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  • Writer's pictureIrma Rastegayeva

Reflections on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, part 1: Include 2021

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

In this 2-part blog series, Irma Rastegayeva and Evan Kirstel of eViRa Health share their experiences with and reflections on two recent events. In part 1, they summarize several take-aways from Include 2021 and their coverage of the event. In part 2, they recap the Twitter Chat they hosted on Empowering Women and highlight main points from the robust online discussions around these topics.

As part of our work, we attend many conferences and events, speaking, leading panels and workshops as well as regularly covering events and conferences on social media. In March, the International Women’s Month, we had the pleasure of contributing to two events that differed from the typical topics we engage with: Include 2021 and a Twitter Chat on Empowering Women.

Microsoft’s Include 2021

Include 2021, a free virtual event presented by Microsoft, covered a broad spectrum of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) topics. The event was exceptionally well done and explored a multitude of DEI issues with a plethora of impressive speakers. From Sesame Workshop’s storytelling for children and families around the world, to deep dives into intersectionality, covering, sexual orientation, identity, privilege and marginalization to growth mindset and corporate DEI success stories and more, the 20+ hours of engaging video content gave us lots to think about.

We will not attempt here to cover all of the great content presented at the event. Luckily, it is available on-demand for free, so we encourage everyone to check it out. But we did want to share a few event take-aways and highlights. You can see more of our event coverage in this Twitter moment.

The case for diversity & inclusion: Human, business, and geopolitical

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella kicked off the event. In conversation with Darren Walker, Ford Foundation President, they discussed the opportunity for organizations to be innovative, competitive, and serve purpose through deeper connection to diversity & inclusion.

Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, Microsoft CVP & Chief Diversity Officer, shared more about Microsoft’s growth mindset approach to diversity & inclusion by exploring how we can all get comfortable with trying, failing and getting better as we move forward on our own inclusion journeys.

Then several Microsoft executives framed how to make this real in organizations around the globe. Lindsay-Rae McIntyre talked about the human case, sharing a concept of “relentless empathy”.

Nick Parker, CVP, Global Partner Solutions, introduced the business case for diversity & inclusion, followed by Fred Humphries, CVP, US Government Affairs, making the geopolitical case for it.

Race & Ethnicity: Connecting to the global conversation on race

In this session, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson shared his thoughts on race and ethnicity, and how they are different. Race is not biologically rooted, but rather a social construct, human beings projecting and creating arbitrary groups and hierarchy. We have to talk about it to understand it. Dr. Dyson asked: “What changed after George Floyd?” That horrific event brought into light the existence of racial hierarchy. We have to deal with systemic racism. Everything that is a system is vulnerable to hierarchy. More vibrant and intelligent conversation came after. And he shared his thoughts on Cancel Culture: We cannot say that every offense is equal to the next. We have to allow mistakes, invite people into a conversation. Embrace humanity and work together to make changes, we can’t just automatically label each other based on a naive comment. Should be “Council culture, not cancel culture.”

Dr. Balmurli Natrajan echoed Dr. Dyson by stating that race, caste and ethnicity are historical constructs.

There are natural variations in the human race, but humans create and try to control the variation. Race and caste are looked at as a rank structure based on social power.

D&I and talent management: CDW

In the first of several Include 2021 D&I Partner Perspective videos by companies sharing their success stories, CDW offered the following:

  • It’s not enough to not be racist, we need to be deliberately anti-racist.

  • When you know better, you will do better.

  • Embed diversity and inclusion in the DNA of a company.

  • Get everyone involved in promoting inclusion.

  • Install accountability measures and model the culture you desire.

  • Be aware of privilege and embrace responsibility to help others.

  • Privilege is not just attributed to middle aged white men. It can be anyone’s education or career position.

  • Know about Covering, Allyship and Perspective

    • Covering: Hiding and not embracing your uniqueness, be it race, ethnicity, orientation, etc.

    • Allyship: Get to know individuals who are different and learn how to use any privilege you have constructively. You don’t decide if you're an Ally, it is decided by your actions and whether someone else views you as an Ally.

    • Perspective: The way people view others based on their thoughts and unverified beliefs.

Allyship: How individuals can activate inclusion in the workplace

In this session, award-winning NYU Stern School of Business Professor Dolly Chugh demonstrated how our desire to be good people can get in the way of us being better people. She studies the “psychology of good people” and shared highlights from The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias, including the importance of being “good-ish” if we want to be inclusive, self-aware allies in the workplace. Being an effective ally is more than just having good intentions.

Company culture transformation: Blue Yonder

In their video, Blue Yonder talked about creating an environment of inclusion, and strengthening their culture by creating a Diversity, Inclusion, Value and Equality (DIVE) Council and shared these insights:

  • Transparency is an absolute must to foster change.

  • Awareness: Onsite library of libraries, articles, etc.

  • There is always more you can do.

  • Increased trust and humbleness.

  • Engage employees and let them be part of the solution.

  • Use stories to connect people.

Disability: Increasing access and understanding to include all

In this session, Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Global Disability Advisor for the World Bank Group, asked a question: What disabilities are overlooked? Disability is not always visible and it is a very complex set of issues. People with non-visible disabilities are often overlooked. The non-visible disabilities include mental health, learning disabilities, autism and chronic illnesses among others. About 15%-20% of people have some sort of disability, and thus represent the World’s largest minority. It’s important to consider a greater range of “disability” to be more inclusive. Those with disabilities bring special skills to the workplace. Their life experience, overcoming adversity and problem solving.

How are employees with disabilities excluded in the workplace? There are many ways, including failure to consider accessibility issues when hiring, creating organizational barriers (paternalistic culture, ableist views), supervisor attitudes, stigmas, infantilizing, jokes (even if unintentional), pigeon-holing into certain positions. People hold unconscious biases against groups they don’t belong to and place value on their own groups, but this can be overcome with deliberate conversations.

Instead, companies should strive to build an environment for people to be their authentic selves. Offer short term and long term disability benefits, mental health coverage, flexible schedules, source and acquire talent with disabilities, make commitments to provide reasonable accommodations. While many employers are concerned with the corresponding costs, companies that become inclusive actually increase their gains and offset the accommodation costs. Companies should be open to disability disclosure. Build an environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing their disabilities and provide support to them, but don’t mandate it.

People are becoming more aware of the issue globally. There is an increased number of countries with disability laws and policies, leading to an increasingly large group of persons with disabilities that are engaged in change.

Focused D&I teams can change culture: Workday

In their video, Workday shared how it is building Value, Inclusion, Belonging and Equity (VIBE) through creation of an employee driven Accelerator Team program and shared these insights:

  • Put together an accelerator team: 20 employees from several departments around the corporate, HR, marketing and more to accelerate inclusion for Latinx and Black employees without excluding others.

  • Starting the steps to make systemic change.

  • How can you be more inclusive with a small team: build in inclusive practices at the start, instead of waiting until you have more diverse hires; be proactive, not reactive. That way no matter who joins your team, there is already a system in place to support them. Building the inclusivity from the start will be much easier, and better, than trying to implement all-inclusive practices after the fact.

Growth Mindset: Being willing to try, fail, and learn to get better at inclusion

In this session, Eduardo Briceño, Wiring Growth Founder & CEO, shared that a growth mindset means having the belief that we can change and improve over time. But just liking the idea of improvement without being willing to change is not enough. Growth mindset also means knowing that we don’t know everything and being willing to listen to others who know what we don’t, to learn from them. We are all going to have missteps and make mistakes, but that should not dissuade us from moving forward towards improvement. If we think we have the power to create change, we are more likely to be engaged.

What is a growth mindset in the context of DEI? Come as a learner at an elementary level, stay accountable by learning from your mistakes and putting in the effort to improve. It’s important to differentiate toxic positivity — having a positive outlook and just believing that things will turn out well — vs. growth mindset, where you continue to get better through effort.

Intersectionality: Understanding the social and political impacts of intersecting identities

In this session, UCLA and Columbia Law School Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw talked about intersectionality, the term she coined to describe overlapping social identities. She shared how different types of inequities can compound, and the way that it can fuel bias and discrimination.

Micro-messages & Bias: Changing behaviors to strengthen inclusion

In this session, Prof. Binna Kandola, cofounder of Pern Kandola, offered that people like to think they are not biased, but research has shown that many people are. People who believe they have no biases tend to be the most biased. Some frequent examples of bias in our day to day lives: When asked why a man is successful, people give examples that tend to reflect the man himself and his hard work. Whereas when asked about a woman's success, they tend to point to her having a good team or good luck and not her abilities as a leader. When biases go unchallenged or discussed, they deepen over time.

Micro-messages happen more regularly and don’t tend to be challenged. One example of a micro-message is to not look at someone, as in not bothering to give them your full attention. Regularly receiving micro-messages leads to people feeling excluded from the group. Addressing your own micro-messages will create a sense of self that matches more closely to who you really are. Conditions that need to exist to address micro-messaging in the workplace: leaders need to speak up about it and lead by example. Engage in conversation with imagination, seeing the world through someone else's perspective. Get people to report micro-messaging so you can evaluate how often it is happening and in which ways, so they can be addressed.

Find ways to control tension when discussing different points of view so the conversation isn’t confrontational, but constructive for the employees. Ideally you would have someone else in the meeting to back you up, ask for that backup from another colleague, use “the power of 2”. The power of 2 helps people who typically wouldn’t challenge a superior.

There is a double bind for women in leadership roles. They are viewed as difficult when mirroring male colleagues’ behavior, and not assertive enough when taking a more delicate approach to leadership.

The advice to women would be: When describing yourself, don’t short change yourself by only mentioning female stereotypes such as compassion as assets, also mention attributes that tend to be associated with male counterparts, like assertiveness and analytical thinking.

Age: Evolving how we think about generational differences

Closing Include 2021, was a fascinating conversation between Microsoft's Chief Storyteller Steve Clayton and Age Wave’s founder & CEO Dr. Ken Dychtwald, about diversity and inclusion when it comes to age, aging and longevity. We are evolving how we think about generational differences. There's a lot of diversity even within the aging category. For example, people in their 50s & 60s are very different from those in the 70s, 80s, 90s & older. So the issues of inclusion and diversity are even more nuanced and complex here. And let’s not forget that there is a lot of wisdom, experience and EQ in every one of these groups!

The US is only thirty-third in the world for life expectancy, and COVID-19 pandemic has reduced it further. Still, people living into the 80s & 90s has become commonplace, living to 120 or even 150 will be possible with technological advances in the next decade. So what is ageism? There are many definitions, including "ageism by omission". The interesting thing about aging is that everyone will eventually get there.

Dr. Ken Dychtwald shared this fascinating fact: "Two thirds of all the people older than 65 that ever lived throughout the history of the world are alive today".


It is impossible to cover all of the powerful information and insights presented at Include 2021 in this blog post. All of the content from this virtual event is available on-demand for free, so we encourage you to search for your topic of interest and watch at your convenience. You can see a “highlight reel” of our Include 2021 coverage in this Twitter moment.

In part 2 of this series, we will recap the Twitter Chat and highlight main points from the robust online discussion around these topics.

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