Inclusion tops the list of many workplace must-haves. But what exactly does inclusion mean?

According to G. Rumay Alexander, EdD, RN, FAAN, clinical professor and director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when people talk about inclusion they can’t ignore one very important fact – inclusion means something different for each person.

“You have to define terms and explore it and explain it a little more carefully,” says Alexander, who recently moderated the American Nurses Association webinar Diversity Matters: Create an Inclusive Nursing Culture that Leads to Better Outcomes. “A prime example is that people talk about respect. The fact of the matter is that ten different people have ten different definitions of respect.”

How can you begin talking about inclusion?

1. Define It

Nurses excel at critical thinking skills, says Alexander, so sitting down to talk about what inclusion means in your workplace should be the first step.

2. Think About What Inclusion Means to You

Self-awareness is so key to the work of an inclusive space,” says Alexander. “Understanding and knowing yourself is important. Know what pushes and doesn’t push your buttons.” Use honest self examination of your biases and prejudices so you become aware of them and realize how they could impact your work. Everyone has had different experiences, says Alexander, and each of those can change your outlook. The important work is understanding how that happens and making sure it doesn’t invade your work.

3. Be Willing to Change

When you do some honest reflection, you might realize where you need to make changes. That’s not a bad thing. Almost everyone needs to do something better, so having an open mind and understanding that you are part of a team trying to change takes the personal sting out. Be willing to learn. “Understand that your private decisions have public ramifications,” says Alexander. “You can’t talk your way out of what you behaved your way into.”

4. Change Your Culture

Culture will trump strategy every time,” says Alexander. If everyone isn’t on board, any changes and any strategies put in place won’t hold. Understanding workplace culture means understanding who shapes the culture and how they interact. “You have to understand culture,” says Alexander. “Culture is the way you approach your work.”

5. Be Patient

You have to understand when you are changing culture you are dealing with a process and that takes time,” says Alexander. A new environment won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with self reflection, new approaches, and honest and open communication.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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