In many ways, diversity is about labels. Labels pertaining to ethnicity, age, sexuality and gender, in particular. Inclusion is about dissolving those labels.
How so? Diversity truly becomes inclusion when we get to a place where ideas flow freely between people from all walks of life, without prejudice getting in their way. When that starts to happen without labels ambushing the conversation as a sort of meta commentary (which can sometimes be positive in the form of self-congratulation or virtue signalling; sometimes negative as bias), that’s inclusion. When we can hear each other’s ideas with genuine clarity, that’s inclusion.
But we are a long, long way from that point. When I saw the recent announcement that Consilio has now joined more than 750 other CEOs in the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative, my heart leapt. Yet it lurched a little, too. In decades to come, I think we’ll be embarrassed, looking back and reflecting that this kind of thing used to be necessary.
After all, we no longer understand people’s medical health according to the four humours. Terms related to those humours are still in currency in our language (‘sanguine’, ‘bilious’, ‘phlegmatic’, etc), yet the weight has gone out of them: they no longer define a person’s very being. One day, I hope the same will be the case for labels pertaining to diversity. They won’t be grenades of meaning, triggering implicit bias when used.
That’s the dream – and I do believe we will get there. But weeding out bias is tough. It brings out aggression in people, both passive and explicit. And it leads to very difficult conversations – yes, with other people, but also with ourselves. How often have you said or thought something like ‘Oh, that person won’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to this’ or ‘Let’s keep this one amongst ourselves’ or ‘I think that candidate’s probably a better cultural fit’ without challenging yourself on your instincts? Without digging deeper into the psychological movements that brought those words or thoughts to the surface?
Beating bias is a generational task – perhaps even multi-generational. And while we make our way towards it, we have to embrace the awkwardness and the difficulty every single day.