Diversity is extremely important, but it does not mean a whole lot without inclusion. As Verna Meyers said, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Bringing people of various backgrounds, opinions, and interests together is step one, but getting them to stay and share perspectives, ideas, and values is step two. Whether on the giving or receiving end (because at some point or another we have all been outsiders), there is something we can all do to be inclusive and foster a safe and brave space.
From my personal experience as a female engineer, there have been multiple occasions in which I find myself feeling intimidated being the only woman in the room. I takes conscious effort to remind myself to Lean In and Sit at the Table (thanks Sheryl Sandberg, check out her book Lean In if you want more on this). And often I do mean those two things literally…it can be difficult to choose one of the few seats at the table when you don’t quite feel like you belong at a meeting and sometimes physically sitting up and speaking louder is necessary to be heard. I recognize there are things I can and should do to be included, even if they are a little uncomfortable. We have to accept the invitation and actually show up to the party. This hits on the brave part of the safe and brave space.
Now feeling safe in the space largely depends on the others in room. How will it be received when I sit at the table and lean in? Will I be welcomed and included? There are very actionable, relatively easy, things we can all do to support inclusion, particularly in the meeting room and classroom. For one, make sure everyone is heard. This not only requires giving everyone the opportunity to speak but, also requires acknowledgement and respect from those listening. In the classroom, this may take shape as encouraging and reaffirming students’ questions.
Making everyone feel comfortable in a space and “asking them to dance” is very much an art and the social grace it requires comes more naturally to some. As I’ve said, I think everyone has a role to play in creating a safe and brave space. However, particularly in the classroom, instructors are uniquely situated to control the culture of the room. In this way there is a responsibility for instructors to act as positive role models and set ground rules for inclusive practice. While this sort of training is not often explicitly taught to aspiring teachers maybe it should be. I say let’s dance!