The difference between intentional and blind exclusion in the workplace


Inclusivity has become a cornerstone in the conversations among leaders, HR professionals, culture evangelists, and at some of the best companies, it’s on the minds of all workers. It’s not surprising that we’ve arrived here. What’s shocking is how long it’s taken us to do so. Making diversity a priority in the workplace is the right thing to do and the human thing to do. It is critical to have diversity in the workplace for copious reasons–an increase in productivity, creativity, engagement, retention, employee satisfaction, and ultimately profits. But it also makes the workplace more fun. When people are happy and see others happy, they stick around. They give their best. They enjoy the workplace and it shows in the work they do.

Diversity only works if we include everyone and make them feel safe and nurture a sense of belonging. However, have you thought about what it means to be “too inclusive” or overly concerned with who you include? This may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes in certain scenarios focusing too much on who you should include in meetings and conversations can actually distract you from your purpose or even force you to compromise your values. 

I believe it is important to be more intentional and purposeful with our inclusion. In other words, it’s ok to be exclusive by design by honing in on your purpose and making conscious decisions that support it. Here’s an example: If you are gathering a group together for data science, then you should exclude non-data scientists. If you are having a meeting about leadership duties, it is unnecessary to include everyone in the company. In this sense, outside parties can be an unnecessary distraction; inviting relevant people to partake in the conversation would help you stay focused on your goal. Exclusion in this way can keep the group concentrated and also saves people who do not need to be involved in time and effort. No one likes to sit in a meeting that they don’t need to be in. And it takes up time to explain information and context to people who are outside of the conversation. Only invite people you need to meetings. 

With this being said, it’s always important and essential to consider all sides of a situation and all voices in a conversation, even the ones not speaking. Exploring perspectives feeds your purpose and is a strength in understanding. Yes, there can be a benefit in only engaging with like-minded people when necessary, but it is just as important to explore the thoughts and feelings of contrasting viewpoints. There is a time and place for inviting outside voices into the conversation. When you need to get work done in a meeting, it can be more effective to leave them out. 

Consider exclusion by design when over-indexing on inclusion becomes an expense of your purpose, and therefore is unproductive. Exclusion in and of itself is not necessarily bad. In fact, it may allow us to more deeply honor our purpose. If we are honest about our purpose and it is not hateful or discriminatory in nature, then exclusion is a design consideration to ensure we are staying true to our purpose. It can also be generous when we stop inviting unnecessary people and we free up their calendar. Our clarity in purpose paired with intentionally inviting the right people reduces FOMO because people understand they don’t need to be there.

Often people lose sight of who needs to attend meetings, who will benefit most, and who would contribute most. Instead, they invite everyone just to be safe or just to feel inclusive. A more intentional approach will better serve you and your fellow participants, even those you decide not to invite as it might have been a waste of their time, or even worse, their presence would have wasted everyone’s time. 

While over-including is an issue and intentional exclusion can be judged too harshly, a more insidious phenomenon is accidental exclusion. Accidental exclusion is when we don’t bother to even consider who we are excluding because we’ve fallen prey to habits or simply didn’t take the time to prep or consider. It’s important to take a moment to step back and articulate your purpose, outcomes, and who should and shouldn’t be present. Who are you missing? Who can help move this project forward? Who is impacted? Who needs to be consulted? 

These questions are imperative to consider if you want to avoid accidental exclusion–it’s a treacherous and pernicious blindfold to wear. When we don’t notice accidental exclusion or see it, then we feed into it. Accidental exclusion can lead to a sense of isolation amongst your team members. When people don’t feel seen or heard, their performance and quality of life does not reach their full potential. Individuals are also faced with unfairness and unreasonable expectations when a decision falls in their lap that they had no say in but have to support. Accidental exclusion is damaging to every single person in an organization. Avoid it at all costs.

Navigating between intentional and purposeful inclusion and exclusion may seem daunting at first, but it is an applicable and effective approach to more productive and effective work. There is no single right answer or way to do it; it’s an ever-adapting and changing dynamic. Just remember: exclusion can be beneficial when we approach it with eyes wide open–there is a strategy in only inviting relevant voices to a conversation. Be careful of accidental exclusion. Lacking consideration of other people is problematic because it feeds an uninclusive environment.