Let’s Embrace Inclusivity!

submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photo by Neil Fauerbach

Maria White 11 28 18.Our Rotary speaker on November 28 opened by introducing herself with her full Latina name, including her given name, her Confirmation name, her father’s last name and her mother’s last name. Then she mentioned that she married a guy named Bill White and became Maria White. Born in Havana, Cuba, White is a new member of the Toledo, Ohio, Rotary Club. She is so new, in fact, that she hasn’t even attended one of their meetings yet. It was our luck to have her speak to our club. That’s certainly worthy of a make-up in Toledo!

White is the founder and CEO of a consulting firm called Inclusity, and she has worked with more than a dozen Fortune 500 CEOs and a myriad of senior leaders, managers and supervisors throughout North America and Europe to help them successfully increase diversity in their organizations. She congratulated our Rotary club for embracing a business model to increase inclusivity in our membership.

White walked us through an evolution of inclusivity work over the decades, beginning with the seemingly homogeneous society in the 1950s. Common themes were those of the “company man” and employment for life. Women were more likely to go into specific professions that did not create the kind of leadership that was recognized and rewarded. In largely white male-dominated workplaces the mantra was, “Work hard and you’ll get ahead.” Some of the intended outcomes of this culture were realized, including outstanding productivity. However there was also the unintended consequence that women, people of color and LGBT people were excluded and their potential to contribute to society was not realized.

Homogeneity gave way in the 1970s to a period focused on assimilation. Common themes were affirmative action and increased representation of women and people of color in organizations. The intention was to increase visible diversity without changing the culture. It was the time of “dress for success” in which women were encouraged to wear suits similar to men’s suits – except certainly not with pants! The success formula was, “Be like us. Work hard and you’ll get ahead.”

“That kind of assimilation causes you to give up on yourself and breeds resentment,” White said. “They wanted me to be like them.” This was very frustrating for White, and she didn’t realize until much later that the intentions of her superiors were to help her to “fit in” and be successful. The unintended consequence was that many workers decided they couldn’t or wouldn’t, and they left. The result is a brain drain.

This eventually led to an emphasis on diversity, with themes of celebrating differences (as opposed to assimilation) and creating opportunities. Employers offered what White referred to as “Fun, Food and Flags” events. The intention was to achieve numerical diversity targets. The unintended consequence of this approach is that some majority workers feel discriminated against, while women and minority workers feel exhausted from having to work harder to attain the same recognition.

In the long run, what we need is not just diversity but inclusivity, said White. That requires that we all – whether we are in the majority or not – understand that we are part of diversity. The guiding themes of inclusivity are a focus on maximum productivity, an acceptance of intentional inclusion and an awareness of unintentional exclusion.

Under the inclusivity model, all you need is decision-making that is based on shared values along with behavioral standards which define the organizational culture, she said. As an example of a shared set of guiding principles, she pointed no further than to Rotary’s own four-way test.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

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