Progress and inclusion are the only way to stop the chaos in 2021

Progress and inclusion are the only way to stop the chaos in 2021

Lisa Annese

Political unrest in the US, compounded by the raging pandemic, has ensured that 2021’s coverage has been plagued by many of the same words that dominated headlines last year: Protest. Tribalism. Fear.

Life – particularly working life – continues to feel precarious. As a result, business cultures and global economies, including Australia’s, can feel like they are teetering dangerously on the brink of fragmentation.

The instantly infamous images from the US Capitol show fear and hate and tribalism is driving people further into their ideological and classist corners. It’s Us or Them. Woke Lefties in suits vs capital C Conservatives; a visual metaphor for the elite political class pitted against everymen and women.

The violence this division caused on the part of the extreme right is reprehensible. White supremacy is reprehensible. As are the conspiracy theories that drove looters to the US Capitol. It’s difficult to know what to do with these problems, but the one thing we can tackle is the wider cultural dissatisfaction that has also fueled the unrest and the chaos.

In the US, it’s clear Trump supporters feel excluded. From politics. From work and opportunity. These feelings are echoed here in Australia, among some who are told they are white and privileged, while many toil for minimum wage. Often while struggling in changing industries like manufacturing and resources, and in a culture that sees them as so pervasive – so much part of the status quo – that it no longer sees them.

As CEO of Diversity Council Australia, I and my organisation officially recognise this anomaly. We address it as division stretches us to breaking point. More importantly, we propose a solution: that those raging and fearful and full of hate must come along on the journey of inclusion – not fight it.

Here’s why:

Inclusion – as the name suggests – includes you, it doesn’t exclude you. Inclusion wants to give to you, it doesn’t want to steal from you. Inclusion preserves your dignity, it does not seek to diminish it.

This has been repeatedly proven in DCA’s research. First, in the 2019-2020 Inclusion@Work Index, which showed it’s not just people from under-represented groups who are benefitting from strategic inclusive action.

Again in our Class at Work report, which found empirical evidence of what could be driving the wider dissatisfaction amongst some: people from lower social classes (social class being defined as someone’s social standing and power based on wealth, income, education, and occupation) are more likely to be ignored, experience discrimination, miss out on opportunities, and be left out of social gatherings.

Class at Work found inclusion, not division, fixes this. Those from a lower social class who worked in inclusive teams were 17 times more likely to be effective than those who worked in non-inclusive environments. They were 15 times more likely to innovate.

But while women were more likely to support inclusive measures to address imbalances, including class, men resisted it.

And is it any wonder given the diet of fear and misinformation of the past four years? The message that inclusion is about brown people, transgender people, foreign people, pronoun people – all conspiring against the people we saw storming the Capitol?

Here is the truth: inclusion is not about tribalism but about unity. It makes society more constructive and cohesive, with more opportunities for more people.

Businesses know this.

At DCA, we’ve observed how organisations haven’t let the fraught political climate impede their inclusion objectives. Not because they want to score points or tick boxes or be woke, but because they have problems that give them blind spots, make them less competitive, and will only be solved by different perspectives at the table.

Still, fear speaks louder than facts. But during the US political transition, there will be a pause – and an opportunity to let people know that everyone is invited in the march toward progress, which it seems will happen with or without detractors.  

Let us hope it’s the former.

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