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“Why Are We Still Talking about Inclusion?”

May 2, 2022 Eddie Turner

We regularly bring you reflections and insights on the latest leadership topics from Eddie Turner, Principal Consultant and Executive Coach. Most recently, he brought us Inclusion Matters: Ketanji Brown Jackson Confirmed to the Supreme Court and Volodymyr Zelensky—The Epitome of Purposeful Leadership®. This week, Eddie examines the latest news around the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in the state of Florida and reflects on the critical need for organizations to build and support inclusive leaders and an inclusive culture where they can thrive.

I recently co-hosted a webinar with Jennifer McCollum, CEO of Linkage, titled “Demystifying Inclusion: How Inclusive Is Your Organization and What to Do Next.” Someone asked the question: “Why are we still talking about inclusion?”

Many people ask that question out of sincerity, while others ask out of exasperation. Then there are those who simply do not want to talk about diversity and inclusion. They find the topic uncomfortable, so they figure, “let’s avoid it all together.”

In the state of Florida, which recently passed legislation designed to put government regulations on how businesses and schools address race, gender and LGBTQ+ issues, this philosophy has been taken a step further: Instead of avoiding the topic, legislatures are attempting to make it a criminal offense to discuss it.

On April 22, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Stop WOKE Act” into law. This law—in addition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which passed in March, and the “Disney Bill,” which passed on April 20—will have enormous ramifications for people in Florida and beyond. Laws like these impact the people governed by the law—and they indirectly impact those who are not governed by the law. Professionals in the fields of diversity and inclusion and leadership development, for example, make it their life’s work to create leaders who are more inclusive and represent the diversity of the broader organization and the nation. Firms like Linkage deliver programs, conduct assessments, and create learning content to empower people to develop their leadership capacity by removing obstacles, such as bias and bigotry. This work benefits individuals, organizations and communities.

At its core, this is an issue of inclusion and what can happen when leaders, organizations and governments do not understand the critical cultural, societal and business case for inclusion. Right now, we have laws being passed that are not inclusive, and organizations and individuals who stand in opposition to those laws are being punished and bullied.

This is nothing new. All positive change that has been achieved has been at the cost of making someone in a position of authority uncomfortable. To drive true change, someone has always had to have the courage to challenge the status quo of social norms. Silence only reinforces the status quo.

I recently attended a panel discussion featuring women law enforcement officers who discussed their careers in honor of Women’s History Month. One officer was a Texas Ranger. She spoke about what it was like to be one of only four women in the entire agency. She recalled how, when the first women were admitted to the force in late 1990, many men walked in and threw their badges on the desk in anger and quit or opted to retire from the Rangers. Their message was clear: “Women have no place in the Texas Rangers.”

Women were ready, prepared and able to take on critical roles within the force—addressing needs that an all-male force was not able to meet—but these male officers were not willing to be part of the change. The panelist outlined one high-profile case that involved a group of women who directly benefited from the care of female officers. In this case, she explained, a male ranger would not have been able to provide the care these women needed in the safe space they required.

Inclusion matters, not only because all members of society can contribute at the highest levels but because each person brings talents and skills that are unique. When historically disenfranchised people do not have a seat at the table, those unique talents and skills are unutilized. In the Texas Rangers case, and in every case, an inclusive environment, filled with the best talent representing our full society, delivers the best outcomes—for individuals, organizations and communities.

BIG TAKEAWAY

Leadership should be a beacon of positive change focused on building and supporting cultures of inclusion. The aforementioned laws, and the reaction to them, illustrate why diversity and inclusion efforts are more important than ever. In these anti-inclusive instances, our leaders are missing the mark. We need leaders—unofficial leaders, those without titles or formal responsibilities—to speak up to put a check on such exclusionary practices.

Here is what I have learned as a leadership consultant and executive coach. We can discuss inclusion and identify the areas in which we need to improve without making individuals feel excluded, ashamed or guilty. Our ability to examine how we lead and live, and evaluate the opportunities afforded to every member of our society, empowers us to become stronger leaders and communities.

Philosopher George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We can avoid the mistakes of the past by understanding our history, examining our own reality with an open heart, and clearly communicating the “Why” of our current state. Only then can we design a more inclusive future—and move toward it, together.

Here’s why we are still talking about inclusion: Current events confirm it’s still needed. It’s still important. Inclusion matters.

Today’s decisions are tomorrow’s history. Forces of the past are colliding with the forces of the future. Inclusion is always a difficult subject and a difficult undertaking.

When a culture of inclusion is achieved, it is a beautiful thing to behold in our organizations, our communities and the world.

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