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How Inclusive is Your Organization?


I admit it. I was a big fan of the HBO hit television series, True Blood – especially the earlier seasons. Perhaps you were as well; or maybe you never watched even one episode. Either way, what True Blood represented for me was a story much deeper than its supernatural cast of vampires, werewolves, shape shifters and telepaths. It was a story of love. It was a story of life. It was a story of inclusion.

Set in the fictional, small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, this Emmy award-winning American television drama centered on the adventures of its main character, Sookie Stackhouse, as she and others in this remote Southern community developed a co-existence with vampires amongst other unearthly characters.

The premise of the show is that vampires exist unbeknownst to most. Humans did not learn of this until the creation of a synthetic blood which allowed vampires to come out of the coffin, revealing their existence to the world due to the fact that they no longer needed human blood to survive. From this two “camps” emerged: the vampires who wanted to integrate into human society, providing justice for all and those who felt that a human-vampire co-existence was impossible, given the inherently violent nature of these fanged creatures. As Sookie and her friends moved through 7 seasons of trials and tribulations, learning, accepting, losing and grieving, the series finale this past August concluded with an emotional human twist: the proverbial happy ending.

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If you don’t get sucked into some of the controversy around the series – no pun intended — True Blood was a story about what happens in any community. And just as in any organization, there were difficulties and hardships. There were agreements and disagreements. There were victories and there were losses.

Each week this cast of characters was up against the challenge to embrace greater inclusivity of people, information and ideas. They needed to learn about one another in a way to fully understand and in that, create safe places to explore each individual’s highest potential. In conflict, each character had to become stronger and more agile in his or her leadership and choose to fight gracefully – to be open to and supportive of one another despite differences – in essence, adopting the world view that we are all interconnected and should therefore be valued simply because we exist.

In considering all of this, I am struck by how this fictional community became an all-encompassing community – a group of people choosing to make a commitment to learn how to embrace diversity and communicate with each other at a genuine level, allowing the hidden to become known so that issues could be dealt with in the best way possible. Through the experience of this Southern town’s effort to create justice for all beings, we were reminded about the power of inclusion and what it means to build genuine relationships with one another.

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Diversity and Inclusion. These two words are often considered “one and the same” in many organizations. Yet in my view, there is a distinct difference.

Diversity describes the existence of many unique individuals in the workplace and includes men and women from different nations, cultures, ethnic groups, generations, backgrounds, and skill sets.

Inclusion describes a learning-based work environment where each person is valued for his or her skills, experiences and perspectives where everyone has an opportunity to fully participate in creating business success. Inclusive organizations not only have diverse individuals involved at every level within the institution; more importantly, they are learning-centered organizations that value the perspectives and contributions of everyone. Employees are evaluated based on their actions rather than through others’ opinions in an environment operating under transparent policies and procedures with no hidden rules of behavior that may be apparent to some groups while unknown to others. Inclusive organizations are consistent in their interactions with others; there is no double standard.

Other characteristics of inclusive organizations include a culture of learning where human development is not only encouraged but supported. While the consequences of making a mistake are addressed, errors are viewed as learning opportunities rather than character flaws.

In any community, conflict is inevitable. With that recognition, inclusive organizations have comprehensive, easily accessible conflict resolution systems in place and address conflict in a non-confrontational manner, respecting the dignity and confidentiality of all parties. As one way to say it, people learn to “fight gracefully.”

An inclusive organization is an active participant in the community, recognizing that all of its stakeholders are a part of the community that it serves. They desire to and play a vital role in addressing their community’s needs.

An inclusive organization is one of purpose. These companies live by their mission and the core values that underpin it. People work there because they also believe in the company’s vision.

In an inclusive organization, people are recognized for their actions and accomplishments – and not simply because of their title, role or number of academic degrees. Customers are treated with respect regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Change is inevitable; yet many of us resist it. Inclusive organizations not only accept change –they embrace it — creating a culture of renewal. Current and past practices are constantly reviewed and updated to meet the changing demands and needs of the industry, workforce and customers.

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How inclusive is your organization? Pondering the questions below may help you to achieve your happy ending – where all of the players in your organization can thrive while successfully serving your purpose.

  • Does your organization embrace change?

  • Is your organization values-based, living into its purpose?

  • Is your organization moving toward greater inclusivity of information, people and ideas?

  • Does your organization share knowledge and power effectively?

  • Is your organization becoming more capable of Contemplative Learning (learning through the experience of awareness, insight and compassion for yourself and others)?

  • Is your organization a safe place to explore each person’s full potential?

  • Can the group fight gracefully?

  • Is your organization moving towards or away from becoming a group where there is accountability to develop everyone as a leader?

  • Is there a spirit of interconnectedness present in your organization?

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