Inclusiveness: It all starts with yourself.

I’m at a conference about inclusiveness and diversity, on the one hand as a sympathizer with one of the organisations that work on this subject, and on the other hand because as a professional I’m curious about the many practical examples that will be presented and discussed that day.

It is interesting, and very diverse, with experts from a number of countries such as Tanzania, RD Congo, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and also from Belgium. The seminar is a good illustration of what years of working on diversity and inclusion can bring about in terms of dynamics, in terms of changes, in terms of cooperation and learning. Impressive.

Yet for a moment – at least for me – a small false note sounds. Not in terms of the organisation of the study day, not in terms of the content, but something that nobody notices (I think), passes just as quickly and disappears, but in my case persistently keeps nagging and knocking somewhere.

I take part in one of the many workshops, where an exposé is given on the history of diversity and inclusion, and that ends with crossroadthinking and intersectionality. Complex concepts, but clearly explained.

Towards the end of the workshop, a small leap is made towards the government, and its role and responsibility towards women’s organisations and organisations in general that work on gender and inclusion. The speaker comes from such an organisation, and expresses her dissatisfaction with the fact that the current and future government will most likely cut back further the subsidies of these organisations in the near future.

That this is a pity, she says, because we just can’t keep up with the questions. We get so many questions from schools, care centres, etc. to help make their organisation more inclusive. And we won’t be able to do that without subsidies.

Because, she continues, without subsidies we will simply be ‘marketed’. This means that we will no longer be able to do our work. And then we have to work as a ‘consultant’. Let’s be clear. I myself will never, NEVER, be able to work that way.
I listen with amazement to those last sentences. Her non-verbal expression does not lie. The word ‘consultant’ and the last sentence are almost spit out.
What assumptions make her say this?

Are diversity and inclusion social themes and therefore primarily the responsibility of the government to deploy as much as possible in this area? Particularly by subsidising organisations that work on these issues? Is this its underlying assumption?

Does she believe that organisations should not spend their own budget on working on diversity and inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion are socially important themes, no discussion possible. But should this only be ‘solved’ by means of subsidies?

Diversity and inclusion are socially important themes AND THUS the responsibility of everyone who can contribute to this. Parents, family, social networks, schools, youth movements, companies, trade unions, leisure organisations and so on.

However, it cannot be the exclusive responsibility of a government to ‘ensure’ that society becomes more inclusive. Isn’t that very exclusive thinking? Paternalistic, patronising even in this way?

It is not the government that should work exclusively on social issues. The government has a major role to play, and can raise awareness, campaign, set a good example, help create the right context, and support organisations through subsidies.

However, any initiative, whether subsidised or not, that helps people to think and act in a more inclusive way, should be applauded.

Whether this is done by supervising an organisation through subsidies, or whether it is carried out by a company in the private sector. As long as it benefits society in an ethically responsible way based on involvement and authentic engagement on this theme, all this is good.

With and without subsidies.

That too is inclusive thinking and acting.

During the conference day I hear many testimonies from people who have put inclusion and (gender) equality into practice and still do, every day. They rise above themselves, they inspire others. Testimonies that have changed and continue to change the lives of these people. That day I hear several times – if you want to bring something into movement – that you first have to look in the mirror yourself, and that change starts with yourself.

I would like to ask the inclusion expert afterwards, how she does apply it in her own life. At the moment of the workshop I didn’t ask it, surprised as I was and with my mouth full of teeth. And especially afraid that I (hopefully) had misunderstood her statement.

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