Suzanne Jackett – Between Friends

Suzanne Jackett, CEO of Between Friends, believes inclusion means “with”-not in. To be included “with” is the goal, not to be included in or alongside.

How would you describe an environment that is diverse and inclusive?

I would describe an environment that is diverse and inclusive as one that contains all of the characteristics listed below, one building upon another:

  • Respectful – Inclusion and diversity starts with respect. Respecting others opinions, respecting where they are in the moment, respecting where they came from, and that they have a different experience/story than the one you have.
  • Open – Being truly open to a variety of opinions and perspectives, not just paying lip service to it.
  • Visibly reflective of a variety of people – those who have differing abilities, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, or those who may simply look or act different then what is considered the norm. Diversity and inclusion is made up of many shades of grey.
  • Adaptable, not accommodating – Accommodating means making concessions. Adapting is about changing to meet the needs of the individual, not expecting the individual to change to meet our needs.
  • Physically accessible and welcoming  – Spaces that take into account the physical/sensory needs, as well as, appealing to people who come from a variety of backgrounds
  • Choice – Recognizing that everyone is not in the same place and accepting people’s right to choose. What I mean by that is, it is our responsibility to create inclusive environments. At the same time, it is critical that we accept that people have the right to choose where they feel the most comfortable, and where and how they want to participate. For example, I choose every day from a multitude of options that are available to me. The issue for many who are on the outside looking in, is that they don’t have the same multitude of options. It is our responsibility as a society to create a multitude of options, from which everyone can choose, regardless of: gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, culture, age, ability level/disability, language, colour, family status, or marital status. A diverse and inclusive environment is one that understands, appreciates, celebrates, normalizes and accepts.
  • Belonging – Creating a community where everyone feels that they belong.
  • Including “with” – Inclusion means with – not in. To be included “with” is the goal, not to be included in or alongside.
  • Accepting of change – An environment that does not fear change

Why do you think diversity and inclusion is important to employers, and to companies in particular?

Differences and variety enrich our interactions and experiences.

The best employers and companies are often seen as leaders and role models in our communities. When they step up to the plate to lead a cause, or to spearhead a new way of thinking – others follow, whether that be other companies/media or government. This can all pave the way for a better future. If employers are diverse and inclusive, they will attract diversity, and with that diversity comes alternative perspectives, leading to different and better ways of doing things.

I believe that the most successful companies have achieved success at least in part, by looking at things from a variety of perspectives. They have embraced diversity and they are agents of change.

In order for prospective employees from diverse populations to feel welcome, and included, in such a way that encourages their willingness to contribute to a particular organization/company, the concepts of embracing diversity and fostering inclusion must be embedded in the organizational culture. From the top down, policies and procedures must be developed with a diversity and inclusion lens.

What role can community investment/volunteering/giving programs play in creating inclusive environments?

Community investment/volunteering/giving programs are critical to the movement.

First they provide awareness of diverse populations and give voice to the issues those populations experience. This could be through volunteering opportunities, lunch and learns,, introducing community leaders to corporate leaders, spearheading win-win opportunities, etc. The CI team can be a link between the community and corporate leadership, corporate leadership to the board and shareholders. The CI team can be the change maker. The inclusion movement will transform with attitude changes of the CI team. Their unique experience within communities allows them to often be a group with positive attitudes about diversity and inclusion-  they then become role models. CI teams could and should be the first within a company to hire employees from diverse populations – what a great place to start!

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