I became an Inclusion Ally to help others… here’s how it helped me
As part of Grant Thornton’s commitment to making our workplace more welcoming and more inclusive for all our people we recently launched Inclusion Allies, a new role to champion inclusion and show support for difference in our firm. Inclusion Allies take steps to make our workplace more welcoming and more inclusive for all our people by looking out for and tackling the everyday behaviours that unintentionally exclude others. We want to create a safe space to ask questions and talk about difference to help everyone to understand a different point of view.
I am one of around 50 people who have volunteered to be Inclusion Allies, and we recently received training from Inclusive Employers to enable us to carry out this important role.
I became an Inclusion Ally because I think everyone brings unique experiences to work and we need to be better at listening and understanding what everyone has to contribute.
My role as a senior PR manager means that I have always been involved in some aspects of inclusion and diversity in our firm, particularly around social mobility and how we promote the work we are doing to widen access to our profession. I believe that inclusion is important to make our working lives better. This all really hit home for me when I became a parent and decided to return to work part time. It’s important to me that my employer recognises that having children doesn’t make me a lesser employee, less committed to my career or make me worse at my job. We all have different life experiences, which make us unique, and help us to approach our work with different perspectives. We need to see this as a strength rather than a weakness.
I was shocked to find out how many people have felt excluded at some point in their lives
During the Inclusion Allies training, we all shared a few sentences about why we were there. There were around 30 of us in the room. So many people were there because they had felt excluded at some point. They had some very good reasons to be there and to drive change in our firm. Hearing this was really emotional for me – I didn’t realise the degree of exclusion people feel in their lives on a regular basis.
We were each asked to complete a checklist about privilege – basically, the power or advantage we have (because of gender, social class, race, physical health, nationality, etc) that we didn’t earn. There were 13 questions on the checklist – and I ticked nearly every one of them. “Can you easily pass through security at the airport?” Tick. “Can you speak openly about your partner at work?” Tick. “Are you white?” Tick. I am privileged in most ways. Some of the people sitting around me barely ticked any of the boxes. And every box they were unable to tick dredged up a memory of a time they, or a family member, had been excluded. I felt angry and sad, and I felt motivated.
The role of an Inclusion Ally is much broader than I expected
One of the roles of an Inclusion Ally is to listen to people who are feeling excluded and signpost them to support. However, one of the areas we discussed at length, and received training on, was around how we can help colleagues become more aware of their own behaviours and learn to be more inclusive. We can probably all think of a time when we spotted exclusion. Maybe it was the time a colleague joked that someone’s maternity leave was a 12-month holiday. Maybe you’ve made this comment before and honestly meant it as a joke. I can tell you from experience that comments like these are nearly always uncomfortable for the woman about to put her career on hold for 12 months. What’s tricky is how we call in unintentional excluding behaviours in a positive way. It’s about the language we use, and it’s about creating a safe space for people to genuinely understand a different perspective about the same issue.
The training gave us practical guidance for how to spot and discuss exclusion in a way that is supportive
The training was run by Inclusive Employers (an external organisation that support businesses like ours to embed inclusive behaviours into the workplace). We discussed what inclusion is, how to recognise our own bias and emotional triggers and how to react calmly and positively to potential bias in others. If we’re going to make it ok to talk about inclusion, then we can’t react emotionally to colleagues when they say or do something that doesn’t sound quite right. We should start by assuming positive intent. We discussed feedback techniques such as, “When you said that, it sounded to me like you were saying…” or “When you say that, I feel like…”. This gives the other person the opportunity to explain their intent and to learn from what was an honest mistake.
I feel much more aware of what’s going on around me since becoming an Inclusion Ally
I like to think of myself as a genuinely friendly and inclusive person. But through the Inclusion Allies training, I realised that I haven’t really been paying enough attention to how others around me are seeing or experiencing the firm. Often, I will be so focused on achieving my to-do list that I don’t make enough effort to talk to the person sitting next to me, or to notice when someone is being very quiet in a meeting and try to include them. I’m going to make a conscious effort to be more alert to this from here on out and hopefully this will become second nature as I broaden my network and make a conscious effort to meet more people in the firm.
The more aware we are of our privilege the more we can do use to make things better
Those of us with privilege can use it to make the world a better, more inclusive place. In fact, if you ‘tick all the boxes’, then you are exactly the person has the power to do so, both at work and elsewhere. Whether that’s just saying hello to a person you don’t know or asking someone how they are doing today – these are simple, human things that can make all the difference.