Inclusion: Boldly Go into the Discomfort Zone

by  Jane Perdue  |  Leadership Development

Now that I live in the South, I’m frequently asked if I enjoy Southern hospitality. Of course I do. People being pleasant and personable make encounters more enjoyable. Yet there’s something superficial about it — a congenial exchange that happens at arm’s length, well-intentioned but not deeply committed.

I have that same view regarding how many companies and individuals approach diversity and inclusion. They tout good representation numbers but that’s where their work stops, falling way short of true inclusion.

Getting to inclusion is disruptive, complicated, and frustrating work.

You’ve got to want it…real bad.

Individuals and companies choosing to be inclusive must actively work to make it a reality, seeing it as a participative sport in which everyone contributes. Inclusion is a mindset, not an initiative. “Diversity is everybody’s business,” says Pat Harris, global chief diversity officer at McDonald’s Corporation. “I refuse to let anyone say ‘diversity and inclusion program,’ because it’s not a program. It’s how we do business every day.”

At arm’s length

Looking to assess the depth of your organizational and/or personal commitment to diversity and inclusion?  Ponder the answers to these questions:

  • Does your organization practice real inclusion or simply point to a set of headcount numbers to show compliance? Are diverse individuals integral members of the leadership team whose alternate points of view matter and are actively considered?

Diversity should be understood as the varied perspectives and approaches to work that members of different identity groups bring. ~David A. Thomas and Robin J. Ely

  • Are your diverse friends close friends — the kind you can call at 3 AM when your world is crashing around you or do you share mostly cocktail party style chatter with them?

I can imagine nothing more terrifying than an Eternity filled with men who were all the same. The only thing which has made life bearable…has been the diversity of creatures on the surface of the globe. ~T.H. White

  • Does your organization promote equal opportunity yet provide better-than-equal opportunity to those with the “right” connections? Is there a good old boys network that operates quietly in the background? Does the engineering department promote an attitude that women don’t have what it takes? Are women who can’t work in the evening hours because of child care viewed as not being team players?

We are much too much inclined in these days to divide people into permanent categories, forgetting that a category only exists for its special purpose and must be forgotten as soon as that purpose is served. ~Dorothy L. Sayers

  • Are micro inequities an elusive fact of life, like the diversity department being staffed primarily with women and minorities? Are there “seemingly small slights, subtle insensitivities, little daily acts of often unconscious exclusion, men habitually bantering about sports before meetings begin, a condescending tone, a name repeatedly mispronounced?”

If the responses to these reflection questions create discomfort, good. Research shows that social systems “are interested in the processes which enable the ‘powerful’ to maintain the privileges which are associated with it and the status quo.” Transformation will be challenging as our focus shifts from addressing the square peg to asking why there’s always the round hole.

Ready to move into your discomfort zone to make room for inclusion?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
Jane is a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. She loves chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mary C Schaefer  |  10 Dec 2013  |  Reply

Excellent, Jane. Thanks for writing such a clear piece on this.

I particularly like, “If the responses to these reflection questions create discomfort, good,” and this too, “People being pleasant and personable make encounters more enjoyable. Yet there’s something superficial about it — a congenial exchange that happens at arm’s length, well-intentioned but not deeply committed.”

Yes, being pleasant has its place. To truly mature, and deepen those relationships or values we claim commitment to, we need to get comfortable with discomfort, because it’s inevitable. Thank you for making that plain to readers.

Jane Perdue  |  10 Dec 2013  |  Reply

Mary — love your advice and guidance! I’m into intentional discomfort these days, so BIG thanks for your kind words.

Mike Henry  |  12 Dec 2013  |  Reply

Jane, thanks for the uncomfortable post.

I confess I don’t want to be challenged. I don’t want to read stuff by people with whom I disagree. I don’t want to search through something (in my bias) I perceive as wrong to find something I can learn or use to change. I’m too lazy for that.

But I’m better when I do. And if I want to be the best person and leader I can be, I need to make time to do exactly what you said. Thanks for saying it (even if I don’t really want to hear it).


Page Cole  |  12 Dec 2013  |  Reply

Thanks for the post… I must admit that I’m human, and suffer from my own quirks, foibles and yes, even prejudices. I’m working on those weak spots in my own life, and moving towards seeing people as just that— people.

I’ve accepted the fact that it’s not my faults or failures in those areas that define me, but how I react to those inconsistencies or weaknesses. My personal measuring tape I use on myself has three standards:

1) Am I moving in the right direction? I may not change my reflexes or practices overnight, but I’m working and as long as I’m moving in the right direction, that’s progress;

2) Do my actions stack up well against what my stated core values are? As a Christian, my values are going to be rooted in the Bible and in Christian tradition. My actions must measure up to the standards outlined there, or I’m missing the mark;

3) Am I aware that I still have a long way to go? At the moment I think I don’t, that’s when I should be most afraid.

Again, super thought provoking article. You are appreciated for the difference you made in my life today!


Join The Conversation