Diverse group of people
Health, Learning, Politics & Equality, Work

Inclusion – a how to

Warning: I’m just going to dive right in here, no gentle preamble or stories about silly things the boys did.

The issues around inclusion and unconscious bias (as well as just basic exclusion based on gender, race, social position, education, religion, and orientation or identity) are a bit of a bug bear for me. From the little layers of expectations that we lay on our children, to the way we treat each other at work and socially.

I’ve previously moaned about unfair preconceptions and being excluded unintentionally.

I’m also aware that the whole problem of unconscious bias is that its unconscious, so I’m as much guilty of it as anybody – so that I’ve been surprised by gentleness where I didn’t expect it. In our house, we try to do as much as we can to prevent the boys from inheriting the pigeon-holed expectations that society too-often applies to people, even through the medium of watching football on TV.

For more on unconscious bias, you could start with the Office of Diversity and Outreach at University of California, San Francisco, for example.

Micro-inclusions and training

I’m very lucky to work for a company that takes inclusion and diversity seriously. We have an internal Lean In circle with regular meetings attended by people from HR and a decent (though not 50% and certainly not proportional to the staffing gender distribution) attendance from male colleagues. We also have a Diversity and Inclusion community. Both those groups are working for and achieving real change.

Even better, a few weeks ago, our company ran a week of sessions aimed at developing current and future leaders and broadening people’s awareness of inclusion issues and providing them with tools to combat unfairness. I attended a few sessions; on micro-inclusions, outward mindsets, fair feedback, and self-advocating for the journey you want in life.

Some were better than others. The comment in the outward mindsets session that “anyone without mental illness could develop and outward mindset” rankled. That statement implied that anyone with “mental illness” couldn’t be outward looking and thus would be a failure according to the goals of the session. I disagree strongly, “mental illness” can include so many problems, from anxiety and depression to personality disorder or schizophrenia. I’m sure I have colleagues impacted by many of those issues, whether openly or in private, and the thought that the trainer might write them off purely on one aspect of their lives goes against the very values that the initiative was promoting. (No, I didn’t disapprove in silence, I provided feedback after the session and highlighted that issue with HR too.)

That glitch aside, I’m proud to work for a company that cares about inclusion and diversity and that makes concerted efforts to level the playing field for those traditionally overlooked or unfairly judged.

Other sessions were really inspiring; helping us to recognise micro-aggressions and providing us with tips on how to avoid them.


Have you ever witnessed, experienced, or perpetrated a micro-aggression?

I know I’ve done all three. Pretty much everyone has. If you think you haven’t, you’re wrong.

I once wrote a blogger award post and asked a question about “your significant other”. Afterwards, I realised that this excluded anyone who doesn’t have a partner in their life. I would have done better to ask about “the most important other person in your life” – that could be a parent, partner, sibling, child or friend.

What other examples of micro-aggressions are common:

  • Surveys or forms that only provide binary response options to gender questions.
  • Continuous mispronunciation of someone’s name.
  • Speaking over others, or preventing a natural conversation by steering participants.
  • Praise making it clear that expectations were low. Like “wow that was great, I didn’t know you had so much experience with this” or “you’re so articulate” or “your English is surprisingly good”.
  • Making comments that reflect old fashioned attitudes to mental health: “that presentation was crazy” or “don’t ask so-and-so, their ideas are mad”.
  • Comments on age, whether youth or older, impacting knowledge or competency. Such as “ask that person, they’ll know everything about social media” about someone relatively young in years or “I’m 10 years your senior so you have no right to tell me how to do this” (that’s a real one that I had directed at me).
  • Referring to someone as he or she when they’re in the room, expressing their opinions for them: “well, she was trying to say….” (I’ve done that, sorry).
  • Making any reference to hormones whatsoever. Apparently, after a meeting ended while I was pregnant with large boy, a comment was made that the pregnancy hormones were making me stroppy – because I’d spoken clearly and with determination, a style that would have gone unnoticed if a man had used it.

There are many more examples I’m sure. Have you been subject to one of these? Or perhaps you realise that you’ve said or done something that excluded someone?

Broad unconscious exclusion

Unconscious bias isn’t only something that affects individuals. Sometimes companies behave or organize themselves in ways that unintentionally exclude a proportion of their workforce.

Apart from all the obvious gender-related problems and the controversial topic of positive discrimination for hiring, some things that deserve consideration are:

  • Timing meetings so that employees who are parents can attend.
    Those sessions that run from 4pm until 6pm are really tricky – how do we pick our children up from school with a meeting like that? Sure a partner could do pick up, but there are plenty of single parents or families where one parent works away or in shifts. If its essential to run a meeting in a particular slot (time zone constraints for example), it would be great to make it clear that it isn’t mandatory and make a recording available later.
  • Supporting remote workers.
    I’m sure many companies have made huge changes and improvements to their remote working support over the course of 2020. However, it will be important when workers go back to their offices that those improvements remain in place to allow permanent home workers to continue to benefits. There might be cases where on-site meetings aren’t accessible to remote workers, leaving them feeling left out and unimportant or where VPN bandwidth might not provide enough performance. Hopefully technical issues will remain solved, organizational ones however ought to be considered even when offices fill back up.
  • Time zone issues.
    There’s not much we can do about the shape of the world or the way it spins. But we can organize ourselves to include those in distant time zones, alternating between early and late meetings so that everyone is equally impacted, for example. When its really not possible, recording meetings and making sure they’re available is second best.
  • Languages.
    If teams are made up of people with different first languages and different competencies with common languages, it’s important to be patient with everyone and make sure that each participant has the chance to express themselves, even if their language skills aren’t perfect.

What you can do practically

So we know that there’s bias, unconscious or otherwise, everywhere; leading to exclusion and disruption, reduction in productivity, inefficiency and trivialising or undervaluing individuals. What can we do about it?

First and foremost, be aware. You need to know that you are unconsciously biased. That’s the whole problem, its unconscious, we aren’t doing it on purpose and we mostly don’t realise. So, try to be self-aware and pay attention to your actions. Before you act, ask whether your words or behaviour might unconsciously favour or punish someone.

Of course it’s not that easy, so here are some examples of practical things you can do:

  • Ask for help with pronunciation of names that are unfamiliar to you. Try to get it right and put it into practice. Your example will help others to do the same.
  • Don’t interrupt. Come on folks, we can all have a bit more patience and wait for someone to stop speaking before getting our point over too. Active listening is not only respectful and considerate, but hey you might also learn something. Imagine how it must feel to be talked over all the time, eventually you’d stop trying to speak up and you’d feel ignored, unimportant and unvalued.
  • Multi-language support. If only one person in a meeting, no matter how big, doesn’t speak the language of the majority but there’s another option that everyone can use, use that.
    I work with a team based in Paris, where everyone there and I speak French. But we have one person join from Germany who’s often late. We’ll start meetings in French but the very second he joins we switch to English, if not mid-sentence at least half way through someone giving their status update. Its brilliant to witness.
  • Make it company policy that all internal and external forms, surveys, and questionnaires (from hiring to gathering internal feedback to customer satisfaction checks) use inclusive language and questions – considering gender identity, race, neurodiversity. Maybe even extend that to have everyone include their pronouns in their email signatures. I’ve noticed a lot of people doing that where I work, it feels good to know for sure someone’s gender identity and I hope it helps non-binary people to be comfortable including theirs.
  • When you’re planning or cancelling meetings consider timings and impact. If you cancel a meeting with people 8 time zones behind so that it’s at 6 am for there, cancelling 2 hours before the meeting isn’t helpful. By the time they get up and find the cancellation, well they already got up early and could have had another couple of hours sleep. Time differences are hard to navigate, but we can try to plan further ahead and give people enough notice to adjust their plans if necessary.
  • If you’re designing a website or any web-based tool for either customers or colleagues to use, consider accessibility. Can the fonts, colour scheme and contrast be adjusted to make it easier for people with visual differences to read? Is it compatible with a screen-reader? Do videos have voice overs as well as captions?

Your thoughts

What did I miss? Who did I unconsciously exclude in this post?

What do you or your company do that supports a sense of belonging for everyone?

Further reading

  • Lean InLean In is a global community dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions.
  • Inclusion definition from Your Dictionary – Inclusion is defined as the state of being included or being made a part of something.
  • Inclusive Design Toolkit by the University of Cambridge – Every design decision has the potential to include or exclude customers. Inclusive design emphasizes the contribution that understanding user diversity makes to informing these decisions, and thus to including as many people as possible. User diversity covers variation in capabilities, needs and aspirations.
  • Ethics App from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
  • W3C AccessibilityThe Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.
  • 4 Excellent Examples of Diverse and Inclusive Company Cultures from Emplify – While there are plenty of companies doing diversity right, these ones really stood out for their focus on employee engagement.

43 thoughts on “Inclusion – a how to”

  1. Inclusion is soooo important. My last office job, it was a very heavily male-dominated culture, and there were some serious issues with it, to the point it was affecting customers. I was a royal pain in the a** harassing people to be better. Don’t care, I’d rather annoy my coworkers than have clients be hurt by careless comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awareness is the first step. Your company sounds like it’s working to increase awareness, which is great. It’s a process, and it never really ends. We always need to be mindful. Hopefully HR will take your suggestions to heart. My employer also focuses on diversity & inclusion in the workplace. I appreciate it, and I know it’s helped me to be more aware and accepting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are some excellent points! My work has recently appointed a Diversity and Inclusivity team and we’re now receiving training on areas like unconscious bias and microagressions. We’ve recently started viewing CVs blind in job applications as well, which is a small but important step to take!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an eye opening post this was! I think may be at some point in my life I may have been guilty of these micro aggressions. Definitely something for me to improve on. Thanks for the tips and the further reading references you provided.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi SS&GP. That was a thought-provoking article, thank you. I loved this line “If you think you haven’t, you’re wrong” – awesome! One of my bosses has a bad habit of talking over people – I must have perfected my ‘not impressed’ look because these days he stops again and lets me carry on 🙂 You didn’t elaborate on the point but I have to say, I am not a fan of positive discrimination at all – use the best person for the job, regardless of who that may be, based upon their ability to do the job, not whatever set of criteria the HR department is trying to meet. If I’m interviewing prospective employees A and B, and A is the most suitable, I don’t want to be forced to take on B regardless of their suitability.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I totally liked reading your article and I could clearly see your meticulous efforts in encouraging awareness with subtle examples from daily life. As a person of colour, I have sometimes experienced blatant stereotypes and biases which may have been directed unintentionally but sadly the frequency becomes high if people don’t read and make themselves more aware about marginalized sections of the global society. You have done a great job ☺️👍

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a thoughtful post. Particularly loved the considerations and practical tips. When we really pay attention to what we are doing, we can make big improvements. Thank you for the reminders. Lovely post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m happy that you point out these biases, and unconsciously I am guilty too. All across organizations/industries have similar situations. It needs sensitivity to address these issues and at the same time one must speak out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The speaking out part is the hardest thing. In one to one situations I feel OK gently pointing things out and I’ve had some people react grumpily but accepting my response. In bigger groups its much harder. I have corrected someone referring to someone they’d never met by a diminutive name. Anything more complex I find hard.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Such great information that challenges us all to look at our implicit biases, etc. I’ve written about unlearning racism on my advocacy page and how our unconscious bias plays a role in how we interact with those around us (and move through life). It’s a lifelong commitment facing our own racism, etc and it’s worth doing. Thanks for sharing your input — very valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for sharing this wonderful and thought-provoking article. We ARE all unconsciously biased and once we realize it, we can take the steps to create a better world for everyone. Sometimes we just need that little reminder that we should slow down and consider how we do this every day and what we should do to improve upon that! Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is excellent. The unconscious biases are things we are all guilty of. Awareness is a good start.

    Like you, I am fortunate to work for a company that takes diversity and inclusion very seriously. We have numerous employee resource groups for people of colour, women, LBGTQ and indigenous peoples. And the cool thing is, everyone is able to attend all of their events. What better way to break down barriers than spending time talking to each other and learning about each other’s lives and challenges?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Another really interesting post. I work for a multi academy trust in teaching and it feels like there’s not a great deal of effort with inclusion with staff. Certainly nothing like your organisation has.
    As for me, I’m most likely as guilty as anyone of unconscious bias. As you say, it’s unconscious. But I try! You mention pronunciation of names and working in a very multi cultural school I find myself apologising to new classes about pronouncing names wrong, but I always do my best to learn! You look like an idiot otherwise and it’s very disrespectful, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can imagine that in the classroom when you might see hundreds of students each day, with many cultures and languages involved, pronunciation must be tricky. The fact that you try and that you apologise is as much as you can do. I have a friend from primary school who has consistently pronounced someone’s surname (of Czech origin) phonetically for 30+ years despite being corrected several times, now that’s disrespectful and demeaning.
      If you’re interested, some of the resources I linked might be useful. Do you have a diversity leader in your academy trust? I would have though someone ought to have that role, even if it’s part of another job. I’m interested to hear more.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They’re all very easily done, and hard to recognise unless someone points it out – which they’re unlikely to do in some atmospheres. But knowing we might be doing it is a great first step and I’ve definitely changed my behaviour since getting involved with LeanIn 3 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

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