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Insider Outsider Memberships

As SDMWVBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Minority, Women, or Veteran Business Enterprise) businesses we find ourselves members of multiple groups and the dynamics of these memberships is discussed at length in chapter six The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off by Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan. Insider outsider dynamics happen at the group level based on group identities.  And, individuals can be members of multiple groups.

Group experiences help shape our perceptions, whether we’re part of (inside) the group or standing outside. There are the glaringly obvious group identities based on gender, race or ethnicity, language, disability or age and there are groups based on schools attended, religious beliefs, political orientation, sports played or followed or left vs. right-handed.  For example, there are those who follow ice hockey and those who follow ice dance and they rarely meet unless someone forces them to watch “The Cutting Edge” movie.  (Every Winter Olympics cycle someone broadcasts this 1992 contemporary classic.)

This book suggests that being part of an outsider group generally means having to understand and adjust to the insider group’s way of thinking and doing. According to Kaplan and Donovan, outsider groups have more information about the dynamics and less power to change those dynamics while insiders have less information and more power.  And then they make several thought provoking observations:

  •  “There is a self-perpetuating cycle at play reinforcing insider-outside dynamics, making them difficult to shift. Thus, it is hard to achieve change quickly.”  Each time I read this sentence I think of Newton’s law of physics: “A body in rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless the body is compelled to change its state.” Insider dynamics are the organization at rest until such time as outsider dynamics compels the organization to move. “This is why movements for inclusion often start with bold demonstrations of inequality led by outsider groups.”
  • “Insiders almost always have more power in the hierarchy” while “outsiders feel reluctant to share their perspectives because they might be perceived as whining and complaining and focusing on the negative, and because these views can create defensiveness among insiders.”
  • If outsiders don’t share true experiences, insider perspectives reign. “Insider’s perceptions are reinforced, the perspective doesn’t change, behavior doesn’t shift, and insider-outsider dynamics continue.”

Can these dynamics be changed? Of course, but it is “critical to engage both outsiders and insiders when the goal is creating sustainable inclusion.” It will require outsider leadership and strong sponsorship/leadership from the insider group. In a non-judgmental environment, insider groups must learn about outsider differences, find new ways to think about those differences and be brought to understand the impact of outsider exclusion on their organization’s business.