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What COVID-19 has taught us about inclusion and diversity

Dignity of life is what we need more of to care, connect and open

The elbow bump has become the new ‘hello’. A wave from afar, the new handshake. We’re living through a time where a simple trip out to the supermarket now involves face masks, gloves, hand-washing, and antibacterial gel. Everyone around the world is making a conscious effort to create new habits with the sole purpose of keeping us all safe.

Prior to the Covid-19 era, the term and practice of inclusion was something many companies spent a lot of energy and money cultivating. Alas, little progress had been achieved in making corporate culture a fertile bed for the kind of flourishing diversity that everyone wishes for. Inclusion and diversity efforts were often experiencing a sense of programme fatigue. Inclusion became a classroom obsession rather than an embodied practice. Notwithstanding the messages from CEOs and heads of Diversity speaking to its importance in conferences, strategy meetings, and town halls, the average individual employee’s experience on the ground was not matching the ambitions and progress being communicated.

The onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a new experience of inclusion. While people were asked to distance themselves physically, their bond and care for one another grew. We saw many leaders around the world putting their egos to one side to tackle and support their people and one another as best as they could.

More people took the initiative to care for others. We saw professionals sharing their talents for free, artists entertaining people virtually from their homes, and a boom in technology being used for entertainment, social and professional connection. We have shown the world how resourceful we can be when necessary.

So, what have we learned about inclusion from the COVID-19 situation so far?

  1. A need for a common purpose and intent

The pandemic has unified the majority of people from all countries and walks of life and brought everyone together to work towards a common goal. No matter where we come from, where we work, how much money we have, or what we look like, many feel a shared sense of being part of the same battle, with the same intent of saving or protecting lives. We’re all joining together to care for ourselves and for others.

Don’t you feel somehow more connected to people around the world now that we are experiencing a common threat? We’re working together as a human race — much less worried about any of the seemingly small things that have kept us apart in the past. The ‘survival of the fittest’ imperative no longer applies; we’re all working towards the survival of the collective.

When we look at the current inclusion agenda in organisations, there is often no essence of common intent. Its strategy within organisations is often thematic in design and focuses on raising awareness about differences, rather than creating a common purpose. We all know that inclusion is good for business and yet that does not appear to be a big enough incentive for everyone, as there are still so many ways to increase profits without being inclusive. We also know it’s good for society and our wellbeing, yet, it’s complex to tackle it using policies that monitor rather than promote conversations, or through courses that speak to the theory of it rather than its practicality.

  1. The dignity of life is vital

One thing we’ve learned is that dignity of life is a fundamental need for all of us as humans; everyone wants and expects to live a dignified, respectable life. So, what if the common purpose of inclusion is about a commitment to dignity and dignified living; how can we individually and collectively organise to make it happen?

From my work in the field of embodied leadership, the foundation of dignity is choice. So, by working on inclusion, we are increasing our choices to respond to life’s events. How could this enable individuals to be more open and willing to face up to their avoidance and denial tendencies?

By centering inclusion around human dignity, we are inviting people to drop their guard in order to expand themselves and care for themselves and others. From now on, well-being will not be another course that will be taught but rather become a lived reality.

  1. We’re part of a bigger ecosystem

This pandemic has brought to light our interconnectedness and interdependency. This is no longer a philosophical concept you read about in spiritual or sustainable magazines, but a live reality. Our inability to connect to friends, family, and colleagues — even the ones we don’t like — made us feel vulnerable and isolated. We found that being in nature helped us stay resourced and energized; conversely, whenever we did not have access to it, we felt disconnected and drained.

This pandemic has taught us that we all have a role and part to play in our ecology.

From an inclusion standpoint, we have learned that diversity underpins the ecology in our societies, communities, and organizations. Sure, we have differences; but we are the same in that we all have a role to play and a duty to care (for our survival if nothing else).

We all need a functioning, effective ecosystem for our lives to flourish, and we all have a contribution to make to it.

Look at a forest as an example; it’s a complex and yet harmonious ecosystem with every piece working together and thriving.

To create a functional and thriving ecosystem, you need to find out what your people care about and center your strategy around it, as that is what will drive meaningful action.

  1. We need humility instead of control

Even though our world is full of technological advancements, breakthroughs, and strategies, we couldn’t stop this virus from bringing the world to a standstill. Even with all the planning and actions, we are having to take it day by day. We’ve had to be open and receptive to the shifts, data, and information we are learning about the virus and adjust accordingly.

When it comes to inclusion, you may have planned a strategy, however, this shouldn’t be a barrier to your advancement. We need to have the humility and courage to admit when things aren’t working or when we are getting in the way of things and then shift or adapt strategies as needed. Let’s have the humility to give way to what wants to emerge rather than being guided by our need for control.

  • Putting what we’ve learned into practice
  • Wouldn’t it be amazing if all the things we’ve learned through the Pandemic could be translated to the workplace?
  • How can we now create an inclusion strategy that is centered around employee dignity?
  • How can we have the courage to overcome our fear of insignificance getting in the way of our collective advancement and thriving?
  • What might we need to abandon in order to be more inclusive?
  • How can we start seeing, sensing, holding, and supporting the whole, instead of just certain parts?

I don’t have the answer to these questions, but my desire to be with them, explore them, and discover what is really wanting to emerge is what really nourishes me and helps me to be more willing to change.

Just like the Pandemic, inclusion, and diversity is complex, with many layers to unravel; but that shouldn’t make us feel fearful or panicked. Let’s look at it as an opportunity to reimagine the world we want for ourselves and our children. Let’s use this time to build long-lasting bridges and connect with others on a deeper level, both in and out of the workplace.

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