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Embracing Uncomfortable Conversations to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Kelly Peters

Topics like diversity and inclusion (D&I) are not something to shy away from. They’re critical to the success of your company and the wellbeing of your employees. Oftentimes, D&I can unearth uncomfortable conversations that need to be faced head-on. 

So, we’re here to celebrate those challenges and promote critical diversity and inclusion activities in the workplace.

 

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Why discuss diversity and inclusion? 

Did you know that 67 percent of job seekers want to work for a diverse and inclusive employer?

Opening the floor to challenging topics encourages employees to voice their thoughts and be heard in a way they may have never experienced before. It provides opportunities to implement practical, progressive activities that build a more inclusive environment.  

And, by putting that feedback loop in place today, youll attract new talent to grow the business for tomorrow.  

It’s important work. Here’s how to make it happen.

Step 1: Get buy-in from business leaders 

Business leaders align actions with their overarching vision. So, if you can get buy-in from your c-suite, you’ll be able to integrate D&I into your organization and enact real change.  

As Simon Sinek famously says, ‘great leaders inspire action.’ 

Leaders should communicate their commitment throughout the business and with third party partners, clients or customers. great way to set the tone is with an open letter of solidarity and support from management. 

Alongside this, leaders need to establish tangible goalsJust Capital’s study found only 11 percent of the 890 companies surveyed disclosed actual, measurable targets in this area. 

This McKinsey report contains a good example, whereby they cite a company that is aiming to employee women in 40 percent of their senior executive roles.  Theyve incentivized progress by tying executives’ bonuses to achieving inclusion and diversity goals.

Step 2: Start an employee resource group (ERG)

Employee resource groups are employee-led groups, run by volunteers, that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace in line with business objectives. There are great examples of ERGs at companies such as at Ernst & Young, Dell Technologies and the Women at Microsoft. 

Benefits of ERGs include: 

  • Increased awareness at all levels 
  • A safe space for communication 
  • Accountable, productive outcomes 
  • Improved employee engagement 
  • Empowered and happy employees 
  • Potential for developing future leaders 

ERGs are informal or structured. You might have one, or several. They may take different forms, such as a community network, mentor circle or diversity committee. In any case, you want to create groups that focus on diversity and inclusion activities in the workplace. That way, there is consistent attention paid to this topic. 

Step 3: Involve everyone at all levels

Bringing a cross-section of your company together ensures representation for everyone. Try to involve people from management and members of each department, as well as entry-level and long-standing employees. You need people with diverse backgrounds and experiences to lend their voices to the conversation. 

That doesn’t mean you have to start with a big group. Start small and grow through ongoing promotion. People are more likely to join an established organization with clear initiatives.

Step 4: Ensure the ERG has both time and resources

Although ERGs are voluntary, once employees are members, they require allocated time to fulfil the responsibilities of the group. This time can then be factored in to 1-1s and be a part of personal development – perhaps even a step toward future leadership roles. After all, this work isn’t a ‘side project.’ 

Here are some resources you can give your employees: 

  • A designated number of hours to follow up on ERG activities 
  • Provide a meeting space (or a video conferencing app for remote workers) 
  • A channel on your intranet or some access to internal comms 
  • Access to marketing materials to help build awareness 
  • Set up an instant messaging channel or forum 
  • Arrange training on the topic, and on managing projects 

Helpful websites to find further resources: 

Step 5: Facilitate ways to give feedback 

Why not have those uncomfortable conversations in comfortable settings? Give employees a safe space to talk in focus groups or with peer-to-peer sharing. Or, offer the option of anonymity with employee surveys or polls. On top of this, use a group chat to share relevant learning materials and literature.  

Workshops are also a brilliant format for brainstorming ideas. Everyone loves a whiteboard and Post-It notes. Read this blog about how to talk about diversity at work from our partners at Namely. 

Top tip: train up or hire an experienced workshop facilitator to keep the conversation on track.

Step 6: Listen actively

In Pamela Newkirk’s book, Diversity.Inc: the Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business, she quotes film-maker Misan Sagay: 

‘People want diversity as long as they don’t have to do it. A lot of the times they want our physical presence, but not our voice.’ 

When having a conversation about D&I, practice active listening. That is, use verbal and non-verbal cues, like eye-contact, to show responsiveness. Pay full attention to the speaker.  

No matter what level you are within a business – yes, even if you’re the CEO – hear difficult feedback with a compassionate ear. Don’t become defensive or minimize someone else’s experience. This helps employees communicate openly and honestly.

Step 7: And – most important of all – ACT

ERGs exist to turn words into actions. Here are some practical tips to empower your business to meet those D&I goals: 

Think small 

A tiny change could make a big difference. For example, women are less likely to say ‘yes’ when asked if they are able to perform a task, even if theyre just as qualified as their male counterparts. So, you might change the way tasks are allocated or find different ways to get feedback on a brief to account for this. 

Think local 

Diversity needs to be in place at a team level. Everyone should feel like they belong in any department, from HR to Engineering. Aggregated figures of a diverse number of employees across a companyparticularly those that ignore intersectionality, may not show the full picture. 

Think values 

Focus on values. Ivy League qualifications are great, but if that’s all you look for in a job applicant then you risk the pitfall of unconscious biasA values-based system of hiring can help to attract diverse candidates and improve the inclusivity of your workplace culture. 

Embrace the challenge 

We’ve discussed why uncomfortable conversations are vital for promoting diversity and inclusion, how you can facilitate them and the tips you should follow. From creating an ERG, to changing the way your business communicates, there’s plenty of actionable tasks you can take away. 

Now it’s time for you to take the wheel.  

As you go forward, be sure to measure things like employee engagement or recruitment, retention, and promotion rates. These are good indicators that you’re on the right track. And, keep asking for feedback, especially after big initiatives or changes. This is an ongoing program of work. There’s always room to grow.

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Kelly Peters

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