What Does Inclusion Really Mean?

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Written by David LeFebvre
August 5, 2020 | 4 min. read 

In our world, we talk about inclusion, especially related to diversity and equity. We need to be more inclusive. How inclusive is our hiring practices? How do I use inclusive language? Businesses, nonprofits, and corporations have identified that inclusive practices are critical to their success, but I think it is important to truly understand what does inclusion mean? What behaviors and actions do I need to embody to actually achieve inclusion? What does success actually look like? What does it look like when we WIN!
 
These are questions that I consider every day. I work in the field of supplier diversity and economic inclusion. Supplier diversity is a proactive business program that encourages the use of minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned, LGBTQ-owned, and historically underutilized businesses in the supply chain. I work with a variety of internal stakeholders to connect them with external diverse suppliers to help meet their business needs.
 
As I work with internal stakeholders, the daily question comes back to inclusion. But the important part to consider is What are we trying to achieve when including others in the conversation, in the bidding process, in the boardroom, in a hiring decision? We need to always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is EQUITY. How through our actions and behaviors are we helping to reduce potential barriers, break down historical systems, and create access so EVERYONE can reach their full potential?

As I engage in the daily work of supplier diversity and economic inclusion, it takes me back to my experience as an adolescent and attending a youth leadership camp called Anytown. This program was a social justice youth program that explored the institutional systems that exist in our world and how they infiltrate our personal lives: racism, sexism, homophobia. Anytown brought out the realities of how our world can combat EQUITY and our collective abilities to ensure everyone, not just some people, reaches his/her potential. This was a monumental, life-changing experience that has catapulted me into a life journey that circles back to my initial question, What does inclusion mean?
 
Through my career, life experiences and lots of learning and education, I have landed on a couple of ways that help achieve inclusion, which leads to equity and ultimately justice.
 
How do we make room at the table?

People often talk about the metaphorical ”table” and how people are invited to that table. The table can be where decisions are made about who is hired for a new job or who is promoted. Or how local government makes decisions on what departments receive funding. As I try to challenge myself every day, I push myself to think about who is at the table and do the people at the table represent all the voices of our community. Did I just add more seats at the back of the room to say I included people and check that box or did I really think about who was included at the table? 
 
Also, how did I ensure access and opportunity for everyone’s voice to be there? If I am in charge of a committee for a local youth development organization and I invited a parent of the program to participate, what did I put in place to ensure that it is not a burden for the parent to participate? Or did I remove chairs at the table to allow for someone who may attend the meeting in their wheelchair? 
 
Who is part of our social capital?
 
As I think about my networks and people that I am connected with, I think about how diverse those networks are and how intentional I am in including others. When I work with my business customers, I push them to consider, Do I award a contract with that general contractor just because I know them and/or they look and talk like me, or did I consider a more diverse group of general contractors that are outside of my inner circle?
 
Networks and social capital can limit others’ access and opportunity and I believe a critical piece to achieving full inclusion is to acknowledge our unconscious bias and be intentional in our practices, policies and procedures. I am a new board member of a local nonprofit that promotes economic prosperity through leadership, education, and advocacy for small, women- and minority-owned businesses. What was immediately evident to me was that social capital can make a world of difference.
 
There are indeed a lot of questions to consider. As you can see I ask myself a lot of questions every day. The intent is to not be overwhelming but to truly push ourselves so they keep moving the needle to truly INCLUDE others, so that we may get closer to achieving EQUITY.

To learn more about equity and inclusion, register today for our free course, The Equity Journey!