Diversity is being asked to the Party; Inclusion is being asked to dance

Mar 11 2021 • 3 min read • Diversity

The voices calling for diversity and inclusion are rising, with diversity being better understood and easier to measure of the two. Many organisations have clear targets that reflect their intention and commitment to the agenda, though largely skewed towards diversity.

Although diversity does not only relate to gender, applying the gender lens to it remains a priority given WEF’s reports that it will take 257 years to achieve economic gender parity.

Having women equally represented is half the battle, the test remains in having women truly embraced and included in the social and decision-making circles, where they continue to remain on the fringes.

Diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers put it well when she said “Diversity is being asked to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

We need to go beyond diversity targets and reap the benefits of true inclusion. Scott Page, a professor at the University of Michigan, demonstrated using a formal mathematical formula that a diverse group of people with different skills and perspectives “found better solutions to problems and made more accurate predictions than a homogeneous group of high achievers who think alike.”

So how then do we overcome the inclusion barrier?

Verna further suggested that overcoming prejudice starts with identifying our unconscious biases and trying to rewire our brains to welcome differences and think more inclusively. The operative words being “trying to rewire our brains”, which is where it comes undone, as those who are being called to rewire their brains, remain with the choice to do so or not to, having enjoyed the privileges of exclusion.

Now if you have tried to develop a new habit and change your behaviours, you would agree it is incredibly difficult to drive change in one’s own life, how much more so encouraging others to change their mindsets? This approach, while not impossible, may take some time and does not leave the woman in the driver’s seat to navigate the corporate culture that excludes her contributions.

We offer that women should find mechanisms within themselves to overcome the inclusion barrier and thrive.

Psychological impacts of exclusion

What is often overlooked in diversity and inclusion discussions is the psychological cost of exclusion. The active exclusion experienced by women, especially at senior levels contributes to increased rates of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout, all of which often result in women leaving organisations at the peak of their careers, countering the progress of diversity efforts. An untenable cycle.

Jane O’Reilly an Assistant Professor in organisational behaviour and human resource management, states that social exclusion is a psychologically painful experience, and neuroscience research shows that being left out of social circles lights up the same areas of the brain as the experience of physical pain.

Yugrow undertook research with women across the African continent 68% of women revealed that they were disengaged with their work largely due to feeling that they do not belong. They experienced active exclusion and felt shut out from opportunities to contribute meaningfully.

The question is, what do we do to support women as we wait for the rewiring of proverbial brains, hard wired for exclusion?

Breaking inclusion barriers through mental resilience

Whilst there’s is merit investing in programmes that address unconscious bias, we believe that a micro-level approach that focuses on the individual woman whose seat is constantly being moved is required.

Women must confront her environment for what it is, understanding that the structural biases are not going away anytime soon, and build the mental resilience she will require to break through the barriers.

We say, arrive at the party, and don’t wait to be called to dance.

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