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While my children were home for the holidays, we had a few opportunities to discuss some pretty substantive issues – potentially controversial issues about diversity, inclusion, capitalism, and politics. These are heavy and complex topics that are difficult to begin to understand, let alone get agreement on.

One of the conversations my son Renny and I engaged in with some enthusiasm was that of inclusion. Not ten minutes into the conversation my son was challenging me on whether we could even have a meaningful conversation about it, since we represent a group (white males) that has historically been included in most things. While we were unable to resolve the question of credibility, we still managed an interesting back-and-forth on the subject.

This discussion prompted me to do some research on the topic, so that in the future I might be able to ground some of my opinions in fact, and came across a perspective shared by Ben Horowitz in his book, What You Do Is Who You Are. In his book he suggests that inclusion means seeing someone for who they are even if they don’t look and act like you, and that it’s important that we look at people individually.

He really got my attention with the “look at people individually” comment. He explained that if you claim to stand for diversity, then every idea in the room merits some inclusion. This brought me back to a time I was working for a large service organization in the accounting and consulting space. I was a senior associate participating with a group of managers addressing how we could improve our overall level of client service and satisfaction. During the meeting I felt that my participation was engaging, insightful, and helpful. I even received some positive feedback from a few of the participants consistent with my perspective. My ideas seemed very well received until one participant, the meeting leader, learned I was not a manager. Not only did he discount my ideas, I also wasn’t invited to future meetings on the subject. Instead of seeing me for who I was and what I offered, he saw me for the position that I held, or didn’t hold – a modern-day caste system, and certainly a poor example of inclusion.

“If the key to inclusion means seeing someone for who they are, even if they come in a color or gender that you’re not used to, then it follows that hiring people on the basis of color or gender will actually defeat your inclusion program,” Horowitz wrote. We have to make a concerted effort to really get to know people for who they are and what they can bring, regardless of what they look like. We have to become aware of and work through our biases, being brutally honest with ourselves and each other so that we seek out people for who they truly are and not who we think they are.

What does inclusion mean to you? And how is your behavior signaling your intentions about ideas, rank, caste, and inclusion? For guidance or further information, contact me at to ask about our one-on-one executive coaching.

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