The Power of an Inclusive Mindset
Updated: Jun 20
Change starts with a new mindset: the belief, attitude, and frame of mind that something is important to us. An inclusive mindset is necessary to unleash the incredible power of diversity. When people choose to adopt an inclusive mindset, they’re ready to create environments where everybody can belong and contribute – not despite their differences, but because of them. That mindset takes skills and habits we can’t afford to ignore. Join the journey to develop and maintain the power of an inclusive mindset.
Growing up in a multinational, multicultural, and multilingual environment, I experienced from a young age the stark differences in the way different groups of people think, behave, and express themselves. My teachers and neighbors were from several different nationalities, and conversations with family and friends were usually held in 3 or 4 different languages. The beautiful chaos this diversity created in my brain was a way of life for me as a third-culture kid (raised in a country other than my parents’) living within the European Union (EU) community in Brussels, Belgium.
I had no choice but to learn to navigate my way through this clash of cultures. I evolved into a cultural chameleon who eventually merged unique characteristics of various national beliefs and behaviors into my own mix. As I got older, I realized just how fortunate we were living in an environment that gifted us with not only multilanguage skills but the ability to think and act inclusively.
I had taken this for granted but as I later moved to other countries living in more homogeneous communities where people all shared similar beliefs, traditions, languages, and values I noticed this mindset was missing. For the first time felt like an outsider. Even when I moved to the melting pot of Miami, I was faced American cultural norms that considered my European values as quite foreign.
Confronted with those feelings, I tried to fit in, knowing it was up to me to adapt. But like many foreign students, expats, and immigrants, I also resisted changing my core beliefs and losing my cultural identity. Our culture is intrinsic – learned at a young age, it’s an essential part of our human nature that embodies how we naturally think, feel, and behave. Culture is vital for survival – it represents the unwritten rules that allow us to connect with others without the constant need to clarify the meaning of our actions. And culture is omnipresent – it rules virtually every aspect of our life and society around us.
When we struggle with culture clash, how do we adapt but remain authentic to our true self? How do we adjust in a world where conforming to the norms is part of getting along and getting ahead? I often felt apart with my limited language abilities and “foreign” accent, being an atheist, having no knowledge of local traditions, and little interest in sacred national pastimes such as sports. When seeking advice on ways to belong, friends and coworkers suggested I make the effort to fit in. “Just fake it!” once recommended my supervisor at work.
As I value integrity above all, I questioned where to draw the line to feel accepted. Instead of faking it, I chose to apply the inclusive mindset I’d acquired at a young age. This has served me well over the years. This mindset has become a key asset that has allowed me to live an authentic life, where I’ve remained true to my own identity while also embracing and adapting to my local environments.
An inclusive mindset means the attitude, the belief, and frame of mind that inclusion is important. That’s because diversity alone isn’t enough. By itself, diversity can actually increase conflicts if we don’t also learn ways facilitate different perspectives, approaches, and needs. Without an inclusive mindset, people tend to avoid, judge, and reject what is unknown and feels different to them. Even when we have good intentions, we’re often misguided by ideas such as “I don’t see color/race” or “I treat others the way I want to be treated.”
It's high time we welcome, appreciate, and celebrate what makes us all different and unique. It means moving away from a world where dominant groups set the (behavioral, beauty, and morality) standards that all others must aspire to. It means companies must stop looking for, and favoring, people who are “a good fit.” Rather, we must create new environments where everyone belongs, is heard, and contributes – not regardless of their differences but because of them.
When facilitating inclusive collaboration projects throughout my career I’ve seen time and again that very diverse people working together produce far superior results that are more innovative, adaptive, and have broader appeal than when involving only like-minded individuals. However, to create that type of human synergy requires everyone to embrace an inclusive approach and that involves a deliberate set of skills and behaviors needed to successfully operate in diverse environments. And I noticed that above all, mindset matters.
During my ongoing journey to grow and maintain an inclusive mindset I developed several habits. These have helped me and many people I’ve guided to absorb, accept, adapt, and act inclusively. As the world needs more inclusive people, I’m on a mission to spread the value and habits of an inclusive mindset to help organizations, individuals, and teams achieve more together in our culturally diverse world. While diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice. Choosing inclusion as something important is up to each one of us. I hope you’ll join me so that together we can build a kinder, better world where we all belong.
Sylvia Gonner is the President and Owner of CultureWiz, Your Trusted Partner in Global Growth and Intercultural Development. She offers DEI consulting, training, and keynote presentations on several topics including The Power of an Inclusive Mindset. Contact her at CultureWiz@yahoo.com or check out her website at www.theCultureWiz.com for more information.