In with the in-crowd – or not?

I recently attended our company’s Inclusive Leadership Programme – a training scheme designed to challenge thoughts and behaviours around inclusion and exclusion.

I went along thinking it was going to cover the differences between genders and ethnic cultures. Of course they play a part, but what I discovered is that the subtleties of how we behave ‘unconsciously’ are what we need to be aware of to make the difference. This is known as insider/outsider group dynamics.

As people we naturally look for commonalties in others. As I’m a rugby fan, a classic example of insider dynamics for me might be coming in on a Monday morning and chatting about the rugby with those around me who I know also follow the sport. Here the ‘insiders’ get an extra five minutes of my time compared to the ‘outsiders’. Even though I make a point of talking to everyone, the additional time spent with the ‘insiders’ unconsciously enhances the affiliation over time.

There are times where we might feel like an insider in some situations and an outsider in others. For example, I spoke at a session at EY’s EMEIA Women’s Leadership Programme. I definitely recognised being part of the outsider group in that situation.

An easy example when you think about insider/outsider dynamics is thinking about your handedness. The world is largely designed for right handed people (the insider group) - from scissors and ticket barriers to computer keyboards and boomerangs. If you’re left handed, how does it make you feel that the world is largely designed to make life easier and more comfortable for right-handed people? And if you’re right-handed, have you ever given that a second thought?

Insider/outsider dynamics goes hand in hand with unconscious bias – both are key concepts EY explores in its Inclusive Leadership Programme, as we strive to create a more inclusive environment for all.  

Being aware of the really subtle bits of our behaviour, based on our own preferences and characteristics, can make a difference to our workplace relationships.  By making the effort to build relationships outside of our natural groups, we become more inclusive leaders and create better engagement among our teams. 

  • Jason Lester

About the author

Jason is the Tax Managing Partner for the UK & Ireland

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