The journey towards inclusivity: It’s about people – 3/3
One of the most difficult things about working to make an organization inclusive is that every person has to be willing to get uncomfortable.
We all learn things about ourselves when doing this work; sometimes things that make us squirm as we come to realize how much we have taken our privilege for granted and the assumptions we have made about others.
Acknowledging your personal privilege while also respecting the ways in which you are marginalized can be difficult because we often focus on one and ignore the other, as though this is an “all or nothing” issue. However, as Patricia Hill Collins notes in her article “Towards a New Vision:”
Once we realize that there are few pure victims or oppressors and that each one of us derives varying amounts of penalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression that frame our lives, then we will be in a position to see the need for new ways of thought and action.
Building from the ground up
Building an inclusive organization takes time. You need to build from the ground up, so everything you add is built on a solid foundation. That foundation includes, as we have discussed, policies and procedures. It also includes well-informed staff.
Harm reduction is a great example of making an organization inclusive as well as of the importance of building from the ground up.
By harm reduction, I mean the practical strategies and ideas that an organization can put in place to reduce the negative social and/or physical consequences associated with various human behaviours. In the context of services for abused women, harm reduction has most commonly focused on drug and alcohol use by women accessing services.
When women’s services have rigid rules about women who use substances – whether legal or illegal – these can create barriers that limit or even prohibit those women from accessing services they need in order to be safe and supported.
A harm reduction approach will do a great deal to increase the agency’s inclusivity. If a woman who has an alcohol dependency feels welcomed rather than judged when accessing VAW services; when systems are in place that allow her to access those services when she has been drinking, she will be safer.
At the same time, many workers in these agencies have no training or background in assisting women who use substances. Those workers may feel there are safety issues – for the woman with the alcohol dependency, for other women accessing services, for them — that they are not equipped to deal with. They may respond negatively to the suggestion that the agency is going to implement a harm reduction approach.
If the agency wants to move in this direction, it needs to do several things:
- Involve staff in thinking through what harm reduction will look like at their agency
- Give staff the space to, free from criticism, express their concerns
- Develop the foundation: policies and procedures, training for staff and board
- Move slowly.
By taking this approach, the agency will move towards greater inclusivity because the staff – the people who have to implement the new approach – will be on board and have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs confidently.