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  • Writer's pictureMakheni Zonneveld

Inclusion is more than representation

Updated: Jan 13, 2019

I first wrote this blog as well as a blog on 'How to influence bahaviour' in Dutch for publication on the website of Vakmedianet before their 'Landelijke VGWM Dag' because I had the privilege of presenting both workshops on that day.

In 2017 I presented a workshop on diversity competency to a team large team that had to be split into two groups. I have since used this sad story many times because it illustrates the point I am trying to make very well.

I had sent an email to all the delegates asking the for their dietary and special requirements and Jane (not her real name) indicated that she used a wheelchair. I then informed the manager of the venue in good time.

I arrived the day before the first workshop to prepare for the following day.

After walking between my room and the meeting room several times, I had not seen some things that became obvious on the last day. I had not seen the stairs on the path that led to the meeting room, the uneven surface in front of the entrance, the threshold at the door and a huge pot plant that was along the path. I only saw lovely surroundings.

I had asked the team manager to attend on both days. On the first day he told the venue manager that Jane would be brought the following morning because she was in a wheelchair. She was brought by two colleagues in a minibus that belongs to the employer – a big organisation.

The venue supplied temporary wooden ramps but the ramps did not fit the stairs. The big pot plant had to be moved and then they battled to get the big heavy electric wheelchair through the uneven surface. What a drama!

She had to go through this use the bathrooms and the restaurant. The worst was that the two men had to lift her to get her in and out of the vehicle. Because of her condition she cannot do any form of exercise so she is not the lightest person. I am not exaggerating when I say that seeing them try to lift her was one of the saddest moments of my life.

They could have dropped her and left her more disabled. They could break their backs. The worst is that there is no dignity in being lifted.

What can we learn from this?

It does not matter what the problem is, the only way to solve it effectively starts with understanding the problem so that you can start by tackling the source. Her employer does not understand what inclusion means. They made the common mistake of thinking that inclusion means representation - employing people who were excluded in the past based on ethnicity, gender and being differently abled. They ticked that box by employing her when she was already in a wheelchair.

What we all do right?

  • The employer provided transport to the workshop.

  • The team manager cared enough to inform the venue manager on the first day.

  • I cared enough to ask if there were any special requirements and inform the venue in good time.

  • The venue manager tried to address the issue by supplying temporary ramps

In spite of all these efforts we all fell short.

Why did we all end up failing Jane?

All of us see the situation through the eyes of able-bodied people. That includes the architects who drew the plans, the people who passed the plans at the city council, the builders, the owner of the venue who invested a lot of money in making that a top venue for people like her and her employer who provided a vehicle without a ramp. None of us are terrible people who want to exclude others.

How can we achieve inclusion?

That is the subject of the workshop at the Landelijke VGWM dag conference in Utrecht on 8 March 2018. ‘Naar een inclusieve organisatie: effectiever aanpak diversiteit’

There are several steps that an individual or an organisation can take to become more inclusive but the bottom-line is that addressing exclusion starts with understanding the mentality behind it. Understanding the US vs THEM thinking that drives US vs THEM Behaviour. In the workshop I go beyond understanding the problem of exclusion and include how an organisation, team or individual can become more diversity competent. The bottom line is that inclusion is about people and not just a numbers game.

To request more information on the keynote addresses, workshops as well as online and Face2Face coaching that I offer or to subscribe to the free Future Readiness service please click here.

Makheni Zonneveld, the Future Readiness Coach is also a diversity and transformation specialist, is going to present this workshop in the second session of the VGWM Congres. She has helped organisations, teams and individuals with diversity and transformation competency since 1999. This speaker and facilitator offers workshops to teams and Works Councils the diversity & transformation competency, cognitive diversity, negotiation skills and influencing behaviour and presentation skills. See, and


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