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To really understand Inclusion, we need to blow open the common conception of Diversity: “Oh yes, Diversity, that’s about race, sex, age, disability, etc., etc.” - the Protected Charactersitics of the Equality Act. Well, it is but it’s also about far more – the diverse qualities of every complex human being: background, culture, education, neurodiversity, thinking style, communication style, physical attributes, etc., etc. Above all, cognitive diversity (different ways of thinking about issues and solving problems), the real bonus of an inclusive culture, arises from each person’s diverse life story.


You might think “but the Protected Characteristics do include everyone”. True, but most people don’t consider themselves to be disadvantaged because of these features and conclude that this is to do with others. Many organisations I’ve worked with have been so focussed on ‘increasing diversity’ by trying to recruit more disabled people or people of colour that they have completely forgotten about the immense diversity they already have within their teams.


 Why is this broad understanding of Diversity so important?

  • Anybody can be made to feel excluded, undervalued, unfairly treated because of these differences and this affects their commitment, health and productivity.

  • Creating an inclusive culture for all, unleashes the potential of that diversity – better problem solving, decision making, and, well …. happiness at work.


Now it becomes personal, for everyone. There’s motivation to take the knowledge and turn it into everyday actions. If this culture is nurtured and sustained, it can change everything in the workplace, opening minds and hearts, reducing conflict, rewarding innovation and participation. 

Now, back to the Protected Characteristics. I hope it doesn't sound like I am diminishing the importance of these. They are very important because they are the characteristics that are most likely to attract discrimination in work and society. But I have seen how those organisations who focus only on their diversity data and increasing representation, often do manage to recruit a few more disabled people, people of colour, women / men, LGBTQ+ people, people of different faiths, only to have them leave within a year. Why? Because they had not built an inclusive culture for everyone. A few sessions on disability awareness cannot substitute for an embedded culture that allows staff to be open to difference, willing to face and address their own biases (conscious and unconscious) and, above all, feel safe to learn from one another.


In my next blog, I consider the third principle underpinning my approach: We need to shift the power – perhaps the most important and difficult of all.

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