In my blog post last week, I expressed my frustrations with the lack of real understanding and authentic inclusion when I have conversations about my experiences, perspectives and needs in the context of diversity and inclusion. I also mentioned in that post that I am definitely and assuredly not alone in experiencing such moments; those moments where our viewpoints seem to get trampled on for the sake of catering to the current beneficiaries. In plain English, it seems like we are expected to advocate for a change toward greater inclusion, a rebalancing of power dynamics, and, a move past token representation. And, we have to achieve all of this without somehow upsetting those who already have the powers and privileges they need to thrive in society.
Yes, this is a situation that does necessitate empathy towards and from all parties involved. It does also goes back to the myth of inclusion being a zero-sum game. In that particular post, I talked in some detail about the myth of the zero-sum game and the reality that inclusion is not actually a game.
Today, I want to introduce my new model –the LEGupward Model of Inclusion. It is the framework that I’ve been developing over the past seven years. And, here is why I developed it. I realize that the problems with the lack of diversity and inclusion are neither new nor rare. But, since nothing else has worked effectively, I think the strategy that could propel us towards true, authentic, holistic inclusion has to be fresh. Our current economy and societal state demands nothing less. We are in a time and space where the old ideas of “ideal” employees, work-life balance, leadership, and, loyalty have become outdated. Old societal structures and hierarchies that were established long before our generation was even conceived are being challenged, because they only benefit the elite few. As society moves towards more technological innovations and automations, personhood seems to be getting erased from all pictures. There are dozens upon dozens of articles and statistics about the lack of real inclusion for those who are members of groups that are currently marginalized. The stark reality is that the majority of our population is not being given the space or support they need to thrive.
This is where the LEGupward Model of Inclusion comes in. It is a framework that puts the focus of inclusion strategies and tactics back where it is belongs – on the individual. The letters in LEGupward stand for: Learn, Empower and Grow, upward, but more on this in a bit. I am also in the process of developing a white paper that goes into the research, the science and the numbers behind it, so that will be available to those interested, soon. In this blog post, I want to talk about the personal meaning and significance of this framework. I want to open up on why I truly believe that this is a viable solution that will help us be better and do better with inclusion in our communities and greater society.
The entire skeletal structure of the LEGupward Model of Inclusion came into existence precisely because I don’t believe that inclusion should be conceptualized as a zero-sum game. I also don’t think that inclusion, as it is being treated right now will ever lead to a genuinely inclusive group, organization or society. I believe that most diversity and inclusion initiatives out there are focused just on the diversity numbers so that the reports to stakeholders and the general public make the company look good on paper. In doing so however, they render many parts of many people invisible. When we zoom in from the numbers and reports to the actual state of being of individual employees, that’s where we see the lack of connection and a sense of disregard for the employees’ personhood and humanity. Employees are not merely cogs in the greater corporate machine even though almost all current systems seem to treat them as such. People are not expendable, and they are not just means to corporate ends. The truth is that while people need employment from companies, no company could exist without its employees. It is a symbiotic, two-way relationship and it has to be treated as such. This is where the problem lies.
Current diversity and inclusion initiatives are top down models. What I mean by that is that organizational goals toward greater profit margins and appeasement of stakeholders are set first, and then diversity and inclusion initiatives seem to be added in as afterthoughts (albeit required). Leadership pushes these initiatives forward, as they should, but they are done without any buy-ins across the different levels of the organization. What this leads to inevitably, is that those who have to undergo these trainings do so begrudgingly, and with no real connection to how these trainings will impact their lives and their growth within the organization.
These initiatives also create silo cultures because employees and leadership don’t go through the same trainings, and thus, don’t receive the same messages or communication. This is not inclusion. It is separation. These silos not only trap the individuals within them as fixed entities, they also make the interconnectedness of all the employees invisible. And, they promote microaggressions and ableism. In such an environment, enforcing system wide changes to increase inclusion and to empower individuals are nearly impossible.
What I noticed throughout my research in this area is that people tend to gravitate towards “best practices” that worked for someone else. Over time, the understanding behind these practices has changed because these solutions are seen to be one-size-fits-all magic wands. But, that’s not how human beings function on their most innate level. Not every person is the same, and, not every company is equal even within the same industry space. Its almost funny to think that while we strive towards the inclusion of the diverse perspectives we gather through unique individuals, we also think that the strategies for inclusion are standardized, cut-and-dry models. This is precisely what the LEGupward Model of Inclusion is designed to address.
My framework rests on the most basic premise of the human species– the need to belong. As a species, who we were and who we have turned into has all been because of our innate and desperate desire to belong and fit in to groups and communities where we can be seen, heard, acknowledged and appreciated. This is a universal principle of humanity, and also one that has been manipulated in power games over the many centuries of human history. But it is this same universal truth about the human need to belong that led me to realize the Learn, Empower and Grow cycle that we all go through, especially as adults. As adults, we only learn the things that we are truly interested in, or the things that we need to learn immediately. We also want to learn these things quickly so that we can see the power of what we learn by applying our learning in real life situations right away. This then allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment and growth. This cycle happens into perpetuity with each new thing that we learn that empowers, grows and elevates us. This is why the model is called LEGupward.
When I started developing the LEGupward model of inclusion, my mission was to push for the inclusion of the whole person so that they can belong, be authentic, and, grow. As I recently said in my book, Transform Your Self: Everything You Need to Find the Right Coach for You, the seeds that we plant and water are the ones that grow into trees. While this statement is a new way for me to communicate the idea of focused growth and empowerment, its seeds were planted many years ago as I started thinking about what inclusion really means. Starting this journey with the premise that human beings need to belong to be able to thrive makes logical, biological and psychological sense.
When people are empowered to belong in their spaces, they are able to focus on themselves, their wellbeing, their growth, strengths, and the value they can add to the environments around them. Belongingness creates a safe space for people to bring their whole, authentic selves to the table, without having to suppress their unique needs or to pretend to pass for something they aren’t. Their strengths are acknowledged, and their weaknesses are bolstered so that they can learn and develop themselves to add even more value in the spaces where they are willing and eager participants. This is why in the LEGupward Model of Inclusion, the peacock always faces inward – to reflect that the journey to authentic inclusion begins with each individual looking within themselves to identify their identities, values, purpose, goals and biases.
Once people are seen as whole, dynamic, ever-growing entities it is then a simple matter to realize that the overall group or organization is also a fluid, dynamic, ever-changing organism that is comprised of its individual employees. Just as individuals have their wellbeing, identity, values, purpose, mission and goals, so does the organization. The LEGupward Model of Inclusion predicates that inclusion cannot simply be a singular tactic deployed by the leadership. Inclusion has to be the mindset and intentional strategy for the organizational culture and its business for it to become a reality. An organization’s health and wellbeing in the form of its culture is dependent on all of its employees’ sense of wellbeing. The implementation of inclusive practices at this level of analysis happens by way of investing in the employees’ wellbeing and their growth. When that happens, the employees in turn can then invest themselves and their strengths in contributing to the organizational goals. In evolutionary psychology, this is a construct called reciprocal altruism. There is a mountain of research from various social sciences that demonstrates that this is how humans formed sustainable social networks, communities and groups throughout history. By applying this fundamentally universal principle to drive inclusion in organizations, we essentially recreate something that is already innate human nature.
While there are more details to go through in the full model, these two points are the main ones – the focus has to be on the individual, and, the individual and organization have to be in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship for there to be any possibility for inclusion to become a mindset and a normative practice. I’ll be back next week with more details and benefits of this new framework. Until then, I would love to hear back from you about what you think about my model so far.