"The Illusion of Inclusion by Dr Helen Turnbull"
  • How inclusive are you really?
  • Do you think of yourself as a well-intentioned person?
  • Do you know the difference between being a good leader and being an inclusive leader?
  • What role does unconscious bias play in your decision making?

I boarded a flight from Miami to Los Angeles earlier this year and was heading to Australia so I was settling in for a very long trip. I had my favorite window seat on the plane and I was reaching for my Bose headset to listen to my music when my fellow passenger arrived. I quickly realized that he was with the woman who was getting ready to sit down across the aisle from him. This insight was followed by a sharp intake of breath on my part, as I anticipated being asked to change seats with her so that they could sit together. No, that was not happening! I plugged my headset in and dropped my eyes towards my iPhone intent on ignoring both of them. I heard the flight attendant loudly stating “Perhaps someone would like to switch seats with your wife Sir”. My inner voice was running amuck with conversations that had the man on the other side of the plane switching seats and everyone, including the helpful (bossy) Flight Attendant, leaving me happily in my favorite seat. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder and a male voice with a very sophisticated, plumy British accent said “Excuse me, but would you mind awfully switching seats with my wife; she does not like to fly and would be much more comfortable sitting with me”. Before I knew it I found myself in a Star Trek moment of “Beam me up Scotty” transported across the aisle. I was completely transfixed; metaphorically scratching my head in bemusement. What had just happened? I had consciously told myself that I was not going to give up my seat and yet apparently I just did. How could this be?
As I settled in to my new aisle seat I realized that my unconscious bias and programming had kicked in and taken over my brain cells. Being British, well actually being Scottish, I was preconditioned to respond to people who spoke the Queen’s English. How could I refuse a fellow Country man who had asked with such a polite accent?
Unconscious biases and blind spots can and do impact the quality of our day to day decision making and in many cases will insidiously affect our ability to include others. In my many years of doing Global Inclusion and Diversity work I have never met a leader or manager who says “I think I will go to work today and exclude others”; and yet people do exclude others. The talent pipeline is impacted by these decisions on a daily basis. Becoming an inclusive leader and creating an inclusive work environment is a complex process which requires the commitment and careful attention of leaders and key stakeholders. Women, People of Color and people of difference in general (i.e. all of us) are impacted by either being treated as if we are all the same or being treated as if we are so different that we do not fit in.
Inclusion is not about sameness; it is complex, untidy, and even messy, and requires effort. Hiring in our own image, promoting people we are comfortable with and causing others to have to adjust their style to make us comfortable do not qualify as inclusive behaviors. Warren Bennis said that to be a good leader you need to understand the context in which you are leading; understand your people and understand yourself. I would contend that to become an inclusive leader in today’s increasingly diverse environment you need to do all three of these things at a much deeper level of complexity. Moving from the “Illusion of Inclusion” to consciously becoming inclusive means catching these moments when you change your seat on the plane without knowing why you did it.
Click here to see Dr. Helen Turnbull’s TEDx talk on The Illusion of Inclusion.

"the illusion of inclusion dr helen turnbull'If you would like to learn more check out my latest book “The Illusion of Inclusion”. Available on Amazon.

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