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  • Writer's pictureKimberly LaBounty

Diversity & Inclusion: How can we make it real?

Updated: Aug 1, 2018

I read a post recently by a marketing firm about the negative connotations of the word “tribe” and how it can lead to exclusivity, discrimination…violence even. Initially, I was quite shocked to read this interpretation. We use the word “tribe” in yoga quite a bit, and I’ve never understood it to be so exclusive. I suppose with anything, you can take it to the extreme, but we are always looking for ways to belong to something greater than ourselves, and feeling you are part of a “tribe” creates a level of comfort in a world that can be so isolating.

The post got me thinking about the level of attention around being part of a community, and efforts for inclusion. While actions and recent media attention may have stemmed from things like equal rights, LGBTQ and more recently immigration rights, there is no doubt inclusion is a concept society struggles with at times.

Fortunately, no matter what your political view, we’re beginning to see more and more evidence that in the corporate world, diverse groups produce better outcomes (thank goodness for science!). Articles are becoming even more prevalent about the need for inclusion when hiring, product development, conducting research, etc. The phrase, “diversity and inclusion” is quite prevalent in the legal community as well, with sessions covering the topic nearly every month. Yet, we continue to struggle with achieving that perfect mix in our corporate settings. We think to ourselves, “how do we find a group of like-minded individuals who are diverse enough to give us varying perspectives, which will result in a better outcomes to achieve that next goal?” Our default, of course, is that we sync with those most similar to us. I’ve personally hired my share of staff – in multiple age brackets, of different races and backgrounds. I know there is great value in bringing about varying perspectives and world views. And it is easy to hire the sharp individual, but getting them to fit in with the rest of the group – from the first day through on-boarding, and beyond – is not quite as simple.

The McKinsey Quarterly* concurs, “Awareness of the business case for inclusion and diversity is on the rise…Yet progress on diversification initiatives has been slow.” Their study links diversity and a company’s financial outperformance. Both gender diversity and ethnic and cultural diversity are correlated with profitability by significant percentages. These findings hold true for executive teams as well. This, they explain, is because diverse organizations are “better able to attract top talent; to improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision-making; and to secure their license to operate – all of which we believe to be relevant.”

McKinsey tells business owners like me who try to become more diverse by first hiring these individuals, that we did well in that it started at the top. This is their first imperative – to make sure it starts at the top. But they stress that to take it further, not only does a leader need to vocalize the commitment to be more diverse, but s/he needs to link diversity and inclusion priorities with business-growth strategy. Share with your team how adding other individuals will help with growth, improve customer relations, or gain additional clients who currently can’t feel comfortable hiring you because, well, you are different. The third imperative is to “craft an initiative portfolio.” In this, they explain the importance of tracking those improvements when changes are made. They also stress the importance of keeping an inclusive culture. Does everyone get invited to lunch? After-work beverages? From there, adaptation can begin to really take hold, and other departments, sectors will more easily follow suit.

So how do we put our intent to be inclusive into practice? I participated in an exercise at a recent workshop led by Dar Vanderhoop where, after opening up our heart chakra with certain asanas, we partnered up with a stranger. We looked into each other’s eyes – deeply – and were told to think about that person; the pain they have felt, the joy, the struggles. Then Dar told us to think about this person as a representative of all humankind, the suffering it have felt, the joy, the struggles, etc. Dar then guided us to say things to each other – things like, “you deserve to be loved.” It had an amazing impact. Related, I read a blog by Gabby Bernstein about Yogi Bhajan’s Five Sutras for the Aquarian Age. #1. Recognize the Other Person is You. She expands, noting that sometimes what you don’t like in others is a disowned part of your own shadow, and what you may admire in others is a part of yourself that may not be developed yet. When you recognize the other person is you, your energy shifts. Breathing shifts. You let go. You see the light in them. Sutra #4 is, Understand Through Compassion or You Will Not Understand the Times. Gabby states, “Every situation we are in offers us an opportunity to detour further into fear or an opportunity to come back to compassion. Once we understand the first sutra, that the other person is us, then we can cultivate our compassion for others. We can see that we all suffer. We are all in it together.

My challenge to you: at work and home, with friends and in other social circles, at the grocery store, and walking down the street, try looking at the others you pass by – especially those you feel are most different. See yourself in them. Feel compassion. I guarantee you will feel differently and they walk past. Then, for an added challenge, think of the person who really ticked you off or hurt your feelings recently. See yourself in that person and let compassion return.

It’s difficult to be inclusive if you don’t feel compassion in that person. We can have all the studies in the world, but until we accept others and see ourselves in them, we can not take any action, and any efforts to be inclusive by others won’t stick with us. Paula, my yoga teacher this past Friday, said that she believes we have a radius of influence that is three feet. Those who come in to that radius are susceptible to our actions and our words. If we can spread love to those in our radius, maybe they will do the same, and all of a sudden, three feet becomes three miles, and then three countries, and then three continents. How can you improve your circle of influence?


*Quotes and information from McKinsey article “Delivering Through Diversity,” by Vivian Hunt, Lareina Yee, Sara Prince, and Sundiatu Dison-Fyle

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