DIVERSITY without INCLUSION is MEANINGLESS

Many years ago, at a Diversity Summit at Harvard University, I participated in a powerful exercise. Participants were divided into groups of eight and seated at round tables equipped with a deck of cards. An index card was placed face down in front of each person. The facilitator told us to read the instructions once, place the card back on the table face down, and without speaking, begin play.

Unbeknownst to us, the instructions on the cards placed in front of two or three people at each table had slightly different instructions than the others. As we began passing the cards to each other, I remember being confused early on; I couldn’t understand the moves others were making. My first thought was, “what’s wrong with these people?” We quietly exchanged puzzled glances across the table as we tried to coordinate our efforts.

As the game progressed and I became more and more baffled by their choices, my thoughts shifted to “maybe I misread the rules.” I sought solace in the few faces that seemed as confused as me. Not wanting to be the reason our group failed, I changed my tactic and tried to mimic what I thought they were doing. The puzzled glances quickly morphed into frowns, then to scourers, and ultimately to daggers. 

After five minutes the facilitator called an end to the game. There was an explosion of chatter and accusatory tones.

“Why did you throw out that card?” 

“What were you thinking?”

At that point, the facilitator quieted us down and told us to share the information on our individual index cards. We all laughed with relief when we finally understood the actions and reactions of others in the context of the different information. Perhaps the greatest “aha” moment came when we realized that if we all had the t otality of information contained on everyone’s car, the game could have been easily won.

Perhaps its one of those “you had to be there moments ” but that exercise some 25+ years ago allowed me to experience, if only briefly, what it feels like to be a minority. It cemented my belief thateveryone needs to be clear about what the rules of the game are in order for the objective to be achieved. While the information on my card was different, it was no less important than the information held by the majority. I learned that when I find myself making assumptions about the behavior of others based on my understanding of the rules, it is important to check in to find out what information they have. Diversity, without inclusion, is meaningless.

Renowned diversity and inclusion guru Verna Myers once said, “diversity is about being invited to the party; inclusion is about being asked to dance.” If you are the host of the party, invite someone to dance. And, if you are an attendee of the party, invite someone to dance. Better yet, let’s just all get out there on the floor together.

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