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  • Robin Rosenberg

Inclusion as a Career Competency: Motivating, Upskilling, and Making Inclusion a Habit

For many people, in many organizations, inclusion is more than a term spoken during diversity training. Rather, it is about a way of being with colleagues, customers, and partners. Inclusion influences how we behave toward each other, the questions we ask, and our non-verbal communication—so many other aspects of interaction.

Increasingly, inclusion is a component of career competency. Inclusivity conveys respect for others—for their perspectives, life experiences, knowledge and skills. Inclusivity increases the sense of people are valued for what they bring to the table.

When people are not being inclusive they are, by definition, excluding others. They are according some people more respect, more value, than others. Ultimately, that’s bad for the team, the organization, and employees. Behaving in ways that exclude some people is ultimately disrespectful, which in turn leads to decreased engagement and productivity and higher attrition.

Being inclusive toward others should, ideally, be a habit. A way of being in the world. Developing a new habit requires effort, and to exert that effort, we need to be motivated. That’s where virtual reality (VR) can help.

Motivating Behavior Change: Virtual Reality as a Solution

With VR, it’s possible to experience what it’s like to be on the receiving end of (often unintended) exclusion, disrespect, and incivility. Here’s how it can work: Virtual reality allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes -- literally. In the other person’s shoes, you see what that “virtual” person sees—from that person’s perspective.

Depending on the specifics of VR experience, you may even be able to put yourself in the person’s feet—that is also have a sense of the person’s internal experience. In other words, to be in someone else’s shoes is to see their situation through your eyes, but to be in their feet is to see their situation through their eyes. Either type of VR experience (shoes or feet), but particularly the latter, can generate empathy and deeper understanding of how exclusion and disrespect manifest along with a deeper motivation to behave in ways that are more inclusive. Virtual reality can also be a medium to increase the soft skills that are part of being inclusive.

Learning the Skills of Inclusion

Once employees are motivated, virtual reality can also be used to help employee learn new skills of inclusion. In the privacy of the VR experience, they can learn the various specific behaviors that are inclusive, as well as experience being on the receiving end of inclusive—versus exclusive—interaction patterns. It’s also important for teams and organizations to provide specific guidelines about what inclusivity means for that team or that organization. For instance, if the team is global, the specific ways to create psychological safety might be different than a team that’s made up of New Yorkers. Although the fundamental principles underlying inclusion and respect are the same (e.g., being considerate of other people, behaving in ways that people feel valued, behaving fairly and in a trustworthy manner), the specifics may differ, depending on make-up of the group. For instance, how you address disagreements respectfully may differ, depending on who the other person is and their comfort talking about emotions.

Inclusivity as a Habit

Learning how to be inclusive is only part of the goal. Ultimately, we want those behaviors to become habits—to be automatic, so we don’t have to think about it. For new behaviors to become habits, it helps when we have reminders—cues—in the environment: seeing others being inclusive (which both provides models of what to do and can create a sense of peer pressure to be inclusive), receiving feedback, and the team or organization providing specific guidelines (rather than vague generalities). For inclusivity to become a habit, the organization needs both the set the tone, and maintain the tone.


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