Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.
I heard this phrase at a recent half-day training in diversity, inclusion, and equity as part of my new employee orientation at Children’s Minnesota. What a great metaphor for how we need to approach these issues! By virtue of my status as a white, heterosexual, professional male, I rarely have to deal with exclusion on the basis of the typical “checkbox” categories. But even the most privileged of us have all experienced occasions where we were somehow not included – where maybe we’ve been invited to the party but no one asked us to dance. It reminded me of being a public high school graduate at a selective Ivy League university club. The door wasn’t barred, but never having golfed or been a varsity athlete or summered on the Cape, I didn’t exactly fit in, and no one made much of an effort to make me comfortable.
I’m not sure any of those preppies worried about it, and honestly after about 10 minutes neither did I. But the stakes were pretty low. There were plenty other places to drink beer. But when it comes to making decisions about healthcare for children and families from a plethora of backgrounds, or good leadership choices for a nearly billion-dollar organization, a narrow perspective can literally be deadly. Diversity – inviting people with a full range of backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, and skills to the table – is necessary, but not sufficient. Diversity is a start, but without true inclusiveness, it’s just window dressing. Checking the boxes.
Which may be part of why diversity programs are at times viewed skeptically. Without a commitment to being not just diverse but inclusive, a team or organization can’t expect much to change. This is a commitment to being not only proactive in seeking diversity of all kinds, but active in promoting inclusion of all in the decision-making process.
The fact that Children’s Minnesota chooses to devote fully one-third of its new employee orientation to this is a strong statement that we recognize how important inclusiveness is to our success, and to the health of the patients, families, and communities we serve. It opened my eyes to the fact that as a leader, I have to invite a lot of different people to the party. And then I need to ask them to dance.