The Inclusion Illusion

Do you feel that a lack of inclusivity in your organisation is holding you back?

Good practice.

Over the last few decades it has become standard good practice in human resources management to promote and support diversity in the workplace. Apart from the obvious moral argument for embracing people of all backgrounds and genders, research has shown that business benefits when it brings together a diverse set of people, experiences, thoughts and ideas. Human Resources organisations like the CIPD provide guidelines for businesses on encouraging diversity, and most corporate firms now offer commitments to increasing and supporting diversity and inclusion.

It all sounds good in theory, but what’s the reality?

The inclusion illusion.

The truth is that despite equalities legislation and good practice guidelines, many women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and people with disabilities still feel excluded from their workplace cultures. It’s not enough to say that people are equal because they have been invited to be in the same room or to sit down at the same table if those people still do not ‘feel’ equal. Organisations and leaders will have their own unconscious biases and behaviours that they don’t realise are not inclusive. Consider a female partner in a law firm who misses out as partner meetings often take place on the golf course – or the new mother who is meant to attend meetings which coincide with baby’s bedtime at 6.30pm.  It’s not enough to give minority groups more equal access to employment opportunities if they still feel excluded from the culture. It’s the culture that needs to change.

Inclusion isn’t the answer.

The idea of real workplace inclusion therefore, is an illusion in many cases. But here’s where I take this metaphor further. It is tempting to give up the fight if you feel that your workplace culture excludes you, to feel that there’s nothing you can do except for sit back and wait for things to get better. But in my view it’s an illusion to think that it’s everybody else who holds the power to make you feel included, or indeed that inclusion itself is the answer.

Take ownership.

You are in control of how you interpret situations and experiences. You can find real power in that interpretation. Take an objective, considered approach to scenarios where you might feel excluded from your workplace culture. You can decide to go along with a negative narrative of injustice, alienation and powerlessness – or you can choose a different interpretation. What if you were to frame the scenario as a neutral fact, a problem to solve, a learning experience? I always think back to a client away day with my law firm where we were taken clay pigeon shooting. Obviously this was very much part of the culture for a certain type of privately educated upper-middle class white man who made up a lot of the firm’s leaders and clients. Needless to say, it was very much not a part of mine! Rather than feel intimidated and excluded by the experience, though,  I decided to approach it with curiosity, to observe and to see what I could learn from it.

What you make things mean.

I recently wrote a blog entitled ‘What you make things mean’  – and its central premise really applies in the case of inclusion too. If you take a step back and carefully examine your thinking, you can see that you actually have a choice in assigning negativity or positivity to neutral circumstances. What are you making the lack of inclusion mean? Are you making it mean that you can’t progress at work, or that it’s impossible for you to step up to leadership? – or could you make it mean something else?

Be the change.

Don’t wait for the culture to change – be the change. Someone always needs to be first in order for things to progress. Why not let that be you? If you feel you have been denied power – then demand that power. Don’t wait to be included – be the first. Step forward with courage and curiosity.


That’s why I set up Babyproof. I know to my cost that the culture of corporate law firms is very much not inclusive of working mothers. You can be angry about it, depressed about it – and let it hold you back. Or alternatively you can research, plan, prepare and hustle so that you are one of the ones who CAN make it work. The Babyproof community is here to help you do just that. Listen to my podcast on the subject here – or contact me for more information about my Having it all coaching programme.