And these aspects of fairness are what makes inclusion difficult.
Fairness is multiple
We tend to think that fairness is, or isn’t. There is only one way to look at it: something is fair or not.
Have you ever thought that what you see as fair is just not for other people?
It is easy to understand then that when we try to be more inclusive and equitable, our view of fairness will greatly shape what we think is inclusive and equitable.
How is fairness exhibited then if it is different between people, between cultures. Well, let’s look at a few examples.
Examples of differing fairness
One important aspect of fairness is how the rules apply. In some cultures, rules and laws apply to everybody, whoever you are. Rules come first, people second. In contrast, in other cultures, people are first and rules second. It means that the rules will be applied differently, for instance towards one of your friends compared to a stranger. In such cultures, an individual is more likely to bend the rule for a friend or family member.
Another example can be around how hierarchy is viewed. In more egalitarian (low power distance) cultures, it is fair to treat people the same, whatever their rank. In contrast, in high power distance cultures, a matter of fairness is to treat people in position of power differently than people who do not have the same position.
You will probably react suspiciously towards some of the ideas above, but don’t forget the title. Fairness is subjective and all these viewpoints are fair to the people who hold them. There is no right or wrong here; there are differences.
What does it have to do with inclusion?
Among other things, inclusion is understanding, respecting and being fair to other people. But you can see that there could be many ways of being fair.
If we based an organisation inclusion strategy on our own idea of fairness, many behaviours we think of as inclusive and fair will not seem so to other people who have a different idea of fairness.
It means that any inclusion strategy and implementation need to go through an assessment of what fairness means for the organisation.
Some of it will already be visible in the current behaviours exhibited by people in the organisation. Some behaviours will be positively accepted and probably give a representation of what is considered fair. On the other side, there will be some behaviours that you know people complain about. What is behind this complaint? It is likely that these behaviours are considered unfair. What makes them unfair? What would make them fairer in the context?
How often do you think about fairness? What do YOU think is fair or unfair? How is this shaping your behaviour and how you interact with others?