10 traits of being an inclusive professional

10 traits of being an inclusive professional

This is the final part of my blog series, following my presentation at the 9th New Librarians’ Symposium ‘Deviating with Diversity, innovating with inclusion: a call for radical activism in libraries’. In my presentation, I acknowledged that we all have the ability to inspire change, take action and be leaders of inclusion. Inclusive leadership begins with an inner commitment to self-development. When we are more mindful of the impact of our biases, perspectives, attitudes and interactions, we create a more inclusive environment for everyone. Here are 10 traits of being an inclusive professional.

1. Courage

I’ve listed courage right at the top of my list because there is a critical and uncomfortable conversation that every library professional in every GLAM institution should be having about privilege. This conversation requires real introspection and unarmoured courage.

We must also have the courage to be better bystanders. We need to challenge racism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, sexism, patriarchy, ableism, myths of neutrality, stereotypes, harassment, discrimination and other acts that perpetuate inequality in our society. Sometimes the fear of retribution or the fear of not getting it exactly right holds us back from doing anything, leaving us personally and collectively trapped by inhibition. Keep in mind that if you are not experiencing at least some discomfort, you are not likely to achieve change. If nothing else, change is what we’re working for with diversity and inclusion.

You must also have the courage to learn and grow, make mistakes, ask for support, apologise when you’re wrong, take personal risks and be publicly vulnerable. You need to realise that you’re going to feel uncomfortable. At times, you’ll feel self-conscious about the fact that you don’t know exactly the right words to use in a difficult conversation. That’s okay. You will occasionally use the wrong words. That’s okay too. You might feel uncomfortable when you find yourself speaking to a group of people completely different to you, or you might belong to that very community and worry about being perceived as trying to speak on behalf of the whole group. This is all okay. If you are approaching diversity and inclusion with positive intent and with empathy, your sincerity will shine through. 

2. Self-awareness

Emotional intelligence, which is to me is the beating heart of inclusive behaviours, starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness allows us to identify and articulate who we are, what we do, how we are feeling and the impact our emotions and behaviours have on others. It also helps us understand what drives and motivates others as well. Being cognizant of our biases plays a fundamental role in developing our self-awareness.

There are six main types of biases:

  • Implicit stereotypes occur when people judge others according to unconscious stereotypes
  • Similarity-attraction bias is the tendency to more easily and deeply connect with people who “look and feel” like ourselves. I spoke about this in my NLS9 presentation, especially how recruiters tend to favour their ‘mini-mes.’
  • In-group favouritism is the tendency to favour members of in-groups and neglect members of out-groups
  • Attribution error occurs when the wrong reason is used to explain someone’s behaviour. Attribution error usually stems from assumptions.
  • Confirmation bias means seeking or interpreting information that is partial to existing beliefs
  • Groupthink is a type of bias that occurs when the the desire for group harmony overrides rational decision making

(Bourke & Dillion, 2016).

We all have biases – both conscious and unconscious – that can derail our attempts at inclusivity. The goal, then, is not to eliminate our biases altogether (that would be impossible) but to be aware of them, and work to lessen their effects on our thoughts, words, and behaviours. This requires being mindful of the impact of our thoughts, words, and behaviours, and how they might differ from our intentions. We must be willing to self-reflect, self-regulate, and interrupt our thought patterns that represent old habits that are non-inclusive to people who are “not like us.” Unconscious biases are generally informed by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences and can often interfere with equity and diversity when not understood or managed. To diminish the impact of your biases, here are some questions you could ask yourself:

  • What information do I need to make an objective decision? Do I have this information?
  • What does this problem look like from the opposite viewpoint? If I assume a “yes,” imagine what would a “no” look like?
  • Is this a “trust my gut” response? If so, why am I having it?
  • Am I relying on gossip or secondhand sources vs. what I have experienced myself?
  • Are there gaps in my knowledge about this situation that I’m filling with assumptions or bias?
  • Is the way I personally feel about this person influencing my decision?
  • Why do I have a preference for this person? Do they remind me of someone?
  • Why don’t I feel positive about this person? Am I judging this person’s ability based on some external factors (i.e. appearance or gender) or my compatibility with them?
  • Who do I publicly praise or recognise?
  • Who’s voice haven’t I heard?

3. Authenticity

Practicing authenticity means accepting one’s true self and corresponding action. Brené Brown describes authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. […] I’m referring to that gentle wonderful way of showing up in the world exactly the way you are without trying to hinder other people, but at the same time without changing, who you are to fit into some pattern set for you.” Authenticity is about respecting your own real nature, since this is a step towards accepting others for who they truly are. It is because of this that it’s a key quality in allowing inclusion to take place, since it also allows others truly to be themselves.

Authenticity means leading with our hearts, not just our minds. People who are authentic are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability and to connect with the people around them. Sometimes, people who practice authenticity are considered “soft”…and honestly I’ve come to be okay with that definition, because the one thing I’ve learned is to be soft on people, and hard on the problems and challenges you’re trying to overcome.

4. Cultural competence

Cultural competence is the ability to recognise that not everyone sees the world through the same cultural frame. It’s knowing and embracing that your norm isn’t necessarily the norm. People who display high cultural intelligence listen more than they speak, they ask for insight and input from all members of their team, and they are interested in learning all they can about people and cultures with whom they are unfamiliar. Being culturally competent also means understanding:

  • The importance of the individual. This means acknowledging that the culture or many cultures people identify with will always play a role in their perspectives and experiences. One of my Aboriginal colleagues summarised this nicely by stating that in life we wear many different hats (e.g. mother, worker, sister etc), but for her (and many of us), culture is a hat that never comes off – it influences everything we do.
  • That people are not the sole function of the culture/s they identify with. You must understand that any individual may be closer to or further away from the characteristics that are associated with any one culture, and regardless of their association with these cultural characteristics, they can still identify with that culture.
  • Intersectionality – the layers of one’s identity. Culturally competent people understand that people are influenced by a multitude of identities and experiences. These identities include race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexuality, religion (or lack thereof), political affiliation, etc. You need to understand that identity is an ongoing dynamic process throughout one’s life, and that people’s histories, stories and experiences make them uniquely who they are.

5. Compassion

Compassion isn’t just about being nice in the workplace or nice to a client. In psychology, compassion is regarded as an action rather than an emotion. It involves elements of empathy, love, care and a component of altruism. In essence, compassion is “empathy in action.” According to Positive Psychology (2019), compassion has three components:

  1. Understanding or empathising with others and their problems.
  2. Loving and caring for others.
  3. Selflessly helping others in need.

I think compassion is an essential part of our work in libraries, and I’ve written about this before in my blog post ‘Client engagement in libraries: from empathy to compassion.’ Although we are an information profession, we are also about people. To quote Theodore Roosevelt “nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

P.S If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.

6. Integrity

Integrity is a trait spoken about a lot but it’s actually quite difficult to define or to describe practically. It derives from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole, complete or unimpaired. As such, integrity is a broad value and looks different to everyone. To me, integrity means:

  • Acknowledging and valuing everybody’s inherent worth
  • Taking accountability for your mistakes, responsibilities and making amends
  • Maintaining confidentiality. In the diversity and inclusion space, this is very important. Brené Brown describes this nicely as a ‘vault.’ She states: “You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.”

I always stick to the schoolyard rule ‘treat others with respect.’ If I’m speaking about someone to someone else, I always imagine that the person I’m speaking about is right beside me. And if I have a problem with someone, I make sure I tell the person directly why I’m frustrated with them first, rather than complaining about it to someone else. Despite the differing views of integrity at the end of the day, I agree with Oprah Winfrey that “real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

7. Curiosity

Be curious about other people, and their experiences and perspectives. When you sincerely care and are interested about the lived experiences of others, you are nurturing inclusion and building trust. Be curious by:

  • Seeking to understand before being understood
  • Inviting and encouraging feedback to learn how your way of communicating affects others. Remember getting others to think or feel the same way as you is not the goal inclusive communication
  • Spending time with people who have different life experiences of worldviews from you. Getting to know people at deeper levels places them (and hopefully other people like them) into a “familiar” category in your brain. This minimises the automatic negative or fearful response that triggers naturally in all humans when we encounter something or someone quite different from us.
  • Inviting others to share their experiences and views with you to the extent they feel comfortable, and to truly listen to what they say. Everyone is different and the best way to understand someone else is to just ask them. Ask them about their experiences. Ask for their opinions. Ask for their ideas in meetings. Ask how they are feeling. Ask how you can best support them.

Purposefully seeking to understand others allows us to appreciate diversity at a greater level.

8. Thoughtfulness

The most impactful steps you can take to foster inclusion are small, every day actions that stem from thoughtfulness and consideration. This can include:

  • Remembering a client’s or colleague’s preferred pronoun
  • Calling out inappropriate banter in the workplace
  • Talking about the importance of flexibility to you as a working parent
  • Spelling or pronouncing someone’s name correctly
  • Complimenting others
  • Checking in and supporting others
  • Remembering parts of people’s lives and what’s important to them, and asking them about it when you see them

Everyday positive affirmations like these open up avenues for others to join the conversation and lets everyone know that they’re in a safe and supportive environment.

Inclusion manifests in the smallest of moments.

9. Collaboration

I spoke a lot about this in my presentation, so I’m not going to spend too much time on it again, but the reality is to be inclusive we need to be collaborative. In my speech I stated “we need to stop talking about people and start talking to people. Let’s collaborate, co-create and innovate with our communities.” In addition to collaborating with our communities, we need to be more collaborative in our workplace as we are never going to be innovative if the we do not have diverse thought and diverse talent contributing to our organisations. 

10. Commitment

Creating an inclusive culture is ongoing work and is not a check-the-box activity. I have committed myself for years to the tireless work of self-reflection, challenging myself and my assumptions, and learning, with and from people who are far different from me. This all takes commitment and perseverance – and it all starts with each one us as individuals. Don’t underestimate the power of change on a small scale to inspire change more broadly. I started with modelling the behaviours I’d like to see, representing what I was trying to create, and moulding a culture I want to be a part of. Whether I’ve ever been successful or not is another story, but I’m proud I’ve had the courage to take myself on a self-development journey with the 10 traits listed above as my guiding stars.

The things I’ve done over the last few years have just been small changes, and I hope that somewhere, somehow they made a tiny difference.

And that’s what I hope you take away from my blogs and public speeches. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by the idealistic notion of inclusiveness, or are struggling through a difficult conversation, or are trying to make drastic changes in your library or workplace, I want you to stop thinking about the enormity of it all, and focus on taking things one step at a time.

One change at a time.

Breaking one habit at time.

Facing one difficult conversation at time.

Just focus on the small changes you can make.

Commit and act.

Again and again.


Bourke, J & Dillion, B. (2016). The six signature traits of inclusive leadership. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/topics/talent/six-signature-traits-of-inclusive-leadership.html 

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Ebury Publishing.

Positive Psychology. (2019). Compassion at Work: Using Compassionate Leadership in the Workplace. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/compassion-at-work-leadership/



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