The Next Level is Inclusion

September 8, 2020

Jessica Rimmer, Ph.D., Leadership Strategist and Senior Consultant, GiANT Worldwide and TEAMTRI

This is a moment for the history books. Scholars will write about how the global pandemic, social justice and economic distress characterized 2020 and forever changed history. Of course, any such moment with so much change and complexity is an opportunity for leadership.

It has never been more important for emerging leaders to be characterized by teamwork, innovation, competency and integrity. Fortunately, those are the valued characteristics of DECA’s student leaders. What if this moment needs you and the unique values that drive your leadership?

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Leaders define culture, and under pressure, culture beats strategy.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What would it look like for DECA to expand its influence on the culture of the various spaces in which it operates?
  2. What does it look like for your DECA chapter to be truly inclusive and to bring its core values to your entire school and community?
  3. What if, under pressure — as we see at this moment around issues of justice — a culture of collaborative teamwork, innovative problem solving, competent leadership and integrity emerges?

The answer to these questions can become a vision of the next level of your DECA chapter.

To have a conversation that leads toward a more inclusive world, we need to consider: diversity, equity and inclusion. Leaders must grapple with these three ideas if they are going to create an organization that is truly for everyone. Historically, leadership development has been, by definition, exclusive. Leadership development has been for…leaders. As we move toward a more inclusive reality, we must change the ways we think about leadership. It can no longer be only for an exclusive group of leaders. Rather, we must look through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion to truly see everyone who could benefit from and be included in the vision of DECA.

Diversity is the idea of our unique differences. We know that if we are really inviting everyone to bring their best, it is going to make us stronger. The role of diversity in inclusion is to invite those things we don’t even know about to the table to contribute. We must ask ourselves, how are we representing, seeing and celebrating our unique differences?

Equity is the idea that everyone has what they need to participate in the benefits of our program. Equity is related to, but distinct from equality. Equality is the reality where everyone has been given the same things. However, what is clear at this moment is that the starting points for participation among students are not the same. Equity allows each member of our community to have what they need to be able to participate fully in the team.

Inclusion, as we have already mentioned, is the idea that everyone is included. The opportunity that exists as we look through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion is to broaden DECA’s audience. We must imagine who else might benefit from our organization. DECA will continue to serve its core purpose, but the ability to take DECA to the next level is reliant on broader reach and inclusion.

So, how can we move toward inclusion? Schlossberg’s Theory of Mattering and Marginality is a beautiful framework to help us consider what actions leaders should take. In short, this theory notes that when we sense that we matter, we are motivated to engage and participate with others. According to Schlossberg, “mattering is the belief – whether right or wrong – that we matter to someone else. This belief acts as a motivator.” Marginality, on the other hand, is the sense that we do not belong and that we are “other” to the group that feels engaged.

The table below reflects the difference in experiences.

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Do you remember a time when you felt like you mattered? What about a time when you felt marginalized? Do you remember the feelings you felt or maybe still feel toward that organization, that group of people or that experience? Feeling marginalized can be a temporary status like being the new kid at school, or it can be a pervasive life experience if you are always “the diverse one” or “the only…” in any way. As leaders, we have the opportunity to define a culture of mattering that does not require us to all be the same.

By looking through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, we can more effectively move toward a culture of mattering and expand the impact of our chapters and organization. As people feel included in a culture where they matter, they thrive and contribute in new and creative ways. I can’t think of a more important leadership priority.

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Discussion Questions

  • 1
    What are some ways we (can) show our peers they matter or are valued?
  • 2
    What are ways we show our peers they are being marginalized or are not valued?
  • 3
    What one action will you commit to show your peers that they matter?
  • 4

Classroom Connection

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