June is Pride Month. It is dedicated to celebrating diversity, learning about the activists who paved a path for civil rights, and personifying and promoting allyship. That for which Pride stands is personal and varies from person to person; however, one meaning has gained incredible traction: the desire to build on and improve inclusive practices. It is also a month in which our attention is consumed by incessant reminders of the importance of diversity and inclusion – and they most definitely are, so nowhere in this article will you find any indication that diversity is something that should not be celebrated. Observe, however, that the boundless wisdom of the words “Inclusion really means…” paints the feed of our LinkedIn network. Countless posts claim to portray the true meaning of inclusion: companies who display their practices as the path to actual inclusion; advocates who charge that they hold the key to real inclusion. I want to congratulate them all for their excellent work because their contributions are indisputably essential. I would still like to caution anyone who claims to hold the inclusion ‘truth’ because, in addition to unintentionally communicating exclusion, claiming you hold the truth removes a crucial invitation for others to take part in defining and understanding inclusion as it pertains to their reality. The sustainability of an organization’s approach to adopting inclusive practices is dependent upon a process that can be extremely delicate for many, and that process must be accepting and accessible – inclusive, if you will, in and of itself.

As a developed society in which the term is still relatively new, we are still negotiating the meaning of inclusivity. Therefore, I am not certain that we have reached a place where one company or one activist can claim to possess the answer to the inclusion question. Consequently, we are bound to have disagreements on how inclusivity should ultimately manifest itself and that is just fine.

One of the values of my organization happens to be inclusion. As the former Diversity and Inclusion Officer, it was incumbent upon me to work with members and the Board of Directors to understand diversity as a concept and endeavor to adopt inclusive practices. I was happy to report that there was unparalleled openness to learning more. We have come to define this value in a way that is intentionally indefinite: Because our understanding of diversity is in constant evolution, our dedication to inclusion – of the people we help and those who contribute to our organization – constantly guides our actions. In essence, our perspective is the marriage of two important lessons that history has taught us.

First, we have accepted that we do not see diversity today the way we did fifteen years ago – and we will most probably see it differently fifteen years from now. This simple notion speaks to how we are constantly learning about the ways in which people are naturally different from one another*. As diverse segments of the population come to discover the components of their identities over time, it is not only our obligation to learn about the nature of this diversity; it is essentially unavoidable. Times will change whether we want them to or not – whether we choose to acknowledge and accept those changes or not. Denying this is the equivalent of trying to reverse human nature. Therefore, one key constituent of my organization’s value system is understanding that we do each other a great service when we commit to learning about the nature of people’s diversity as time goes by.

Second, we have realized that inclusion is not the implementation of one single action, policy, or decision. I see inclusion as a great friend you can walk with every day. You bounce ideas off each other; you guide one another through tough times; you learn from each other; you defend each other’s interests. That is how inclusion lives in our organization. Inclusion always has a seat at our table when we strategize. Inclusion is always in its own window at Zoom meetings when decisions are made. Inclusion is always present when we discuss with potential partners. Inclusion is certainly with us when we create and deliver programs in various communities around the world. Inclusion is even there when we talk about our weekends.

Taken together, the way we chose to define this value is meant to read as a humble yet unwavering commitment to ensuring that our friend inclusion remains omnipresent. That is what I wish to be a lesson that Pride Month 2021 will have taught us as visionary leaders in a diverse world. Inclusion is a deeply abstract and often murky concept. We sometimes interpret it differently and have conflicting ideas about its meaning, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If we engage each other in healthy conversations, inclusion remains within everyone’s reach. Undoubtedly, we must seek to understand it better as time goes by and we are not alone in our efforts to do so. There are many professionals and community groups who are glad to be part of that conversation if you need assistance in your company’s quest to adopt an inclusion plan. Just reach out.

By itself, inclusion means nothing. It is up to all of us to do something real and productive with it so that we are all able to come to a common understanding of what to do with it. Then, we can do the work necessary to create an environment where everyone is proud to bring their authentic selves to work. Inclusion is a crucial element to organizational health; it just requires the commitment to a process that is inherently ongoing.

Written by: Anthony Francis Lombardi, Chief Operating Officer & Inclusion and Engagement Advisor