Inclusion by definition means including people, to provide equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded.
Inclusion and inclusivity are – of course – good things, yet how can such fundamentally good things often feel, kinda daggy, naff or even lame?
Inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility are unfortunately victims of corruption – basically good things that have been warped. Inclusion in the modern world conjures images of ethnically diverse people holding hands across the world, possibly singing whilst all humanities’ ailments simply disappear.
It’s also become a buzzword amongst lazy industrialists and HR managers who want to be seen to do ‘good’ without really contributing to change. These are the disappointing realities of the term, inclusion, and something I’ve witnessed in my corporate work and even in the [supposedly more diverse] artistic world. I had to repress the slight rolling of my eyes and silence my own scepticism when listening to people saying the right thing about inclusion, only to let it slip off the table or be pushed to one side when something more pressing or less taxing or time-consuming takes precedent.
So, when I was selected for the Sync Leadership program I knew that inclusivity and being inclusive were good things but I was unsure as to how they related to my leadership, and how that could make a difference to me being a better leader.
When Sarah, and the 2021 Australian Sync cohort, began to talk about inclusive leadership, and how we – as people with disability – are in a unique and natural position to inspire and explore inclusive leadership, I was intrigued. Personally, I have always gravitated towards the traditional iterations of leadership styles that centre on charisma and verbal communication. My disability directly effects my ability to write, so I learned to communicate verbally well and fast. I know how to spin a yarn to inspire my vision of the future and why those around me should be invested in a better way. But inclusiveness always seemed like a benefit of leadership rather than a crucial element of it.
I never saw myself as particularly inclusive in my leadership style – it didn’t occur to me that diversity and inclusiveness in leadership were crucial to real access moving forward, and that being curious and courageous as a leader and cognisant of my own bias were critical factors. It seems, with hindsight, like it should have been obvious to me, but that is the biggest hurdle with internalised prejudice – it’s about realising it’s there.
This has been a massive mental shift for me. Personally, inclusive leadership is not only about having more diversity at the heads of our systems; women in government, people of colour in boardrooms, people with disability on television, etc. It’s also about leadership behaviours; being curious and tenacious about who is not in the room and challenging that at every turn.
With this new insight, and almost without realising, I began to notice and question differently about who wasn’t at the table. I became more verbal, more distracting in meetings and I wasn’t afraid to speak up when I noticed a room full of people discussing accessibility features and being the only person with a disability. Again, I found myself speaking up when others were discussing new positions in large organisations directly relating to disability – and no one considering hiring a person with disability. I pushed aside my unconstructive annoyance and started speaking up from within an inclusive leadership context. People noticed – and the beginnings of real change felt more possible in collaboration.
It’s funny how an idea can spark change; how moving inclusion and leadership into inclusive leadership as a practice has revealed so much more potential for me on my leadership journey. While many aspects of the Sync Leadership Program were beneficial to me; discussing motivations, meeting other leaders with disability and complex debates around interesting issues – all fun and all useful, the conversation on different leadership styles provided actionable steps for me personally.
So while inclusion may still be a little daggy – it is still good and is worth leading for.
Bec Hogan took part in the recent Sync Intensive program in Australia in late 2021. She is the creative director of Gem Rock Media, that specializes in digital access, social media inclusion and consults for Accessible Arts and the ABC. As an emerging artist, working in paints, photography and video art, Bec has been a part of several art exhibitions and spoken publicly on her arts practice and short films.