top of page

The Three Levels Of Inclusion

Written by: Steven N. Adjei, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Steven N. Adjei

There are three levels of inclusion. Which level are you, your business, and/or organisation?

Photo of three women sitting on floor talking

"Remember: You are unique, not special"

N****s tryna figure out how we living through our socials That's ridiculous

If you wanna know then come and sit with us

Fifty-fifty on some knowledge, take a split with us

Cos' if you went legit with us we'd probably build a nation

Passing on the things we learn and sharing information

Always better when we stick together, and come up through the grit together

If I'm ever acting up, you'd tell me to get my s*** together

You hold me down, I do the same for you

I hold the crown and hold the bane for you,

I finish what I came to do...

Stormzy (Britain's No. 1 hip-hop artist), Rachel's Little Brother, 2019

Azi had just literally tried to kill himself.

He lay half dead, in one of the UK’s biggest hospitals.

It didn’t have to end this way.

He escaped near death thanks to the alertness of his family, the expertise of the healthcare professionals and pure luck.

On the face of it, it was shocking.

He was a second-generation British. His parents had escaped the constant discrimination they faced as Kurds living in Syria and had relocated to the UK.

He had been educated in one of the best comprehensive schools in the city. He was excited when he came to be interviewed for his first job after finishing school as a retail assistant in a growing SME in the retail sector in the UK. He had already been turned down by over a dozen others.

He felt welcomed because, in a city that was 95% white, the manager was also of an ethnic minority.

But things began to go downhill when the manager left for greener pastures.

He got pushed out into a field that he had not been trained for. Anytime a foreigner who looked remotely like him came out brown-skinned he was called out to greet them even though they had nothing in common. Then came the micro-aggression. The gossip. The exclusion. The belittling. The patronising. The back-handed comments. His mental state got worse and worse.

He finally had to leave he couldn't stick it any longer.

But the trauma and effects of the racism lingered. He began to have Palpitations. Paranoia. Hallucinations.

Then came the voices.

On the face of it, he looked fine — handsome, young features. Always smiling. Lovely house. Supportive family. Professional and respectful. Spoke perfect English.

But like the proverbial swan, he was struggling underneath.

Things came to a head when his family found him on the floor, unconscious. He had swallowed bleach and a bucketload of paracetamol.

He was rushed to hospital just in time.

Yes, he lived, but something in him had died. I could see it in his eyes.

As he told me his story, I then realised, that yes, really, some of us haven’t moved on as a society here in the West. People knew the right things to say, and how to behave on the outside, but the real feelings always seemed to come out when no one was looking.

Our talk does not always match our walk.

We talk inclusion, but we walk exclusion.

"There are 3 levels of inclusion: Tolerance, Acceptance and Integration"

From my research and working with small businesses across the UK, there are typically three levels of inclusion and diversity which I explain using the diagram below:

The three levels of inclusion

Courtesy, Steven N. Adjei, 'Chasing Permanence' due out November 2024.


The 1st degree of inclusion: Tolerance

As Guvna B, in his song Bridgeland Road says:

‘’Tryna do my best, tryna keep my chin up

Gotta stop myself from getting bitter

To some people, I'll always be a…

And they might avoid that name

Cos nowadays I guess they know what not to say

Doesn't change how they behave

True colours will show their face’’

Azi’s story is a typical story of the first degree of inclusivity

There is now a certain inevitably to inclusion. The law in most Western countries bans discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion. So many companies, grudgingly accept the law and hire employees who fall into minority groups, not because they want to, but because they have to. And this is where many companies stop.

There is no effort to include minority groups in day-to-day decisions in the company, and these groups feel constantly belittled, face micro-agression, and racism, and are left on the fringes of the organisation.

This happens much more than you’d expect. Azi’s true story is all too common, having worked in and for scores of SMEs across the UK.

Tolerance creates what author Catherine Garrod in her book Conscious Inclusion terms ‘the illusion of inclusion’’ It means if companies can get away with bias against inclusion, they will. And if even some make it through the door, they face similar stories to Azi.

So minorities try to find ways around this first level of inclusion. Studies, for instance, by Oxford University and the Harvard Business Review have found that changing your name to a more English-sounding name boosts chances of being hired or at least called for an interview.

I know this is true because a very close relation of mine had this same experience (as I wrote in a previous edition of this newsletter). I have heard and seen so many of these even those that have been hired, who have changed their names to more easily sounding, English names to aid their acceptance into the fold.

This is not limited to race. I have met and worked personally with members of the LGBTQ community, and those with various levels of disability who have faced the same discrimination, even yes, straight white middle-aged white men.

Shivani Uberoi, a speaker and expert on inclusion, found out that 45% of straight white men cover up all or part of their identity in the workplace.

Inclusion is exactly what the name means. Inclusion. For everyone.

However, this is just the first level of inclusion. There is a second level which goes beyond tolerance.


The second degree of inclusion: Acceptance

This seems to me to be the most common degree of Inclusion within companies. There is an acceptance of the reality of diversity, and hence half-hearted token gestures are made to face this reality. This forms the typical ‘’tick-box’’ or what many minorities call the ‘trophy syndrome’. Because of the prevailing idea of inclusion, it ‘’looks good’’ on the company website  many minority members are photoshopped to aid the ''inclusion illusion'' as Catherine Garrod.

They may even send some of their employees on ‘’diversity and inclusion programmes (which research shows don't work)’’. Some go even further to hire a ‘DEI’ or inclusion head, and there are token gestures, such as a photo op for Black History Month, International Women’s Day or festivals such as Diwali or Eid. Such companies herald their diversity credentials, but true inclusion is still at the fringes. BAME members may even have a seat at the table, given a ‘say’ in the running of the organisation.

On an individual level, there may be the occasional chat and handshake, but normally, BAME and other minorities have 2 lives their lives at work, and a separate life at home. These two lives are completely compartmentalised, and they put on what I call the ‘mask’ just before they enter the workplace.

What is the Mask?

It's an internal pause just before work: the ‘Jekyll’ comes on and the 'Hyde' goes out  reporting for duty as a completely different person, leaving their real authentic self at home.

On the surface, they appear integrated, happy, and fulfilled, but in reality, they know their place. They are there to do a job, to the best of their ability. They may even get a promotion, a nice bonus, or climb the ladder, so far as they play by the invisible rules.

In a recent talk I gave to a large Big 4 consultancy firm, one of the analysts said how he had 'anglicised' his name to be able to fit in.

 In my work and research, it turns out that the vast majority of companies operate at this level. But they lose out on the massive potential they could draw from their minority colleagues  the next and highest level of inclusion.


The third degree of inclusion: Integration

Hama, a female Kurdish-Iranian immigrant, had put in interviews for dozens of companies in the healthcare sector when she moved to England from Kurdistan. She was a devout Muslim who had just endured domestic abuse and mustered the courage to walk out from her husband who lived 120 miles away to a new city to find a new life and a new home.

However, she got turned down each time.

She finally managed to get housed in a leaky damp flat in one of the poorer suburbs of the city and was kindly accepted to complete her healthcare training after the thirteenth attempt.

But after qualifying. she could not find a job in the city, which happened to be 96% white.

After almost a year of searching, she almost gave up until she was recommended to a manager. She spoke very little English. She proudly wore her hijab. She prayed five times a day. She had no English friends. You could sense the apprehension from both sides as she started her first day at work. The manager worked hard to integrate her into the team. She was allowed, even encouraged to pray in a secluded part of the organisation. She was exempted from answering the phone for 2 months till her English picked up. She was encouraged to wear her hijab. When it was time for the Muslim fast for Ramadan, she was exempted from heavy duties and was supported by members of the team. The leader actively looked for ways to encourage her, to ban all forms of microaggression and encouraged her friends and family to visit. For the Christmas office dinner, the team booked meals in a Kurdish restaurant and refrained from buying alcohol when she was present.

It was hard work, and many of the team complained of favouritism, but it finally paid off.


She began to invite her community to patronise the services of this health facility. She took the lead in meeting members of her community and local Muslims in general.

She made friends with the team, even inviting them to her traditional wedding. She cooked Kurdish food and shared it with members of her staff.

Real bonds began to form. She showed videos of some of the members of her family escaping violence in her home country and were on small boats. I saw one of the videos myself. They were harrowing, but the perceptions of the other members of staff began to change.

The company also benefitted. During the COVID era, Hama played a massive part in encouraging members of her local ethnic Kurdish and Muslim community to take the vaccine. She even trained to be a vaccination nurse the first in the city and administered more than 20,000 vaccinations. She was kind, hardworking and conscientious. Her jokes made everyone laugh. Members of the community of all races and orientations began to warm to her, even asking for her in particular when they came for their health needs.

Through it all, she was encouraged to stay true to her devout Muslim faith. And her boundaries were respected.

In return, she gave her all.

And when she left to start a family, customers, staff and management cried. And so did she. She called the company her ‘second family’ and regularly brought food and her family to visit.

This SME had achieved the highest form of inclusion  Integration.

As you read this piece – where would you locate your business, your organisation or even your friendships?

Do you just tolerate, accept, or actively pursue integration?

Saying ‘I am inclusive’ is not enough. Your deeds need to show it.

Because as my friend Jabo Butera, the head of Diversity Business Incubator always says, the opposite of inclusion (belonging) is not exclusion.

It's belittling.

On that note, we've all got work to do.

What are your thoughts? What would you like to add? Email me at, or comment below I'd love to hear them.


Whilst you're here...

  1. Work with me. I can speak, mentor, write or consult. Hop here for a taste, read what people are saying about my work, and holler at for a chat.

  2. Buy my book. You won't regret it. It's won several awards and has been number 1 on Amazon in more than eighteen categories. If you are in the UK or US, the direct links are below. If you already have, I'd love an honest review on Amazon. Reviews help us out :)-.

  3. Talk to me: I won't judge. I've been through every kind of pain you can imagine, and I can work with you to help overcome (or manage) your business pain and turn it into victory.

If you have bought and read the book, please leave a review on Amazon + share it on social media. :)

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Steven N. Adjei Brainz Magazine

Steven N. Adjei, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Steven N. Adjei is an award-winning British-Ghanaian best-selling author, poet, speaker, healthcare consultant, entrepreneur, and pharmacist. He is the founding partner of BlueCloud Health (part of the Emerald Group), an advisory and consulting firm with offices in London, Dubai, and Delhi with clients all over the world. He has an MBA from Warwick Business School.

His first book, (Pay The Price: Creating Ethical Entrepreneurial Success Through Passion, Pain and Purpose) released on 17 October 2022 was an instant international bestseller in 18 categories on Amazon, has garnered 2 prestigious awards, and has received critical acclaim throughout the world. He is currently working on his second book, “Chasing Permanence: thriving you and your business in a constantly changing world” , set to be released in early 2024.


  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04


bottom of page