Somebody asked me the other day what I did for a living. I said I’m a facilitator. They said, ‘Oh I hate facilitators.’ When you work in the field of diversity, equity & inclusion, it’s not unusual to find yourself in a space where people come into the room with a less than gratifying view of what it is they think you might do. Some really don’t want to be there. Some think, ‘It’s going to be about what you can and can’t say, it’s going to all about political correctness and the woke agenda’. Others come with high expectations of a genuine opportunity to move the dial on a subject that means more to them than most things.
This is true around the globe, but can show up differently in the US, UKE or APAC depending on where we’re delivering the work. The job of the facilitator is a huge responsibility. It’s a privilege and one that deserves continual effort and development. What might be right today, may not be right tomorrow.
At Steps we find that navigating that space requires a carefully thought through tone. Carefully created research-based content. An adult, adult conversation that includes to the greatest extent possible, everyone in that room. A space where folk are not told how to feel but given facts and unambiguous information. Where they are given the opportunity to look into a drama filled mirror to see how these things play out – to connect viscerally and allowed to wonder in self-reflection and together as a group, how they feel and where the work is for them as good human beings. To See it, to Own it, to Change it and ultimately to Live it.
When I first read Gillian Shapiros work in Opportunity Now’s paper ‘’From Pioneer to Mainstream”, http://shapiroconsulting.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Inclusive-Leadership-Executive-Summary.pdf I knew I had found work that would stay with me for a long time, become an essential part of my facilitation, and successfully bring together delegates from all walks of life and all perspectives. Gillian’s work is made up of three core competencies: Your ability to adapt. Your ability to build inclusive teams. And your ability to develop diverse talent. Each underpinned with clear, concise illustrations of what this might look like in practice. The ‘How’s’ of inclusive leadership.
One of my personal vexations about work in diversity, equity and inclusion is that people that care, people that work in this space and get up every day and wonder what better could look like, often create terms – and continually rebrand those terms – that make the simple seem incredibly complex. Often creating an unnecessary barrier to understanding with the folk that most need to understand. And often those people look like me. Shapiros work cuts an elegant way through a to a relatively simple construct. It is built on clear language that doesn’t dumb down but rather elevates the encouragement to ‘let’s figure this out together’. Its side steps the frustrated cry of those that ‘just want to be told what to say’, by encouraging accountability and creating a tangible sense of where the effort may be for or each of us – regardless of our lived experience. It invites everyone to figure the ways forward and not spot the problems. It makes creating an inclusive culture an ambition for any decent human – without making the work feel impossible.
The concept, theory and practice of Inclusive Leadership is a wonderful gateway into accessible conversation. It encourages meaningful wondering, and perhaps most importantly, accountability on an individual, a team and at organisational level. It creates an equitable space for everyone to be thoughtful and speak to the things that matter to them, whilst encouraging everyone to recognise the quieter voices and allow space for them. To take first steps towards an inclusive culture where everyone belongs and plays a leading role – regardless of rank or pay grade.
Simply put, nobody goes to work thinking ‘how can I display the most unhelpful behaviors’. This relies on my deeply held belief that people are inherently good. It involves giving all people the opportunity to pause and consider the positive impact they can make above and beyond what they may already be doing. To build on that truth.
So, no need to throw the baby out with the bath water. No need to give up and decide ‘you can’t say anything these days – so I’ll just say nothing’ , but rather more an encouragement to say, how can we all occupy this space so that you get to be you and they get to be them?
Because therein is the makings of a truly inclusive culture.