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One of the scariest questions for a gay or lesbian person at work can be "how was your weekend?". The most usual question of all, however if the person didn't feel comfortable coming out at work, they would not feel comfortable sharing. This question would automatically exclude them from the conversation. We all know how it feels to be excluded and research shows it is not good for productivity. 

In his engaging TEDx talk Octavius Black, CEO of consultancy called Mind Gym, shares what it means to be excluded: feeling left out engages the same part of brain that is responsible for experiencing physical pain. Being excluded leads to long-term physical and mental health issues. People also simply can't contribute energy and ideas as they would otherwise. 

Research shows that 62% of us need to cover at work to pretend and be something we're not. It's a scary number as it means that lots of businesses don't offer enough psychological safety for the individuals to be themselves. 

In opposite, inclusion leads to better engagement, better motivation and, finally, better performance. People who were asked what inclusion means said: "access to the same opportunities", "being heard, valued, respected", "contribute in unique way, being ourselves". Working with inclusive leaders can be one of the best experiences in one's career. 

So, what does it take to develop "inclusive mindset"? 

1. Be aware of your own biases.

Every one of us is biased and it takes extra effort to recognise and work on our biases. Wikipedia offers a list of cognitive biases which feels a bit overwhelming, however it's a good representation of how many things we can be biased towards! This Guardian article also suggests some ways of overcoming biases. 

2. Manage "micro-aggressions".

Binna Kandola, a psychologist and diversity scholar from Leeds university, defines micro-aggressions as 'everyday verbal and non-verbal interactions or aspects of environment that make people feel undervalued, undermined or excluded'. Micro-aggressions are much more stressful than open harassment as it involves ambiguity: did this person do this intentionally? Did this person actually mean it or not?

Kandola brings examples of gender and racial micro-aggressions such as 

  • Ignoring contributions 

  • Interrupting during meetings / conversations 

  • Placing assumptions and attributions 

  • Using prescriptive stereotypes. These stereotypes are not about how this particular group is different, but how this group actually should be different (e.g. with gender it could be internal belief that females should be nurturing, men should be aggressive. Prescriptive stereotypes are the most difficult to change). 

  • Paternalistic attitudes 

3. Learn about differences, learn about inclusion.

If a person is different, think about several ways why this person can be interesting. I have found these links useful to check how inclusive I am and what I could do to improve it. 

a. Test: "Are you an inclusive leader?" 

b. Online free 4-week course on "Inclusive Leadership: Leading with effective communication" 

I started this blog with a question "Why does Inclusion start with 'I". I strongly believe, that any change is possible when an individual takes an effort and responsibility for making change happen. And this will lead to improving our workplace relations and decisions taken. 

It would be great to hear your feedback – what characterises an inclusive leader from your point of view? Do you think inclusive leaders can make a difference?