What is Radical Inclusion?

The majority of leading businesses have made the bold commitment of cultivating inclusive organizations, yet when pressed about what a radically inclusive workplace actually is or looks like, most leaders within these organizations struggle to answer the question. When coaching clients to answer this question, I first encourage them to give examples of organizations they may have previously worked for that caused them to feel excluded, or to feel as if they did not belong.

Many respond by sharing examples of dysfunctional leaders who set a pessimistic tone, engaged in unhealthy communication patterns, gave lip service about values with little action, and lacked clarity around the organization’s overall direction. Doing this exercise countless times, I have come to this realization – when we desire to make a positive change – we can quickly name things that what we do not want, yet we struggle to clearly define what we do want when initiating this change

Recognizing this pattern when it manifests, I introduce the concept of negative space to help my clients define their DEI vision. In the art world, negative space is the area around and between the subject(s) of an image. Often, the observer of an artistic piece will first notice the negative space when it forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape, and such space occasionally is used to artistic effect as the “real” subject of an image.

For visual learners, Rubin’s vase illustrates the artistic concept of negative space.

For visual learners, Rubin’s vase illustrates the artistic concept of negative space.

In the DEI world, this artistic concept translates into concrete guidance for leaders eager to construct their own definition of radical inclusion. This work gets an organization closer to establishing a culture where everyone wants to be radically included. We can all strengthen our individual and collective definitions of what radical inclusion means to your organization, your people, you, or me by starting the process through naming the negative space, or the features of radical exclusion – the things we want to categorically eradicate from our workplace cultures.

Radical exclusion is to radical inclusion as the block of marble is to Michelangelo’s Angel. In order to create his masterpiece, the legendary artist had to chip away at the marble, so let’s do something similar by naming the traits of radical exclusion. A few examples of being radically excluded in the workplace include being:

·       Harassed, bullied, discriminated or enduring violence by stakeholders in the workplace

·       Ostracized and ignored by colleagues, your management team, etc.

·       Paid unequal compensation as another colleague in the same position

·       Treated unfairly because of any difference that falls outside of the dominant culture

·       Set up to fail in your role and not having support to advance in the organization

“I saw the Angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” - Michelangelo

“I saw the Angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” - Michelangelo

Now that we have clearly articulated the floor of what radical exclusion can, and often does look like within some of the most toxic workplaces, it’s important to contrast this negative space with what we’d like to see instead. We can accomplish this by arriving at our own personal and organizational definition of what radical inclusion is. Being radically included in the workplace includes being:

·       Afforded workplace protections from harassment, bullying, discrimination and violence

·       Included in the collaborative process to improve the organization’s products or services

·       Paid equal compensation as another colleague in the same position

·       Respected and valued for the differences you bring that make the organization stronger

·       Set up to succeed in your role by receiving sponsorship to advance in the organization

Taking this exercise further, I encourage you to talk with your colleagues and ask them to identify features within your workplace that would signal to them that they don’t belong. Then ask them to articulate what workplace features signal they would be welcomed, respected and feel a sense of belonging. Review what those traits are, compare them with your own, and work with your leaders to discuss how your workplace could begin working towards building a culture where your collective definition of radical inclusion can be realized.


If you found this post helpful, consider sharing it with a colleague, and be on the lookout for the next installment of this five part blog series related to the inaugural Belonging at Work Online Summit scheduled for October 7 – 11, 2019. The Summit will empower you to gain the confidence, knowledge, and strategies necessary to build intentional, inclusive workplace cultures where each person on the team is recognized, valued and feels a sense of belonging. Save your seat for the Summit here. Registration is FREE!