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Inclusiveness: A New Term for an Old Ideal

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Geoff Rabinowitz
April 6, 2019

“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”

While this famous phrase was spoken by Abraham Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address to honor the lives lost by soldiers, its applicability today is far greater. One such application is the people that make up of the multitude of governments in the United States that serve their citizenry. These governments should reflect the diversity, complexity, differences, ideals and values of the people they serve. This sounds very similar to the recent human resource practice of inclusiveness.

How is inclusiveness currently defined? The U.S. Office of Personnel Management states, “To gain the maximum benefit from our increasingly diverse workforce, we must make every employee feel welcome and motivated to work their hardest and rise through the ranks. We must affirm that we work better together because of our differences, not despite them.” The City of Beaverton, Oregon states, “Inclusion means that everyone can participate and everyone belongs.”  Inclusiveness, of course, goes beyond national, state and local level of government. This is evidenced by Ferris State University, who defines inclusiveness as “…Involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive university promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds and ways of living of its members.”

Inclusion is clearly an ideal and a goal that the majority of people can certainly get behind. I wish I could say that all people can get behind inclusiveness, but we live in a country where our Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees people’s right to have their own, and at times, differing opinions—including their opinions on diversity and inclusiveness. Extant literature clearly supports the benefits of inclusiveness in that it can: produce better outcomes, better represent multiple viewpoints, alleviate blind spots and allow governments to better function for their constituents. As an example, the Colorado Society for Human Resource Management details how diversity and inclusiveness are the foundation of a Strategic Diversity Management Model that ultimately produces better business results (outcomes). 

One of the key aspects of an inclusive workforce is a representatively diverse workforce where the umbrella of inclusiveness allows all employees to maximize their extrinsic and intrinsic motivational forces. This will support a higher level of employee engagement. Inclusiveness includes areas such as decision-making and active participation of goal obtainment, which supports both employee engagement and motivation. The blending of different ideas, approaches and values truly embodies an inclusive organization. However, this is not the same thing as developing a homogenous workforce of all like-minded employees from diverse backgrounds.

Within an inclusive organization, care must be taken to allow that all voices are heard, all opinions are considered and all backgrounds are represented; not just focusing on the organization’s cultural singularity. An example of what the misuse of inclusiveness looks like is when certain behaviors are singled out as not acceptable in an organization’s culture. Specifically, when organizations state that being from the New York area is not an excuse to be direct and blunt; being direct and blunt, in this case, is unacceptable and non-inclusive in these organizations. With more than 20 million people hailing from the New York City metropolitan area, this is a large and diverse culture that should be part of an inclusive environment. Another example can be found in some training programs on bias, where it is clearly implied that the United State’s overall culture is that of, “White, healthy Christian males,” and that must be changed. I submit that these types of messages are not inclusive or unbiased at all. 

The concept of inclusivity will challenge our views, beliefs and established cultures, as it should. Inclusiveness may cause fear with established employees in an existing structure. Responses like, “I just keep my head down, do my job and go home,” or “I just stay in my office. I’m afraid anything I say that is contrary to someone’s beliefs will end up in HR,” is the exact opposite of what an inclusive workforce is all about. There are many tools to help organizations address these concerns and hurdles, such as properly implemented employee surveys that include inclusiveness. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that only 10 of its nearly 50 member countries utilize employee surveys that include diversity and inclusiveness as topics.

An inclusive organization must reinforce the goal that all voices count and that each employee should feel free, if not compelled, to actively participate. We must remember that this is different from not offending someone, as being offended can be subjective. This is not to suggest that intentionally being offensive should be allowed either. If you do not agree with me, that is okay, as that is completely within the spirit of an inclusive discussion allowing for respectful disagreement and tolerance of opposing viewpoints. The vibrant substantive debate of a representative workforce should be our inclusive goal. It should be part of a larger plan to solve many of the difficult and complex problems that we face.

Author:Mr. Rabinowitz is completing his Doctorate in Public Administration from Valdosta State University.  He has over 15 years experience working for multiple federal, state and local agencies in environmental protection.  He received his MS in Executive Management from the Florida State University and BSs in Marine Biology and Ecology from the Florida Institute of Technology.  Please contact him at [email protected]

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