Our societies across the world are committed to ensuring everyone feels accepted and valued. But does inclusion mean the same thing everywhere? Does it give rise to the same conservations and social challenges? We asked people around the world for their views.
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Inclusion: a vital concept emerging and thriving on every continent
In an inclusive society, everyone is accepted and valued for who they are, regardless of their differences, from gender and sexuality to culture, disability, learning gaps, or even someone's criminal record. "Inclusion means taking these differences into account and recognizing the wealth of possibilities opened up by someone's origins, background and ideas, without making assumptions about them", explains Laurence Monnet-Vernier, consulting partner at Deloitte, in an interview with Forbes. That's fine in theory, but isn't this just wishful thinking? Not according to the people we talked to, around the world. For Padmakumar in India, "it's very grounded because it’s about being fair and it provides equal opportunities to everyone to think, share and act to their highest potential”. For Anthony, who is Chinese and lives in Shanghai, inclusion means ensuring that workspaces are “free from discrimination and intolerance". The same applies in Argentina, where Yanina sees the opportunity to "generate synergies, especially in businesses, with equal opportunities for everyone, which challenges us to learn from each other", and in Germany, where Viola stresses "the need to establish an open and diverse society". Broadly speaking, then, everyone agrees. Inclusion seems to be an idea we can all get behind.
Priorities vary from one country to another
But if you dig a little deeper, you quickly realize that inclusion is a concept that varies from one country to another. Here and there, local culture and social realities have shaped the basis of commitments. In France, for example, Eric says he is satisfied with "the excellent work carried out in [his] company to achieve gender balance and the inclusion of people with disabilities", while Julie, a French woman living in South-East Asia, says there is still a lot to be done “In my company, many managers and leaders are women. They have no problem expressing themselves, they are respected. But we operate in a region where there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of equality between women and men.”
In South Africa, Khabonina also takes a more measured approach: "Key issues around the career development of women still need to be addressed", she concedes. In Brazil, a more inclusive approach is needed to tackle another form of inequality: "Many people are from disadvantaged backgrounds and find it hard to access education, and as a result, the jobs market", says Marga, who lives in Sao Paulo. Thousands of miles away, in Shanghai, Anthony points out that, in the Asia-Pacific region, awareness around inclusion varies enormously from country to country, although "in countries like Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and Australia, employers are now encouraged by governments to hire people with disabilities".
When events speed up awareness
From gender equality to disability, labor relations, and equal opportunities, across the world, lines are being redrawn to create a fairer society. These changes are sometimes speeded up by powerful events and social movements. “Following an approach by a young black woman concerned by the Black Lives Matter movement, we established, here in the UK, an Inclusivity group to talk about experiences and recommend changes. Inclusion also is a topic in Social Dialogue. It is part of the agenda at each meeting of the UK and Ireland HR group; it is part of the agenda of the UK and Ireland MDs group under the debate about our company's Purpose. It is part of our Well-Being agenda as we recognise inclusion, or lack of, has an effect on mental health”, says Richard.
But obstacles remain, including of the technical and administrative variety: “Complex and diverse methodologies and procedures have sometimes hindered inclusion in businesses here", says Alison, who lives in Italy. "Within my company, which includes several structures with a range of different approaches, simplifying certain standards has finally led to the emergence of an inclusive common culture”. Organizational factors also represent an obstacle to change, as in Romania. “Although inclusion has gained a lot of ground in our country, it’s harder to put into practice because of the rigid hierarchical culture inherited from the communist era", says Smarandita. In Northern Europe, there’s still some way to go in some countries and some sectors, where there is "not always given to recognize that talent may show up in different shapes than used to, but can come from different personalities with different backgrounds", says Annika.
Finally, a certain worldview regarding morality can also hinder progress, as the subject of homosexuality is still considered a taboo in some countries in the Middle East as Rita in Beirut, Lebanon, points out, even though she is proud of the diversity that exists within her company, which is located in a highly multicultural region.
Practical actions to promote inclusion
Aware of the long road ahead, business players around the world are developing inclusion strategies to help promote radical change. In Spain, for example, companies are running gender diversity programs and inclusion workshops, while in India businesses are encouraged to take part in the IWIN (Inspired Women’s International Network), a business forum that highlights women's success stories.
In the United Arab Emirates, inclusion is approached from a gender perspective through "women's empowerment committees" to help women improve their quality of life - including at work. In Germany and Austria, big companies such as Saint-Gobain have signed the Diversity Charta, and the subject is taken extremely seriously in Romania, where practical measures, such as training sessions on empowerment, are now being implemented”.
Finally, in Brazil, diversity committees share best practices and initiatives on social responsibility with their network. These inspiring practices suggest we should be exploring the opportunities offered by inclusion in even greater depth.
More than a management concept, inclusion is the key to getting everyone on board
Let there be no doubt: regardless of the many different battles to be fought, we are and will continue to make progress. As everyone we talked to agreed, inclusion is the key to a more successful future. "We believe that diversity and inclusion are levers to meet the challenges of the 21st century. They help grow our capacity for innovation and accelerate our transformation by exploring different value-creating ideas. They help us better understand and respond to customer needs, and improve our business performance", says Laurence Monnet-Vernier. Jaroslaw, who is convinced by the benefits of an inclusive approach in Poland, agrees: “All managers feel it. When faced with a challenge, by pooling our different experiences, we find the best solution together". An inclusive policy ultimately puts companies in a win-win situation. Ainhoa sums it up perfectly: "A diverse and inclusive team is an asset to a company's image, but also to the company’s talents, because when people feel valued for who they are, they give their best. It’s the basis of any commitment".