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Corporate Culture

Intentional Inclusion Turns Awareness Into Action

What is intentional inclusion? Holmes Murphy Chief Diversity Officer Nola Cartmill answers this question and more!
Nola Cartmill
Nola Cartmill
Chief Diversity Officer and Legal Counsel

As we continue to see some pushback against diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs, many organizations have shifted their focus solely to inclusion to avoid mentions of diversity and equity, which are seen as more divisive terms by some. Though there are certainly debates about whether this is a strategic move, highlighting inclusion leads to additional questions. What does inclusion mean? How does a person or company accomplish inclusion?

These questions are important to answer, particularly as businesses welcome the arrival of Generation Z interns and employees who believe an organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is a non-negotiable.

Many of us already understand what inclusion means – being valued, respected, and supported. But you might not be as familiar with the idea of intentional inclusion, which refers to taking deliberate actions to ensure everyone feels respected, supported, and valued to show up to spaces as their authentic selves. The idea behind intentional inclusivity is that inclusion doesn’t just happen by saying the right words. Instead, everyone in an organization must work at creating an environment of inclusion by acting in a way that not only recognizes differences, but also values and appreciates them.

More Than a Seat at the Table: Tips to Implement Intentional Inclusion

You may have heard this quote from Verna Myers, Netflix’s VP of Inclusion Strategy – “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” I like it but prefer another from former Canonical Ltd. CEO Jane Silber – “The difference between diversity and inclusion is being invited to a house and being able to rearrange the furniture.”

Personally, I happen to be willing to dance anywhere regardless of being asked. And though most of us would probably not appreciate people rearranging furniture in our actual home, Silber’s quote illustrates the concept of inclusion as feeling at home and welcomed to contribute.

So, how do we ensure people, especially the Gen Z interns and employees we are all vying to hire, feel comfortable enough to figuratively arrange the furniture at our organizations? Here are a few tips on how to make your inclusion efforts intentional:


We must be willing to understand and acknowledge not only that differences exist, but that these differences can bring value to our teams and organizations. Then, we must be willing to become aware of and acknowledge our own biases – we all have them – and develop practices to help us mitigate how these biases manifest in your actions and words.


Curiosity gives us the opportunity to learn from others by seeking out and welcoming those with different perspectives and avoiding making assumptions about someone else’s experience. Curiosity helps us move from asking:

  • “Who’s at the table?”
  • “Who’s not at the table that needs to be?”
  • “Did they get an invitation with detailed directions to the table and upon arrival a chair and a microphone?”

Cultural Humility

Cultural humility requires that we acknowledge that each person is an expert on their experience, and we are only the expert of our own unique experience. We must be willing to accept that we don’t know everything about every person, population, or culture. This tip pairs nicely with curiosity, because once we disavow ourselves of the notion that we know everything about everyone, we can get curious and learn about others and how they experience life both at work and in society.


Compassion requires that we demonstrate genuine care and concern for the unique human experience everyone faces. Demonstrating compassion requires us to go beyond mere pleasantries and create space for others to share their unique experience and have someone genuinely care about what they share. We do not need to unnecessarily pry, but we can make ourselves a safe outlet to share unique experiences and challenges.


Working on intentional inclusion takes courage. Taking any of the actions I’ve recommended might require you to make tough or unpopular decisions or show up in a way that might make others uncomfortable at first. You also might be required to show up in a more vulnerable way than you are used to and admit that you don’t have the answers right away.

The Future of DE&I Is Intentional

As you welcome interns and new hires this summer, challenge yourself to be conscious, curious, culturally humble, compassionate and courageous – and don’t forget to apply these skills year-round with all your colleagues.

If you want to learn more about how to create a culture of intentional inclusion in your organization or explore another DE&I topic, I would love to chat with you. Reach out today and let’s start a conversation! Or, take a look and learn more about DE&I at Holmes Murphy!

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