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When I first heard the term “radical inclusion,” I assumed it meant being very, very inclusive. In an online search of the term, I found a book by Martin Dempsey with this title, addressing inclusion as a leadership strength. And there is a group called the Fellowship that defines “radical inclusivity” as “the intentional inclusion of all persons; especially people who have traditionally lived at the margins of society.” That means addicts, convicted criminals, sex industry workers and those whose sexual expression challenges binary norms.

My favorite interpretation involves being inclusive of those who disagree with us. In a magazine that I read almost daily, last month there was an article by Petra Weldes titled “Including Those Who Don’t Include Us.” The author challenges the common phrase, “I’m intolerant of their intolerance.” She urges us to separate ideas from the person who holds them; disagreeing with another’s ideas need not be a judgment of that person. She says being radically inclusive means being able to disagree “with civility and care for each other….”

I am in the “diversity and inclusion” business. The next frontier, for me, is including those whose beliefs are very different from my own. How right it sounds, and how challenging it is, to be open and truly listen to someone who sees an important issue very differently than I do. Today there are so many divisions – between White Supremacists and those who take a knee for the national anthem, those who want a border wall and those who serve refugees, gun owners and advocates for more gun regulations. Being inclusive across such lines doesn’t require us to change our values or like everyone. Boundaries are healthy if set without judgment.

In my last newsletter, I shared about getting very different responses to an article I had written about working in the #MeToo era. I suggested that, while women don’t invite office-place harassment, they can make it less likely by dressing in clothes that are professional rather than revealing. Having gotten some pretty hostile responses to that part of my article, I asked for input. I tried to read the responses with radical inclusivity.

The responses I got from men ranged widely. One applauded my bravery for suggesting women have some “responsibility” for harassment. One analogized a woman wearing revealing clothes at work to a person putting his hand in a lion’s cage! One (endorsing my point) felt that dressing this way is “inconsiderate of the stress that results from having to suppress a brain stem level reaction.”

Most women addressed the importance of professional dress. For example

  • For women to be taken seriously at work, they should not wear “date night” outfits. “Do you want men to look at your face or 8 inches lower?”
  • Men dress to be considered competent and promotable. Women need to decide if their goal at work is to be considered competent and promotable or “to be admired or desired for their appearance.”
  • “Women whose sexuality got them attention [are] inevitably not taken seriously; it gets attention, but not the kind that generates long-term career success.”
  • I agree it is unfair to men to look sexy when one is not open to sexual advances.
  • Everyone, men and women, needs to be mindful of how our dress, language and behaviors affect others (and take personal responsibility for it). AND “no matter how someone shows up isn’t an invitation for unwanted advances.”

One woman felt that being complimented on one’s wardrobe has become fraught with tension: “many women can’t accept a compliment without thinking there is an ulterior motive or feeling uncomfortable.” Another said, “Our society has become a blaming, unaccountable world.” One pointed out that the backlash I felt from my article reflected women’s long-term frustration with men holding the power – and a quickly swinging pendulum.

One woman, speaking civilly, disagreed with me strongly. She said my logic leads down a slippery slope to blaming a victim for the actions of the perpetrator. And she used an area that I cover in my workshops – unconscious bias. How one dresses can trigger stereotypes. We expect people to get past stereotypes (bias) with “more reasoned decisions.”

It was easier to hear the comments aligning with my thoughts than those that reflected a different view. Appreciating all those who sent me a comment, I invite you to chime in. As long as you do so with civility, I’ll receive it with radical inclusivity!