Inclusion is a compromise with power

Farzin Farzad
4 min readAug 8, 2023

As an Organizational Justice Practitioner, one of my core duties is to encourage organizational power brokers, or leaders, to develop affirming spaces where employees are included in various elements of the workplace lifecycle. Inclusion has somewhat morphed into a type of industry itself, encompassing various concepts (psychological safety, anti-racism, appreciative inquiry, storytelling, etc.) and approaches in, essentially, drawing in employees into the space. Inclusion is rooted in respect for an employee’s values, interests, identity, work contribution, etc.

Recently, however there has been a tension with the motive of inclusion. For some there is a genuine desire for inclusion to be framed as a moral good, but others contend that it serves a real business need. The ardent realists view inclusion as a mechanism of maintaining the type of organized internal social relations that allows employees to be more productive and maximize output. The rationale goes that the more psychologically unsafe, toxic, harmful, exclusive a workplace is, the less likely employees are to participate, and on many occasions, volunteer their additional labor to create more and better products and services, which ultimately lead to greater profits. In other words, if a person’s innate desire to feel like they’re a part of something like a community (or at least simulated) they will ultimately be happier, and happier employees lead to better productive outcomes. Some would call the moral case for inclusion more generative or progressive, and the motive of the business case more extractive and thus performative, which can easily be detected and rejected by the conscious employee.

I am going to say here that both are extractive, not just based on motive, but based on the very concept of inclusion itself. Inclusion is a compromise with power. What I mean by that is that the very concept of inclusion implies a power imbalance. Someone needs to do the including, and someone else needs to be included. When you include someone in a team, work event, or anything at all, there is a varying extent to which you must draw them in. This implies that someone in the space is secure in their perception of belonging to a space, and takes on the role of extracting something from newcomer, i.e., their authenticity, their physical presence in the space, or even personal details for the sake of building trust.

This realization has led many to forgo the idea of inclusion and rebrand it, or at least supplement it, with…

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Farzin Farzad

Farzin is the founder of Critical Equity Consulting, LLC, an Organizational Justice consulting firm that helps organizations rebuild with equity in mind.