On Inclusion: An interview with Prof. Dr. Ella Roininen – Part 2

Blog article Part 1

In this second blog article, Professor Ella and I take a closer look at how the concept of inclusion is applied at the individual and societal levels. What steps can individuals take to create an inclusive society? How can inclusion be integrated in everyday life? What role does the state play here?

Int: What is the most important thing to make the concept of inclusion successful?

Ella: I think the most important thing in any organization is not to conceptualize inclusion as a separate from the organization’s goals and activities, as a so called nice to have thing or a mission for the HR management. But to make it part of the everyday life of that organization at every level, integrate it it’s reason of existence, what the organization does. This would mean not only looking at how we manage people and teams, but how inclusion is inscribed into our entire management system, such as the procurement, R&D, strategic planning, and marketing. How is our organizational culture reflecting an inclusive mindset, how the different spheres of communication?

I also think and hope that we are moving, or at least need to move, away from thinking of work in terms of personal and organizational gains and competition, towards trying to understand why are working in the first place. Are we here to generate personal wealth and success, or are we here to take care of each other? Are we here to win the race, or are we here to bring something new and innovative to the world?

One of my favourite topics is what is called feminist ethics of care. This offers a critical alternative to the utilitarian and deontological ethical theories, which place emphasis on maximising the benefit, and individuals’ and entities’ rights and duties, by recognizing the interconnections and dependencies between people, and everyone’s need of care, which can demonstrate in vulnerability but also as thirst for self-expression. A more comprehensive view on diversity and inclusion management would be something like ethics of care translated into organizational life. 

This kind of organisation would signal not only collective competence, but also responsibility resting on plurality, communication, trust and respect towards oneselves, other people and the environment. The understanding that relations of care are an integral part of society. Instead of trying to make the most out of the ‘human resources’, trusting people to do their best given the space and resources to do so, but also recognising that people have different needs in different phases of their lives, that we are in different social positions based on our diverse bodies, we have different personal histories and backgrounds, and that we are constructed differently robust in terms of our minds and nervous systems, for instance. I am aware that this may sound somewhat wishy-washy and ideological, but is it really? Does it just require a challenging some of the common assumptions?

Int: How would a world without inclusion look like for you?

Ella: I think we don’t need to look far into the history or even around us in the current moment to get a feel of it. The awareness to marginalization and prejudice, power and privilege is constantly increasing, thanks to people who have the tenacity to keep highlighting these topics in the political and educational institutions, in private and public conversations, in the artistic scene and the civil society. In the recent years I experience the tide turn in media discussion on gender, race, and intersectional topics, at least in the kind of media I habitually follow. Racism and sexism as topics are not as challenged and marginalized as before, but experts on them are getting their voices heard.

I think the awareness of what can be said to, and about different people is changing, too. Very much thanks to people who keep sharing their painful experiences. As I grew up, I could definitely say that in Finland women, different racial and ethnic minorities, gender and sexual minorities, and people with disabilities were not fairly represented – if at all. Things could be said about different people that are un-sayable today. Many of these intersectional groups are still excluded from positions of power and have a narrow cultural representation, but white women do have more power and visibility today, and this reflects in the legislation. For instance, trans, family and sexual violence legislation are being or have been recently modified. I’m not meriting this just to the current government – as strong civil society and citizen activity play a large role, too – but I think this is a good example of how it does make a difference who gets to set the political tone.

What I’m trying to say is that inclusion has been advancing a lot since I started with this topic in the late 90’s and early 20’s. It has changed tremendously how we talk about different topics such as gender, race, and sexual minorities. Back then feminism as a term was more stigmatized, even though feminism has a long history of great thinkers. Now, recently, anti-racism as a term is entering into the mainstream conversation. Sexual harassment is no longer normalized like it was in my younger years. Normalized in the sense that everyone knew about it but it was taken as individuals’ bad behaviour, instead of as a societal problem and pattern of power abuse. The climate change brings a new dimension to all this, too. To me a feminist topic and a topic of inclusion is also how we view our role in relation to the environment and other beings on the earth; what is the relation between humans and animals, what are we doing to the globe. This is also about power, the power to decide over how other creatures get to live their unique lives on the earth, the power to extract and exploit the natural resources at a very high cost to everyone. 

Int: Who can benefit from an inclusive society?

Ella: Maybe inclusion as a concept itself would not be enough to work on this answer. I would like to demonstrate the benefits of inclusion in terms of the socially constructed gender, how hegemonic masculinity is or has been constructed in our context. It is probably the easiest to pinpoint as an example. I mentioned earlier, more or less explicitly, that white, cis-gender, heterosexual men are often considered the norm, after and by whom a lot of things in this world are modelled, and who we extremely often find in the positions of power. However, even if a man who passes as a representative of this norm and finds himself in the so-called better end of this socially constructed hierarchy than other groups of people, the gender system still places heavy demands on him. There are expectations for the “right kind” of masculinity, which can include superior attitudes towards women and gender and sexual minorities, a rather narrow range of expressions of emotions, intimacy and sexuality, show of competitive ambition, at worst even toxic masculinity and aggression. Of course, I cannot speak for men, but I have a hunch that many men do not feel comfortable with that list, I could imagine it is a cold and isolating place to be. Gender inclusion in this context would mean that we try to ditch thinking in gender binaries, what men and women and all other genders are meant to be like in our society, and in this way create more room for everyone to be themselves. Just yesterday I spoke to a young man who, as he grew up, constantly heard that he should behave more like a “normal” man. And he had had very little possibilities to share his experiences with anyone understanding. How limiting is that? Strict gender norms are cropping away the person’s space to be themselves. So, in short, everybody in society can benefit from inclusion and everybody can contribute to it. More different people participate and contribute to an inclusive society, and there is a greater range of societally accepted affective and behavioural expressions for everyone.

Felling comfortable and welcomed is an integral part of inclusion. Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Int: How would you like students at Karls to behave when it comes to the topic of inclusion?

Ella: I think the students are already very much aware of the different inclusion topics and I often find them educating me, not the other way around! I love it how our students are curious and open to the topic of inclusion, and how they claim and use their voices and in their identities to challenge the hierarchical placing of people in categories. So, even though I also experience discomfort from time to time, when they may point out some of my own outdated ways of thinking, I believe this is exactly what next generations should be doing. They need to question the sense and methods of even my own good intentions.

Int: How important do you think is inclusion in order for a successful migration?

Ella: Integration is the basis for inclusion. I don’t have a deep knowledge on the topic of integration, other than the one I have acquired through following the media and the political discourse on migration. But being able to participate in terms of language, being able to do meaningful work, knowing one’s rights, and feeling of being represented in the society where one lives, seems – and from my personal experiences feels – an integral part of inclusion to me. So, it’s not only that people who migrate into a country are the subject or object of integration, but also that the system takes a hard look at itself and sees what can be done better. Because in the western countries that I operate in, we still have a blind spot for the fact that we are a multicultural society. A too common view is that the country is consisting of people like me and you, and not of people who look or act different, have different physical abilities or gender and sexual identities. They are all part of who we are as a society. I am not saying I am perfectly aware of my own perceptions, either. Of course not, since I grew up inside and, in many ways, benefit from a system that is based on dichotomies, on dividing the world into white and people of colour, a system that suppresses indigenous people and different ethnic and religious groups, a system that segregates people based on what cards they got handed in life, and allows to apply different standards to different groups of people.

Saying I am above all this would not only be arrogant, but also ignorant and sanctimonious. However, one doesn’t have to act perfectly or be perfectly aware of own biases to be able to talk about inequalities, we start from somewhere and take it from there, as individuals and as society. In Finnish we have a nice idiom “You climb a tree from the base up”, which means something like learn to walk before you can run. 

Int: If there is one thing you would like to say to a student who is new to the topic of inclusion what would it be?

I’d say tree things, actually, directly related to the above: cultivate your curiosity, raise your self-awareness, increase your knowledge. Being curious about the other person is the way to understanding them at the eye-level. Being self-aware means to me being gentle about one’s own shortcomings and reaching above them. Increasing knowledge helps you to understand exclusive structures and work on changing them.

Some people might also experience me as confirming or not radical enough in my quest for a change, but I always felt that polarizing and shocking strategies are not constructive to the cause. Empathy and sharing are more so, in my view, winning people on your side by example and by showing them new ways of thinking about the topic. Although I do understand and have respect for people who put themselves out there in a more demonstrative manner. We all have our role to fulfil and there is enough work for everyone to do in this field.  

Int: Which is the thing that inclusion mostly fails to achieve? Makes inclusion fail to succeed.

Ella: At individual level, maybe our inbuilt biases and prejudices, the ones we are little aware of and even if we are, cannot really change. Also, sometimes having to go out of our comfort zone. Everyone has hardships in their lives and sometimes it may feel like my struggles and my efforts are not recognized and taken seriously, and yet I should do this to other people…

I always remind myself that if I find something not right in the world, it can only be changed by doing the thing differently, even if it means discomfort to me. So, we come back to care and curiosity. And courage. My belief is that people mostly want to live their lives good and fair, but for this we need to learn and practice. The inclusion muscle needs training like any other muscle, we need to want to put ourselves out there and make an impact.

A change needs some training, therefore let’s train our inclusive muscle and do something for the better. Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Int: You brought public sphere into play, so how can a society contribute to make inclusion work / work better?

Ella: By constantly talking about it. This seems to be the most important to me. Because by talking about it, acting inclusive, and then in fact electing people to power who are willing to legislate in an inclusive manner, we can make it work. In the environmental discussion it is often said that we should not leave the responsibility for the change to consumers only. But in case of inclusion individuals and their actions do play a decisive role, at the micro level, in lives of people. However, society’s institutions must follow and support this action and therefore highlighting inequalities the political action we need to do. 

Int: To contrast this, how do you see the state’s role when it comes to inclusion?

Ella: I believe in strong institutions, especially when it comes to drivers of inclusion. In terms of let’s say institutionalizing equal pay or broader representation of different people in leadership positions. We could go towards both by stricter legislative measures, as we are partly doing, too. I think legislation is a strong tool, through legislating a lot of equality has been achieved, for example women’s rights to their body or to property. But again, it is more complicated than this. One thing is to legislate, another thing is to change the norms. Abolishing slavery did not stop racism. Money needs to go to increasing knowledge about these topics, too. Not only to financing research and teaching that leads to monetary rewards, but also to such that helps to understand different social processes and how we as individuals ad society are part of constructing them. The current political tendency seems to rather devalue the latter and elevate the former, which is a worrying development of which we discuss as lot at Karls with my colleagues.   

Int: To sum it up and reconnect with the beginning of the interview, what is an individual’s role and task when it comes to inclusion?

Ella: As individuals we can best educate ourselves on the topic and try our best to apply our learnings to our surrounding environment. We can choose to think and do things that elevate ourselves and others. Be observant of how we use situational power over other people and benefit or even take advantage of our privileges. I cannot change everything, but I can change something. It’s the very least we can do as human beings, to care for each other.

Let’s create the change we want to see together. Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Article by Sven Lohmeier *SLO – International Business, 5th semester (KarlsStorytellers)

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