclusion is a managerial tool of the utmost importance, in a world where it is very hard to listen, and in a world in which there is a great role for listening. In a world where we are all different and all similar. In a world where wisdom and knowledge are not the privilege of one person alone. In a world where the ability to work with someone who is different than me and the ability to change are key to resilience and success over time.
Organizational inclusion is at the end of the day many encounters between people. And in that encounter, in that movement which is almost a dance, in that pair exercise in Tai Chi, something common is created and each one of us learns about himself or herself, and brings all of himself/herself, in all colors, in the delicate interface between the inside and the outside.