Intentional Inclusion


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Study after study has shown how heterogeneous teams are more productive than homogenous teams.  Study after study has also shown how heterogeneous teams are more unproductive than homogeneous teamsSo what is the contradiction? The answer to the contradiction lies in the difference between diversity and inclusion, or more specifically, intentional inclusion.

Diversity is not a choice anymore. We are surrounded by diversity in every form. In a global workplace we are faced with diversity all the time: cultural, regional, gender, generational.

But differences create conflict. As humans, with vestiges of our animal heritage, we are constantly associating the new and the unknown to the foe. Differences also threaten our sense of self. So yes, diversity creates conflict and can hamper productivity.

So what’s the answer? Inclusion. Intentional Inclusion.

Intentional Inclusion

It requires effort and conscious behavioral choices. For as Joe Gerstandt says, “If you do not intentionally, deliberately and proactively include, you will unintentionally exclude”.

Intentional Inclusion is first and foremost an individual journey.

This individual journey needs us to introspect on the stereotypes and unconscious biases we might hold. I still remember a client who mentioned that she had a team member from a minority community and her client claimed discomfort in dealing with him! The stereotypes and unconscious biases I hold impact the careers of others, especially when I am in a position of power.

Surfacing my unconscious biases and engaging in behaviors of intentional inclusion can create a workplace that provides equal opportunities for all groups.

At the next level, it requires conscious behavioral choices: Do I actively seek people different from me? How do I respond to different thoughts/views? How do I work with differing priorities? Each and every one of us has a responsibility to become comfortable with the ‘different’ person.

As a Manager, do I have checks and balances to counter my own preferences for a certain kind of team member?

I still remember my very first Manager, who used to actively prod the quieter members in a meeting, and listen respectfully to even contradictory opinions. I was barely 20 and we were designing a new pack for a top selling product; I had a very ‘different’ take on the color scheme and recall how he stopped to let me explain the thinking behind it. Not surprisingly, he had the most creative people vying to be part of his team.

Or even the Manager, who on seeing some members of his team being isolated, taking active steps to include them both in formal and informal gatherings.

For diversity to thrive, intentional inclusion is imperative.

As Ayn Rand would say “No contradiction!”.

How do you act when faced with diversity?

Do you join groups that are different?

Do you seek people who are different from you? 

What are some short-term and long-term strategies you can develop to be more inclusive?

5 thoughts on “Intentional Inclusion

  1. The journey to inclusion starts with self awareness , and there seems to be no reason for anyone to explore his/her biases unless there is a felt need on count of work or impact on personal relationships.

    Kalpana – would love to hear your perspective on what could be potential triggers for a person to be more inclusive!

    1. Good question Chhavi!
      I see three triggers :
      a) Our own experiences of exclusion that each one of us at some point or the other would have gone through; this normally triggers us to be more inclusive
      b) Our organization or any system we are a part of: the culture in an organization is obviously a big driver of inclusive behaviors
      c) The role models we work closely with who impact our own behaviors

      Over to you 🙂 What do you think are the triggers?

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