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  • Nathalie Weister

the inclusion delusion

Since leaving my corporate role a few months ago and venturing out on my own path of personal transformation, I’ve been inundated with job postings and seduced by countless company websites, many of which are touting inclusion as one of their foremost enterprise values. And yet, while I support prioritization of inclusive work environments that engender psychological safety and spaces where employees can contribute without fear of being ostracized or suppressed, I wonder if we are putting our energy and efforts in the right place.

Last week as I was traveling through Turkey, I was saddened and horrified by the breaking news of yet another overt example of hate on a massive scale - a bleak contrast to the love and connection I was experiencing on my trip. The beauty of travel for me has always been rooted in its ability to open my eyes to diverse perspectives and foster a deep appreciation for both our cross-border differences and our likenesses. As I traversed a foreign terrain, attempted to learn bits and pieces of another language, and connected with individuals from a uniquely blended culture over Turkish coffee and “delights,” I found it difficult to grasp how dissimilar viewpoints could be the source of so much pain and suffering. Like so many others, my immediate reaction to the barbaric crimes against humanity and subsequent propagation of further divisive acts was heartbreak and disillusionment.

I would be remiss to appear as if I am trivializing a profound conflict with significant historical, cultural, and religious depth by relating it to the corporate universe; I have barely scratched the surface of understanding the nature of the recurring struggle in the Middle East. And I can’t help but highlight that the dynamics (and cost) of power and exclusion are not limited to geopolitical scenes. While programs and positions focused on “inclusion” are a popular corporate antidote to build bridges, I challenge these initiatives as the solutions to enduring change. I assert that true inclusion, synonymous with acceptance, begins with self-awareness. Naturally, we embrace those who mirror our welcomed traits and we shun reflections of our “shadow selves,” as the renowned psychologist Carl Jung would characterize them. As I was listening to a recent podcast interview with one of my favorite performance coaches, Peter Crone, he pointed out that the true marker of a superhero is when he recognizes and accepts his shortcomings. None of us are any different: we are all the superheroes of our own lives. But our true power lies in our ability to integrate the contrasting qualities of light and dark before we have any hope of fostering them outside of ourselves – whether in corporate ecosystems or on the geopolitical stage. To quote Crone: “everyone is looking for profound acceptance, true surrender to that which they are on all levels, through all dimensions.” Recognizing our duality within, which at times manifests in evil beyond comprehension, can lead to broader understanding externally, in workplaces and beyond.

While Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) programs hold immense value, they often address symptoms rather than causes. Genuine healing and understanding stem from a willingness to first look inward. We put a Band-Aid on a cut to help stop the bleeding and protect the wound while it heals, but the healing itself is an inside job. Translate that to organizations and leaders, and before we can promote inclusion as a value, the invitation is to step into our individual wholeness by accepting the parts of ourselves that we keep locked away in the darkness. We must shine a light on all of it, acknowledging that it’s the common ground that makes us human in the first place. Again, at the risk of seeming reductionist as I reference a storied and complex conflict that has once again erupted at the expense of far too many innocent lives, I contend that it can serve as a reminder of the cost of continuing to find the faults in the “other”. The first step to healing and perhaps the only way to comprehend the hate, the rejection and the separation in this world is the recognition that we are on a collective journey from division to inclusion. And if we can embrace that we are the contrast, there is nothing or no one “else” to include beyond ourselves. As Crone aptly states, “we won’t have world peace as long as we’re at war with ourselves.” True peace and inclusion begin with self-love, compassion, and acceptance, radiating outwards to our communities and the world.

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