The Illusion of Inclusion

We Don’t See Things The Same

I was meeting Priyanka’s mother for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was really excited to meet her. She had come to London with Priyanka from Mumbai, India, for a short trip, and we both ensured that we had the opportunity to meet up. Priyanka had spent two weeks on work experience with me and my team in Marylebone, in central London a couple of months ago. All the team had enjoyed having her with us. She was bright, hardworking, and fitted in superbly, especially with our three young interns. Bhavna, Priyanka’s mother was in a rush to both share her story and thank the team. She could not contain her excitement and gratitude. She said that Priyanka had returned to Mumbai a completely different person. She had always been slightly introverted, very clever but perhaps not prepared to share her views and opinions, or to be in the forefront of any crowd or group of friends. This had all changed on her return to Mumbai. She was louder, had more opinions and was prepared to share them with everyone. Her confidence had grown beyond belief and there was a fun side to her that perhaps had been a little suppressed before. Before Bhavna could finish speaking, an animated Priyanka came bounding in. It was great to see her, and she was full of beans. She was bubbling with enthusiasm and gave me a huge hug and a smile that lit up the room. I could instantly see that she had been transformed. Priyanka shared with all of us in the room what she thought had happened and how it had made such a profound and transforming effect on her. She shared passionately a story about her first day in the office with the team. She now spoke so much more quickly, with so much more energy and enthusiasm than I remember. She had met Marcel, Adam and Sheikh and together they were the four youngest members of the team and they decided that they would all go to lunch together. The guys headed off towards one of the local burger joints, and on arrival Priyanka shared that she was vegetarian. They started ribbing her a bit and showed her where there was a vegetarian eatery that she could find something to her taste. Off she went alone to the vegetarian café, but as she entered she soon realised that the boys were joking and were right behind her to also have a vegetarian meal. Having a meal together was an unpressurised way to ease her into the team. She instantly felt that she belonged and was made to feel not only that she was part of the team, but she also brought something very special to the mix. This was a very different world to what she was used to back home. Priyanka’s parents had worked very hard and had become a successful middle-class family. They ensured that their only child would be given every opportunity to succeed. She went to one of the best local schools and had all she needed to enable her to focus on her studies and her exams. Her parents were very proud of her, as she paid full attention to her schooling and was doing very well indeed. She never had to get up until 8.00am, as everything was prepared for her; breakfast, her clothes ironed and laid out, and a car waiting outside to take her to school. She would leave by 08.30am and be at school well before 9.00am ready to focus for on the academic day ahead.

London’s Calling

London could not have been more different. Priyanka had to get up so much earlier, prepare her own breakfast and sort her own clothes out – she loved this feeling of independence. This was usually followed by a troublesome journey on the packed London Underground with a couple of changes and then a bit of a walk to the office. Again, she loved the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan London. It appeared to her that just about everybody was different. There were different languages, different races and about every sort of style of dress you could ever imagine. Everyone was crammed closely together in the packed carriage on the Tube. As soon as she had arrived at the office another completely different day would unfold in front of her. Sheikh was of Bengali descent, Muslim and born in London, Marcel was of Jamaican descent and a Methodist, also born in London and Adam was British, Protestant and born in Nottingham in the middle of England, and Priyanka is Punjabi and Hindu from Mumbai, India. This was a heady mix and the differences made for more wide-ranging discussions laced with a variety of views that lent itself to more innovative approaches. It meant they all looked at the same problem or opportunity through very different eyes. These diverse opinions proved to be of great value to how the team tackled issues and opportunities. They were all very different but all were strong team players. It was an experience that she would never forget. They all wanted to hear and understand her point of view, because it was vital to the solutions that they were proposing to the rest of the team. She soon found her voice, as she had to learn very quickly to deliver her views and reflections with confidence. She had never done this before, but the guys so wanted to hear what she wanted to say, that it felt so natural because it was so welcomed and valued. It took some time but she was enjoying their support and never felt any pressure whatsoever. She was speaking fast and breathlessly, she had captured everyone’s attention. The beauty of it all was that she was so enjoying this new-found confidence and how it made her feel. The change was so striking, and it actually appeared so authentic and sincere – probably because that’s exactly what it is. I am not sure she has still fully noticed just how much she had changed. Her mother, Bhavna and I certainly had. The introverted Genie had come dashing out of the bottle, and now could never go back in.

From Best Practice to Next Practice

• Embrace flexible working without fear • Engage with talent communities • Get all employees involved • Recognise those making a tangible difference • Take the time to listen “As the American civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson memorably said “When everyone is included, everyone wins.”