By Christina Ryan – DLI CEO
In examining diversity, and the structures to make it happen, one word keeps coming up – Inclusion.
There is a strong recognition that diversity won’t really be achieved, it won’t stick, without inclusion as part of the package. All of the collective wisdom is telling us so, and it’s one of the most popular buzzwords in conversations, yet for decades there hasn’t been any real shift in the numbers of people with disabilities being employed or ending up in leadership positions.
So, what’s happening?
Is inclusion part of the problem?
One of the biggest issues with inclusion, as it is practiced now, is that it relies on those with power to open their door to those without power. The excluded are outside knocking on the door and asking to be let in, waiting to be included. Ultimately this disempowers the already less powerful in the diversity relationship.
In examining the diversity sector over the last year, it seems that diversity practitioners aren’t very diverse. There isn’t a very strong presence of minority groups within the diversity industry. Is this part of the barrier to those minority groups, including people with disabilities, being included?
It’s time to disrupt the thinking about inclusion so that it becomes more effective as a tool. Are we relying on inclusion as a process, rather than aiming towards it as an outcome? Are we relying solely on good intentions about inclusion to make it a reality? Perhaps its time to redefine what inclusion looks like and shift its ownership to those being included, away from those doing the including.
The only way to shift power imbalances is to address the inequality that underlies them. This means having people from disempowered population groups in positions of power, so that they drive the inclusion, so that they control the door to be opened. This is particularly the case for people with disabilities who hold almost no positions of leadership, respect or authority within government, business or non-government sectors.
The inclusion of people with disabilities is being left to people without disabilities to drive.
How do we shift this?
Rather than focussing all available efforts, resources, time and goodwill on getting people with disabilities in the door at entry level – the least powerful positions with little capacity to open the door to others – it’s time to focus significant efforts on appointing people with disabilities to leadership positions across executives, boards, parliaments and community leadership.
A strong example of how this can be achieved is the Merit Trap as discussed by the Male Champions of Change who have recognised that simply looking for another person with the same skills and qualifications is a good way to overlook new thinking, innovation, and potentially the right candidate.
By appointing people from minority groups to positions of power and authority we will create “door openers”. By being wary of the Merit Trap, we are recognising that a person from a minority group, a person with disability, may not be the most obvious candidate for a position, but they may be the most innovative one to take us into the future.
So, inclusion isn’t the problem, its how we are doing inclusion that is the problem. We aren’t using it to shift power, we are currently using it to disempower the very people we are working to include. It is being used by those with power as a process, rather than ceded to the disempowered as an outcome
It is our approach to inclusion that is the problem, not inclusion itself.
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