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We've all experienced not being invited to an event, not being in on a joke, or not being asked our thoughts in a meeting. It's a rubbish feeling. And it's just the tip of the iceberg for so many people.
When you see the word 'inclusion', you (like me) probably see HR jargon. But inclusion isn't just a workplace issue. It's a real-life, everyday thing.
You might already be practising small acts of inclusion without even realising. Or, you might be consciously making an effort to be inclusive. Perhaps you want to learn more about how to make others feel included. Whichever it is, there's always more we can be doing.
I'm still learning and finding new ways to be inclusive. Here are some things that I've picked up so far.
Challenge stereotypes and avoid assumptions
Challenge other people's biases
There have been countless times in my life where I wish I had challenged someone's comments. Why didn't I? Because it's terrifying to speak up when nobody else does. But it's the scariest conversations that are the most important.
You might hear a comment at work or hear a friend make a joke at the expense of others. That's your cue to speak up. It's daunting, sure, but it's necessary. And, you'll grow more confident the more you do it; start with your friends and branch out from there.
Challenge your own biases
We also need to confront our own biases, which is far from easy. Tune in to your responses. You see a new person in the office, someone walking past you in the street, the cashier who serves you: What's your inner voice saying? How can you challenge it?
Whether it's your own preconceived biases, or someone else's, calling it out is vital. If you've had someone back you up, you know how reassuring it can feel. You feel seen and understood. Try to do that for others.
Avoid making assumptions
A lot of the time, our assumptions are subconscious. It's our job to notice them when they creep up and try not to let them surface. A general rule of thumb? Avoid making assumptions about someone's identity. Whether that's: Gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability, it's not our place to assume.
If you're unsure about something, talk to the person. Create a safe and open dialogue to help yourself understand more.
Making offensive assumptions and asking questions to better educate ourselves are two very different things. You shouldn't be afraid to talk to someone. Just be considerate when you do so.
Listen, ask, speak
We can be very quick to jump in when someone else is talking (myself included), but it's not a sign that you're really listening to them. In fact, it can feel like the total opposite.
If you've experienced an interrupter when you're speaking, you might know that it almost feels like they just want the conversation to end, right? Instead, try to really hear what someone is saying to you.
Treading on eggshells around others won't help either of you. So ask questions, just ask them in the right way.
Create a safe space for the other person, make sure they are happy to answer your questions. And respect their boundaries. Let them take as long as they need to answer, and don't interrupt them when they do.
In any conversation, it's helpful to ask yourself questions, too. Like "Am I informed enough on this topic?", "Am I really giving space to everyone to take part in this chat?", "Is my opinion really required?" and so on.
Try not to dismiss their comments or experiences. Phrases like "In my opinion" or "That's not what I've heard" are ingrained in us, but they don't contribute to a conversation in a particularly positive way. Instead, try phrases like "I hear you", "That's a new perspective for me".
Not sure what someone's pronouns are? Ask! It might feel uncomfortable, but it's a sign that you care. It also gives them the space to be themselves without fear of judgement. And, when addressing a group, try not to use gendered terms like "guys" or "ladies". These can lead to misgendering or isolating someone.
Kindness is key
Being inclusive isn't a quick shift. It takes time. Ultimately, it’s all about kindness and respect. So, be kind!
Be proactive to include people.
Even if it's just grabbing a coffee, or filling up everyone's water bottles, ask around. Know that someone doesn't usually come to work drinks? Still make an effort to extend the invite. Sometimes, it's nice to be asked even if you know you won't go. Besides, maybe this time they will.
It can even be as simple as making sure your spell and pronounce someone's name correctly. Someone spelling your name wrong in an email or message despite it being right in front of them is such a sinking feeling – it happens to me all the time, and it makes me feel less than.
Inclusion means different things to all of us. What does it mean to you? I'd love to hear. Ask your colleagues, too: "How can I help you feel included?". Take it beyond listening, and action their response. See if there's something you can do to help someone feel included today and every day.