This week is National Inclusion Week. If you’re somebody who has frequently experienced exclusion—from the job market, from accommodation, from social spaces or similar—on account of personal characteristics which you can do nothing to change, then you’ll know why that matters. If not, you may still be sympathetic but you’ll also be aware that not everybody is. Some people just don’t see why it should matter to them. If what happens to other people just doesn’t feel very important to you, here are a few reasons why you should still value inclusion.
Human rights protect us all
The idea that everybody should be included is central to the concept of human rights. Established in the aftermath of the Second World War, partly in an effort to create healthier and more peaceful societies around the world. These rights contend that everybody deserves some basic considerations no matter who they are—things like the right to live, the right to have enough to eat and the right to go about their business without the threat of being arbitrarily detained.
When we defend the idea that everybody matters, we defend the idea that we matter, because societies can shift very quickly and you never know when some random personal trait you’ve never thought much about could see you marked for persecution. Most women in Iran in the mid-1970s did not expect that they would suddenly find themselves in a situation where they were barred from leaving their homes without male guardians. Academics in mid-1930s Germany did not expect to be denounced as traitors because of their research interests. We can resist such things more effectively when we all stand together.
Excluding people provides cover for corruption
There’s nothing that -a politician in trouble likes better than to be able to shout, “Wait! Look at that awful person over there!” and know that their critics will immediately shift focus and leave them alone. Stigmatised minorities make great distractions, which is why many governments like to keep a few of them around, even when, at a personal level, they know perfectly well that there’s no rational reason to dislike them. Margaret Thatcher famously had gay friends, yet recognised that prejudice against gay and bisexual people could be a useful political tool. It’s no accident that her Conservative government, and the one which followed it under John Major, ramped up the homophobic rhetoric just as their polling figures began to fall.
Minorities like this also make great scapegoats. How often have you heard the claim that immigrants are taking our jobs used as cover for the fact that there are no jobs because an incompetent government has tanked the economy? Excluding people makes it easier for politicians to get away with things like this, and means that voters take longer to figure out where the real cause of their problems lies.
Including diverse viewpoints makes organisations stronger
Have you ever done pub quizzes and found that there are some rounds you’re hopeless at because you’re there with your pals and you all have the same background or interests, which means that you have the same blind spots? The same thing happens in business and it can be a really serious problem. Increasing diversity presents a solution by increasing the number of different experiences, ideas and ways of thinking which a company facing an unfamiliar problem can draw upon. That’s why studies consistently show that, for instance, putting more women on the board increases business productivity.
A similar effect applies in organisations of all shapes and sizes. When everybody has different things to contribute, there’s less need to look for outside help—and if you do need it, there’s more chance that you’ll know where to look for it. Being open to diversity, with inclusive policies which encourage people from lots of different backgrounds to join, also means that you have a bigger pool of talent on which to draw, so you’re more likely to find exactly what you need.
Inclusive societies are the fittest
Few scientific ideas have been more notoriously abused than that of Darwinian selection, but for the sake of argument, let’s take it at its most basic. Many people like to talk about survival of the fittest, but what does the fittest mean? As the man himself noted, this something which keeps changing depending on circumstances. The best way for a species to be sure of surviving no matter what happens is for it to be adaptable, which requires it to have a lot of genetic diversity.
Something similar is true of societies. History’s most resilient civilisations have been those which were open to engaging with other cultures and exchanging ideas. As humanity faces its biggest challenge to date, the climate crisis, we need everybody to be able to reach their full potential. We can’t afford to discard or break people due to prejudice, as the UK did to Alan Turing in the 1950s. We can’t afford to have potentially brilliant people spending their lives working in fields or stacking supermarket shelves because we’ve failed to make the educational investment which would let us see what they’re capable of.
Despite all this, inclusion is often treated like an add-on, a luxury which we can address after everything else has been dealt with. Turning that around and making it one of the building blocks of policy allows us to develop in a much stronger, more productive, more resilient way at every level. When that happens, you don’t need to be one of the previously excluded people in order to benefit. Inclusion should be a priority for everyone, even if you’re lucky enough to have found yourself included from the start.