What Is Inclusion?

Disabled business woman in wheelchair chatting with coworkers in office

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In light of the current racial climate, many settings are becoming increasingly aware of their lack of diversity and representation. Such organizations have failed to represent folx of all backgrounds, genders, etc. This has left the most oppressed folx feeling undervalued, ignored, erased, etc.

This article will discuss what inclusion means (and how it differs from diversity), why it matters, and what inclusion looks like in various environments.

Furthermore, we'll look at ways in which you can help promote and support inclusivity efforts in your daily life as doing so will facilitate a sense of belonging in the groups that have been systematically oppressed and excluded.

What Is Inclusion?

Inclusion

Inclusion refers to "the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability)."

While many organizations pride themselves on inclusion efforts, the reality is that the most oppressed folx are often the ones with the greatest awareness of how much more work needs to be done in this regard. In fact, the most marginalized folx can help to show just how much an organization may lack inclusion and diversity.

Diversity vs. Inclusion

Despite often being used interchangeably, the terms diversity and inclusion indicate different efforts. Diversity efforts can often be focused on representation while inclusion practices tend to be more about how to help groups feel as if they belong.

What Inclusion Looks Like In Different Environments

The practice of inclusivity can look different in various settings. Let's look at how we can promote and foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace and within the educational system.

Inclusivity In the Workplace

In their 2014 book, Diversity at Work, Bernardo M. Ferdman and Barbara R. Deane describe the practice of inclusion as key to investing in diversity at work. Ferdman and Deane have engaged in education, writing, and speaking on diversity and inclusion, especially as it pertains to leadership within organizations.

These authors define inclusion efforts as: "Creating, fostering, and sustaining practices and conditions that encourage and allow each of us to be fully ourselves—with our differences from and similarities to those around us—as we work together."

As with most important initiatives, inclusion requires a great deal of investment to come to fruition.

Examples of Workplace Inclusivity

Inclusion in the workplace may look like:

  • Fostering community
  • Anti-bias training
  • Universal design

Inclusivity In Educational Systems

A 2019 journal article provides a discussion of inclusion in English language teaching with the recognition that it is not a new practice but asserts that it may require more transformational approaches than earlier small-scale changes to educational strategies.

In other words, it can be helpful to understand how educational systems were designed with the needs of the dominant groups in mind (i.e., those who are cisgender, straight, able-bodied, etc.) so they may need to be revolutionized. It means thinking critically about the ways in which learning spaces may fail to meet the needs of folx who are BlPOC, LGBTQPIAP+, etc.

Examples of Inclusivity in Education

Inclusion efforts in education may mean:

  • A variety of learning formats
  • Multiple times to take assessments
  • Books that include all genders, races, abilities, etc.

What Organizing Inclusion Means

From the preface of their 2020 book, Organizing Inclusion: Moving Diversity From Demographics To Communication Processes, authors Doerfel and Gibbs name the institutional biases of white supremacy, sexism, settler colonialism, homophobia, etc. which have contributed to inequitable outcomes within groups, organizations, and society itself.

In doing so, they make the case for why organizations must communicate differently if they are invested in inclusion efforts given how much of the status quo poses barriers.

In their work, these authors encourage communication that identifies the forces of oppression that can be insidious and require targeted efforts to combat.

Does Digital Technology Fail at Inclusion of Seniors?

According to a 2015 journal article based on a couple of focus groups with 17 older adults, both the challenges and benefits of digital technology for seniors were explored, alongside its policy implications. It demonstrated how some individuals who were once included required additional outreach efforts to ensure accessibility as all seniors did not necessarily learn how to make use of technology advances.

In this way, it is easy to see how a group may require additional considerations to maintain inclusion as they age while technology evolves beyond their typical use.

Folx With Disabilities Deserve Inclusion

A 2020 journal article highlighted how inclusion efforts often fail to focus on folx with disabilities despite their underrepresentation in the workforce and outlined how the following approaches were effective at addressing this equity gap: "diversity and inclusion statements, employee resource groups, supplier diversity initiatives, and targeted hiring and recruitment plans."

With such evidence-based actions for the inclusion of folx with disabilities, organizations can take tangible steps to diversify their workforce.

For far too long, folx with disabilities have had to bear the burden of ableism at all levels of society.

If organizations are interested in inclusion, they could learn a great deal from BIPOC disability justice activists like Alice Wong, Vilissa Thompson, Imani Barbarin, and Sarah Jama.

As folx with disabilities know, this work often requires much more effort than the appearance of investment in inclusion which social media statements can serve to promote without any actual change.

Understanding the Need For Inclusion

While it can feel daunting to become more aware of all the ways in which society fails at inclusion of the most oppressed groups, that ability to recognize such gaps can be a big part of taking action.

Just as the problematic status quo was developed over a long period of time, investing in inclusion will take a great deal of work, but it is well worth the effort.

Active Inclusion

A 2019 journal article encourages organizations to start asking the right questions if invested in getting meaningful responses to drive active inclusion forward, with an understanding that BIPOC and LGBTQPIA+ folx have often been left out of such discussions.

The article argues that inclusion efforts are unlikely to succeed unless they are enforced from the top of the organization all the way through.

Unfortunately, those who occupy the higher echelons often do not have personal lived experience to inform their understanding of the need for inclusion to drive their efforts forward like more oppressed folx. Because of this, it's crucial for organizations to get feedback from marginalized groups.

Gathering and Incorporating Feedback From Marginalized Groups

When it comes to inclusion work, folx often do not yet know what they do not know. It is common for folx who come from backgrounds of privilege to have had a limited understanding of the ways in which systems that may have worked effectively for them have actually been rigged against communities that are BIPOC, LGBTQIAP+, disabled, undocumented, etc.

Upon coming to better understand the problematic status quo though, is when folx who are able to promote inclusion have a responsibility to do so. When embarking on that journey, it is crucial for those in power to take feedback from marginalized groups seriously as they work at inclusion, or they may run the risk of escalating harm to these communities even further.

In fact, it may be well worth assuming that your initial efforts at inclusion may not go as planned, and yet failed attempts only require accountability and greater investment.

All too often, the appearance of progress is prioritized over actual strides with inclusion work.

If you find yourself getting frustrated, that does not mean that the effort in which you are engaging is problematic. In fact, even when inclusion efforts are efficient, they may not necessarily be well-received, especially by groups who view such work as a threat to historical ongoing power systems from which they may still benefit.

What You Can Do to Promote Inclusion

Here's some ways in which you can help to promote inclusion in your daily life:

  • Ask yourself which marginalized folx may not feel welcome in a space, and make an effort to change that.
  • Identify the barriers to inclusion to those in leadership positions when it is safe to do so to address them.
  • Assess how much privilege you have and how much space you hold and amplify more oppressed voices.

A Word From Verywell

As you have probably gathered, it would be impossible to explain all that inclusion is in one article, but hopefully, these insights have helped to inform your understanding of this practice, as well as the need for it.

Every setting you encounter may be one in which you have an opportunity to promote inclusion. If you have the capacity to do so, that effort could benefit the lives of folx who may not otherwise have access to those spaces.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Inclusion. In: Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inclusion. Accessed April 13, 2021.

  2. Ferdman B, Deane B. Diversity At Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2014.

  3. Stadler-Heer S. InclusionELT Journal. 2019;73(2):219-222. doi:10.1093/elt/ccz004

  4. Doerfel M, Gibbs J. Organizing Inclusion: Moving Diversity From Demographics To Communication Processes. Milton: Taylor and Francis; 2020.

  5. Hill R, Betts L, Gardner S. Older adults’ experiences and perceptions of digital technology: (Dis)empowerment, wellbeing, and inclusionComput Human Behav. 2015;48:415-423. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.01.062

  6. Gould R, Harris S, Mullin C, Jones R. Disability, diversity, and corporate social responsibility: Learning from recognized leaders in inclusionJ Vocat Rehabil. 2020;52(1):29-42. doi:10.3233/jvr-191058

  7. Strup R. Active InclusionTalent Development. 2019;73(5):26-28.