CN Academics Corner

INCLUSION – You Keep Using That Word…

You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So said the swordsman Inigo Montoya to his Sicilian employer, Vizzini, who repeatedly blurted, “Inconceivable!” in the 1987 romantic comedy The Princess Bride.

Montoya might likewise caution HR/Diversity adherents for their use of the word “Inclusion” and its variants as a mantra component.

D&I discussions inevitably find difficulty in getting to a good clear consensus on what inclusion means and how to achieve it.  The primary reason may go directly to the faulty foundation of the “Diversity” paradigm itself, rooted in its own language choices, its jargon.

The terminologies used in the D&I industry can be a bit misleading, intentional or not. Meaning-creep has become a feature of the industry’s linguistic strategy. The meanings of D&I terminologies have been creeping along on a collision course for decades.

“Inclusion” can appear to mean openness, or literally not closed.  Being open to new cultures and different attitudes is what many seem to imply by inclusiveness. That would make sense in the context of organizations and hiring managers being open to hiring a few nontraditional employees.  In reality, however, include means just the opposite.  The meaning which D&I ignores is disguised by the nuanced prefix, “in-,” which in this case really doesn’t mean what HR/Diversity folks seem to think it means.

The term goes back to Middle English “includen,” from the Latin inclūdere, which actually means “enclose.”

It sounds almost Clintonesque, but in this case, the meaning of the prefix “in” is not “not,” but is instead an alternate Middle English variant of the prefix “en-” from Old English and Latin in, as in within.

Part two of the word “include” is from the late Middle English claudere, meaning “to shut, to close.”

Ultimately from the Latin meaning close in, enclose, to put into or onto.  This is akin to what organizations naturally do when they hire. It is the opposite of the prefix “ex,” which does mean “not” and also without.

Thus to include closes in, to exclude closes out.  You knew that already.  Here’s what creates the modern conundrum.

The D&I profession has promoted the HR use of the word “diversity” such that meaning-creep has shifted it from its initial application in the 1970s.  Back then, “diversity” referred to a short list of disadvantaged groups, and that was fine. It seemed a manageable matter to allow a few from a finite list of nontraditional candidates to enter an organization. A partial list of “differences” to include in the hiring schema became the order of the day for employers. [1]

That was then.  This is now. The collision course of creeping meanings becomes manifest.

Thanks to D&I, the meaning of “diversity” has morphed to comprise all of our individuated combinations of the infinite array of possible human qualities, characteristics and culture states.  It is quite literally everyone.  So, what challenges does this meaning-creep create?

In an open and infinite system like the universe, closing someone out would never have to be an issue anywhere but in a very, very bad marriage.

In a finite organization, however, there is room for only so many people.  In a finite system, inclusion (to close in) will mean that others are naturally excluded (closed out). To demonstrate universal inclusion of all talent, quality, characteristic or states in a hiring process is a challenge.  An organization must make choices regarding who is “in-” and who is “ex-” on the matter of “clusiveness.” It chooses, commits the act of encapsulating the object of organizational desire, then closes off the outsiders after the fact.

With a few exceptions, like prison, no one likes to be on the outside looking in.

In the Diversiphile‘s alternate reality, inclusion has been used in such a blithely ineffectual way that it has come to be associated with positive and good behavior while conversely tainting the term exclusivity so that it is broadly associated with negative and bad behavior.

In reality, the acts of inclusion and exclusion go hand-in-hand in the hiring process. One cannot be done without doing the other.  Exclusion starts with the necessity of defining the limits of the candidate pool and then  screening out [2] applicants.  Exclusion is similarly a feature of other internal job assignment and promotion processes as well.

Thus, inclusiveness is not as simple as people think it is.  Including boils down to “deciding,” which literally means ‘killing all other possibilities.’  (de- , remove or remove from; -cide, to kill)   The hiring manager or hiring team decides what it wants, who has it, and then conclusively chooses, closing out all other possibilities. (Conclusively; lit. with closing.)

Diversiphobes will quickly point out that every choice to include one excludes one other.

It is physics, a fact of life, a law of the universe in which we exist, and a job market reality that out-groups have lived with for centuries, powerless to alter the partiality in the outcomes.  On the other end of the process, hiring managers often feel regret, powerless at being unable to include some absolutely incredible candidates, or at excluding others simply because of the limitations of the difficult and sometimes agonizing hiring process.

Therein lies the challenge in the ambiguous and often misleading language of the D&I profession. The D&I construct of “againstness,” pits the natural processes of inclusion and exclusion against one another -nothing more than a red herring.  That approach keeps its adherents focused on the swings of the pendulum rather than focusing above it to see what time it is.  It distracts from the quest for something far more achievable in every organization, but impossible to achieve without direct address. The D&I industry masks central issues with language that deflects adherents to an obtuse approach to intractable issues, and still without providing a means of addressing the central issues.

Rather than being culturally inclusive or exclusive, the more direct and meaningful question becomes one of process neutrality, whether organizations or individuals can make inclusive and exclusive decisions in a CultureNeutral™, impartial way, despite the tug and pull of partial influences. 

Can a new language be developed around issues of culture and conflict in such a way as to shift out of the negativity of the D&I construct and turn an organization into a truly impartial CultureNeutral™ zone?  With the right motive and methods in place, a CultureNeutral™ impartiality can be taught and prevail in hiring, assignments, promotions, treatment of customers and clients ?  Some are working on it even as we speak.

The InclusiveWorks™ team invites you to stay with us as we reframe the challenges of natural and recurrent cultural conflict.  InclusiveWorks™ will change the dialogue and the language to generate a new wave of positive and fruitful intercultural relations among professionals enclosed in organizations, and among candidates working to enter and join them.


© Copyright 2013 – Robert D. Jones  – All Rights Reserved

[1]  Consistent with that narrower initial “HR/Diversity” application of the term “Inclusion,” one dictionary contains this “Usage Note” for synonyms of includere : “Some writers insist that include be used only when it is followed by a partial list of the contents of the referent of the subject. Therefore, one may write New England includes Connecticut and Rhode Island, but one must use comprise or consist of to provide full enumeration…”

[2] screening; “A systematic examination or assessment, done especially to detect an unwanted substance or attribute.”

See include
See enclose
See prefix in-
See prefix en-
See close
See includere
See screening  (4)
See conclusive


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