Inclusive: what is it?

  • How many?
  • What kind?
  • Which one?
Screen capture of the code for the image used to represent ‘inclusive.’


There are a few common tropes that we often hear when talking about how inclusive a space, an event, or a meeting are — we often ask who isn’t here.

Image that simply says, “Who isn’t here?”
  • Who has been excluded from this space historically — each place has a history. We are standing on Anishinabewaki / Huron-Wendat territory right now. What has happened here since then?
  • Who felt uninvited? This is Creatives and this is Morning! I might not self-identify with either of those. I might not be a morning person or describe myself as a ‘creative’ — how many of you write short articles (blogs, Medium)? Do you call yourself a writer? Who might not call themselves creative, but is very much someone we’d like to feel welcome here?
  • Were there some that felt excluded because of the words we used to describe this event? My bio is a little silly — I got frustrated with it so I rewrote it before sending it off. Language matters. How many of you have started calling your ‘hackathons’ ‘makeathons’ to try to shed the impression that it’s just for developers?
  • Is the space set up in ways that subtly tell some of us ‘you belong here’ and yet others of us, ‘this isn’t for you?’
Image that simply says, “your ‘full self’”
An image that shows the keywords of the text below — false binaries of thinking.

We create an ‘us’ (Creatives) to build a community, but our community also defines a ‘them’ in the negative space.

We want to be positive, inspirational, exciting, but we know that so many of us learn more from the negative experiences if we allow ourselves to have them.

If you feel comfy, I argue that it’s time to push and find the discomfort.

Inclusive isn’t easy. It’s often not comfy. And we know that we avoid uncomfy. Culturally we are taught to avoid it: take a pill, walk away, avoid. When you feel comfy, ask, for whom is this comfy feeling impossible? When do you find yourself among “your people” or “among like-minded folks” or “in a safe space”?

  • Build in checks-n-balances
  • Build in mechanism for change
  • Build in reflection
  • Build in Codes of Conduct and ask what else do I need to do to make this space inclusive and also challenging
  • Build in diversity, equity and inclusion in everything you do, not just the DEI spaces.
  • Diversity is a number: I can see diversity or easily glean it from demographic data
  • Inclusion is a process: whose voice and whose ideas are heard or amplified?
  • Equity is an outcome: it is the work of diversity and inclusion that leads to a more equitable <noun here>.
The above text in image form with ‘said by Barbara Chow at a Hewlett Grantees meeting in King, Ontario 2017.
  • Start with curiosity — begin by asking
  • Then care — give a damn what the other person thinks (especially if they disagree with you)
  • Then listen — which means yielding space
  • Then hear — work to understand
  • Then change — adapt & adjust
  • Then invest in — see the value in diversity and invest.
Street art that says, “BROWN & PROUD IM THE NEXT GENERATION” photo by Jess Mitchell CC-BY
  • it isn’t ever complete
  • it’s like bathing, you gotta keep doing it: “Florence Kennedy’s, ‘Freedom is like taking a bath: You got to keep doing it every day.’”
  • it’s a value, never a checklist
  • measure it by seeing how inextricable it is in everything you do
  • How your job descriptions are written
  • Hiring practices
  • Procurement policies
  • How you roll from ideation to sketching
  • How you make info architecture decisions
  • How you write, edit, document, pair, or not on your code
Image of a dark corner with a light illuminating graffiti text that says “QUESTION EVERYTHING” Photo by Dunk



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