I had so much fear when I first joined my running group. I had never been a runner and my perception of running groups was that they were full of elite athletes who would smirk wildly as they waited for me to catch up with my feeble attempts of moving faster than walking pace.

How wrong I was.

When I joined, I’d only just managed to run the full distance of 5km for the first time ever. I’m also pretty stubborn and vein, so I knew if I had to, I could fake it until I made it through that gruelling first one hour of pain.

From the very first moment of me tentatively stepping out of the car and into the carpark where we still meet to this day, I was greeted by an overwhelming amount of friendliness, support and encouragement.

Everyone introduced themselves, made light conversation and congratulated me for coming along. My fear levels dissipated immediately. I already started to believe I could be part of this group.

The group is very diplomatically split into ‘fast runners’ and ‘efficient runners’. Those who are more efficient get to run slightly less distances at a slightly more manageable pace!

Already – there was a group of people who I could slot in between and feel comfortable. Id didn’t have to feel embarrassed because there were other people there just like me.

Every member of that running group is a competitive runner. However their competitive nature is centred around competing with themselves. Not once has anyone in the group made someone else feel inferior because they run a slower time.

In fact – all you’ll hear when you run with this group (and others that I have since joined) is words of encouragement as you pass them on your set.

Since joining that group 5 years ago, I’ve gone on to run three half marathons. Something I wouldn’t have ever imagined I’d think about, let alone achieve.

Joining this group enabled me to become the best runner that I could be.

Imagine if our business networking groups were all like this. Imagine if we had inclusive groups of like-minded professionals who genuinely made an effort to support others.

Imagine if we lived in a society where females didn’t feel like they had to start their own business groups, because we all felt we were treated as equals and welcomed into all networking environments.

As it happens, the women’s networking groups I’m a member of are as inclusive and as supportive  as the running group I’m a member of. And I’m incredibly grateful for that.

However, I deal in a business world where the majority of my clients, stakeholders and team are males.

It’s not just gender that will result in exclusions though – there are plenty of other aspects that people are happy to judge and exclude upon as well.

Let’s go back to my ‘ideal’ world where we can imagine a community that genuinely lifts one another to be the very best version of themselves. Where we rise above our individual aspirations for long enough to actually realise that if we work together – we achieve so much more.

Where we realise that diversity actually brings more strength to our communal table.

How we work towards embracing inclusivity to build stronger communities is something that will take courageous leadership and strength of conviction.

So if you find those leaders who are willing to embrace diversity and strengthen our position as a group, support them with everything you have.

 

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