In the first part of this article, I looked at how meaningful progress in making our workplaces more inclusive is being derailed by an increasing tendency to weaponise the concept of ‘belonging’.
If you haven’t already, it’s worth reading that before continuing with this – but in summary the increasing inclination to ‘cancel’ or exclude those who make unintentional mistakes in language or action, or those who have an alternate view has bred a culture of fear and silence in which many businesses are nervous about being proactive in seeking change.
So, what is the best approach to de-weaponising the concept of belonging?
- Understand that force doesn’t work
When certain behaviours are demanded of us, and we’re not allowed to ask why, or at least without it being explained properly to us, we become more inclined to dig our heels in. It’s human nature.
Guilting people into doing things differently doesn’t work either, when we do things because we feel we’ve been forced into doing them – whether by others or by ourselves – we feel resentful.
Shaming people for the groups they belong to, because the group as a whole is viewed as being ‘higher’ in status or ‘more privileged’ in any given society, is not only in itself shameful but also unproductive: if someone is shamed, are they going to feel more or less like participating in conversations or initiatives around EDI?
There’s a certain inherent irony in being part of a society that teaches its children to question things, but punishes its adults for doing the same thing when those questions become uncomfortable.
Punishing someone by shutting them down is divisive and unhelpful in the context of EDI and positive change. Education delivered in a supportive (i.e. not patronising or condescending) way, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.
- Build the wider world into your thinking
Because the media we consume sets a framework for how we might think and feel about EDI, our conversations need to be handled with these external inputs in mind. We need to understand the context of people’s misgivings and the desire for ‘outside issues’ to not enter workplace discussions.
That means working to re-frame the impact of media narratives so it becomes helpful to your organisation, rather than obstructive to it.
- Understand the psychology of conditional community
Many organisations have fallen into the bear trap of trying to achieve a desired outcome around EDI through enforcement, thinking that success can be achieved through the development and implementation of specific policies and procedures that coerce a closely-defined approach or set of behaviours.
This approach – known as conditional community – in which a group of people operate within a set of conditions – is a bit like herding sheep. The sheep may end up in the same pen, but they don’t necessarily understand why they’re there, and their natural instinct is to try to escape.
Conditional community is built on a culture of fear which tends to put an emphasis on the stick rather than the carrot. In this environment, oppression is used to achieve conformity (usually to ‘achieve the greater good’) and condemnation often masquerades as love.
There is no discussion in a conditional organisation, and because the framework of conditionality is a rigid one, there is no nuance. In a world of black and white, there are no shades of grey between normality and deviance.
Trying to boil EDI down into wrong and right is a useless pursuit that only ever leads to injustice and a never-ending demand for unquestioning obedience.
That’s not the sort of place in which anyone wants to work.
- Understand the simple stuff
There is always risk: In the simplest possible terms, progress is never going to be without incident. There are always risks – but the key is to take them seriously, accept them, and manage them.
Celebrate individual diversity: We are not all the same, we don’t think the same things, we don’t feel the same way about things, and we are influenced by different priorities and messages.
A diverse background alone is not a qualification for EDI leadership: Someone’s racial or gender identity, age, disability, sex, or membership of a marginalised community doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right person to lead your EDI work.
Devolving responsibility to someone on the basis of the diversity they may represent without being assured that they have the ability and skills to lead may, in fact, be counterproductive, making space for allegations of tokenism or box-ticking.
Finding a balance that demonstrates a clear commitment to a process that reflects the EDI challenges within your business whilst also offering the experienced leadership required to meet that commitment is essential.
Most views are valid: When all is said and done, what you think needs to happen to change what EDI looks like in your organisation isn’t necessarily what your people think needs to happen. Prioritising what you think is important over what your teams think is important will undermine your work before it has even properly begun.
We can help
Do you feel like your organisation needs help to navigate this?
Contact us about our workshops on The Language of Inclusion, and The De-Weaponisation of Belonging. Our tools, training and resources cover everything featured in these two articles.