The president of Hope College, John Knapp, tells a story about two friends, a giraffe and a rhinoceros. The giraffe built a new house She loved the high, narrow doorways, the top-of-the-wall windows, and other features that made it the best house ever. She was excited to show it off to the rhino, and set a date to have him over.
You can imagine the rhino’s experience. He couldn’t get through the doors, couldn’t see out the windows, and was generally miserable. The giraffe was confused, and more than a little hurt, that the rhino didn’t seem to enjoy himself, and left while the night was still young.
Dr. Knapp’s point, of course, is that every institution is built and shaped according to a set of implicit assumptions about the people who will be part of it. Formal regulations and informal practices–both the visible and invisible culture of the place–will work better for some than for others. To the extent that the organization has been racially, ethnically, or culturally segregated, it was, no doubt, built to fit people from a particular slice of the population. People from other slices may not fit very well. They may not thrive. They may even have a hard time getting in.
There are ways to address these issues productively, ways to make things work well for a broader range of people. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Thoughtful analysis and creative thinking can help an organization improve performance and become more inclusive at the same time.
Of course, there are a lot of bad ways to go about becoming more inclusive, too . . .