by Silvia Solis, Research and Evaluation Associate at Joining Vision and Action

There is a secret challenge to inclusivity. The challenge lies in that there are, at least, two different levels at which inclusivity happens and is expressed.

The first level is rooted in the recognition and acknowledgment of diversity— meaning, the explicit ways in which a group of people is willing to actively welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds, with different lifestyle choices and dissimilar worldviews. This active expression of inclusion is something that is mostly implemented at the structural level, through things such as organizational policies. It is easier to see when inclusivity is being addressed at this level because it is quantifiable. One may simply look at the numbers and profiles of employees or members to figure out how diverse, or “inclusive,” an organization appears to be.

The second level of inclusion is one rooted in a deeper layer of culture. And, as opposed to the measurable type of diversity, this other subtle expression of inclusivity relates more specifically to the quality of relationships and dynamics that take place within a group.

Let me give you an example. A friend of mine works at a ranch up in rural Northern Colorado. There are about the same number of English-speaking Anglo American workers, bilingual Mexican Americans, and Spanish-speaking Mexican workers. This is an evident, and good, model of a diverse workplace. Men and women from various backgrounds, ethnicities and language proficiency levels are joined together by a common goal and given the opportunity to forge a career under an “inclusive” model of management. However, when it comes to a sense of membership, those who do not belong to the dominant culture are kept in the shadows, not necessarily because they can’t communicate in the language or don’t know the job, but because they don’t have the appropriate social mechanisms to effectively interact with the “in group.”

This deeper level of belonging and participating is all about the harder—if at all possible—skills to acquire, the more subtle nuances of social connection that are packaged into cultural norms and make all the difference in terms of inclusion. It includes things such as shared history, friends in common, inside jokes and, more importantly, a sense of confidence. It goes beyond language and mere behaviors. It is a feeling of identity or, in this case, lack of identity. It’s a pervasive cultural barrier that is as invisible as it is impassable.

To achieve a real experience of inclusivity thus requires us to go beyond its organizational and structural expressions. It calls for an insightful look at our own personal privilege and anxieties that will expose our hidden prejudice and biases, with the hope that, as we become more honest with ourselves, we might eventually become more inclusive in our daily interactions.

At JVA, we strive to continuously learn ways through which we can become more diverse AND inclusive, as well as do work that promotes inclusivity at its deeper levels. We know that to truly generate change, the practice of diversity, inclusion and equity must come from within and is an exercise that calls for repetition, evaluation and commitment. Only then can this subtle level of inclusion infuse, one by one, the subsequent levels at work, in our communities, and ultimately, in our society.

We invite you to take an honest look at not only your workplace or organization, but also yourself. Are there ways in which you feel the quality of your relationships can be improved in terms of acceptance toward others, especially those who might look and think differently from you? Is there space in your life and your mind to interact with new ideas, customs and ways of doing things? Take a chance. It might even make you a friend.

Want to hear more from Silvia? Discover her other blogs here.