Chronicles Of An INCLUSIVE 31 Year Old Bachelor

26 June 2019 | Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)- key skills a good leader ought to have. These are skills many young leaders like myself proudly and boldly claim to possess, and we do so in public. But do we possess them…like really? Well, I guess there is only one way to find out.

The session today, “Managing ourselves through the lens of diversity” facilitated by Lance Bennette was about to challenge our thinking regarding these key skills. Introductions done, the session quickly takes off with what seems like a basic question, ” What is your understanding of diversity?”

Excited, many hands are raised, each pushing to be heard; the eagerness to express opinions on a 100%. Without fail, our cohort shares opinions and definitions informed by various experiences. In the room, we have fellows from many African countries, each from a diverse background. Diversity should be our thing, right? Furthermore, we are young leaders, representing the continent, so responding to such a question shouldn’t be too difficult. But is this the case?

The facilitator shares some definitions with us as quoted below. With regards to diversity it’s seems like we are on the right track. We almost nailed the definition (as we should ) being young leaders and all.

Diversity: ” diversity is the presence of difference within a given setting”

Inclusion:” inclusion is about people with different identities feeling and/or being valued, leveraged, and welcome within a given setting.”

Equity: ” Equity is an approach that ensures everyone access to the same opportunities. Equity recognizes that advantages and barriers exist and we all don’t start at the same place. It’s a process that begins by acknowledging that unequal starting place and continues to correct and address the imbalance”

Source: Lecture notes, 2019

Sitting there quietly, absorbing as much as I can, my mind wonders off for a few seconds. My mind gets stuck on inclusiveness. ” Am I inclusive enough?”

Serving on various leadership initiatives, I thought I had developed and nurtured my skills around issues of diversity, inclusion and equity. I remember confidently completing several surveys asking me “how accepting I am of people who are different from me– different in terms of social class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability and political affiliation”. The second question that I usually respond to with ease is ” Would you say you are inclusive ?”

Me: ” Inclusive, absolutely! I am inclusive, I’m inclusive all the time.”

Again my mind is stuck on inclusiveness. Something doesn’t quite feel right, something is amiss and then in that moment my cage and value system is rattled. A question is asked that rattles my entire value system “Who has felt uncomfortable around people you’ve claimed to be accepting of?”

In a heartbeat, my entire perception of what I thought inclusivity is shattered to pieces. My perfectly curated response to ” I’m inclusive all the time” comes crumbling down at the centre of what is a thought-provoking question.

Question: “You say you are inclusive all the time and accepting; are you also inclusive and comfortable around people who aren’t your close circle of friends?

One of the fellows asks this question to seek clarity. Her best friend had come out to her about her sexual orientation and the fellow was suddenly uncomfortable around her best friend post the discussion. Another fellow shares a similar experience about attending an event where he suddenly felt uncomfortable around a community of people who had a different sexual preference. More fellows share that they too struggle to be inclusive around people who are physically disabled and many other differences.

Suddenly, it hits me too. I’ve been uncomfortable a few times before -ALL those uncomfortable feelings I’ve felt and hidden around people who come from a different social class than me. The chills I’ve experienced around people who’ve expressed their individuality (fashionably or via interesting outfits), sexual preferences, how people identify as either male or female, religious beliefs and political views. I’m embarrassed because I’ve claimed to be inclusive and embracing diversity, but am I? To what extent can I claim to be if I’m still uncomfortable around certain situations? How can I measure my levels of inclusiveness? (If there is even such a thing). I’ve judged, prejudiced and excluded some people, this is not good for a leader.

The session today forces me to reflect on my biases and prejudices. It forces me to confront my insecurities and deal with them. It forces me to look at life through a different lens – one of acceptance of differences (with no reservations) and tolerance. It forces me to broaden my view of the world (and here I thought I was a global citizen), to be empathetic and to be willing to engage to seek understanding. With each session at Kellogg, my journey of self-discovery as a young leader continues to leave me in awe.

This experience also allows me to reflect and look at our situation back at home. As a people, are we accepting of each other? How many of us still cringe when we see someone boldly expressing their individuality walk past us in the mall? How many of us still judge when people share their sexual orientation or preferences with us? How many of us are still disgusted by how people express their religious beliefs and political affiliations? How many of us still see women as inferior? For how long are we going to judge, without trying to engage to seek clarity? How do we become accepting of differences between each other?

My take is that we need to be intentional about embracing diversity. We need to be intentional about being inclusive. It’s is our responsibility to advocate for equity. But all of this needs to start with self. Are you ready to deal with your biases?

#YALI2019 #MWF2019 #NUYALI

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