How to begin the conversation on diversity and inclusion in the workplace
One of the main obstacles to incorporate diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not knowing how to start. Many qualified HR professionals and business leaders would like to have a solid diversity and inclusion strategy however they simply don’t know how to begin the conversation, and this is a key issue. When they fail to talk about diversity and inclusion at work, they show that it is simply not a priority. Many HR professionals and senior managers still feel uncomfortable talking about it. Some feel as if their experiences don’t belong in the conversation, some are afraid to say the wrong thing, and some just don’t know where to start. If you are interested in starting the conversation on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, this article will help you as it defines four strategies to begin the conversation on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
1) Research, prepare and plan in advance
Senior leaders usually focus on numbers, so having some statistics about the business impact of a diverse and inclusive workforce will help you articulate the business need to a senior audience. If your leadership team has not yet prioritised diversity and inclusion in the workplace, you can help them do so by sharing a compilation of resources and examples of companies that are successful with it.
Glassdoor shared a great list of 12 companies that are ramping up their diversity & inclusion efforts.
As you start the research and preparation work to begin the conversation on diversity and inclusion, it might be a good idea to get some help from impartial experts. Diversity and inclusion consultants are a great asset to get recommendations about the steps you can take to move your organisational culture forwards.
As you share with your leadership team all the resources to look into, ensure it’s simple for them to read through it. Senior management teams are extremely busy so if you make your research straightforward, you will be more likely to get their attention. Make suggestions about what a good next step would be. It could mean asking your leadership team to invite an expert to speak about diversity and inclusion at your next all-hands meeting. Giving specific and actionable suggestions to help establish your company as an inclusive one will make it easier for your management team to move things forward. You can download this ebook titled The Ultimate Diversity Champion Guide to research and prepare ahead of your internal team meetings.
2) Set the scene and facilitate
As you begin the conversation on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, your employees should be aware ahead of time that there will be a serious discussion regarding diversity and inclusion. Giving everyone plenty of time and context will allow them to prepare questions and concerns they’d like to discuss.
Try to be clear about the goal of the conversation. Remind that everyone in your organisation is working towards true equality, empathy, and ending discrimination.
Keep the benefits of the conversation at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Remind everyone that this conversation will make it easier to think constructively the entire time. It is very important that you establish discussion guidelines. Some key rules are to listen without interrupting, to give everyone an opportunity to speak, to avoid criticizing one another, to challenge harmful social “norms”, not to tolerate disrespectful language, and to allow everyone to ask questions without judgment. It is key that you are prepared to shut down any shaming and public humiliation. Embarrassing others for their opinions will backfire because it will make them hesitant to speak up again. That fear will create a resistance to help. Remember that these conversations may get heated and it is to be expected, but the upset is likely directed at injustices in the world in general, rather than a person. A great way to facilitate these conversations is to build psychological safety: watch this video titled 4 strategies to build psychological safety at work.
3) Ask questions and listen more than you speak
Asking questions on behalf of the group and urging your audience members to ask questions as well is key. It gives everyone the chance to experience what it’s like being in someone else’s shoes and it creates psychological safety, which is an environment where everyone feels safe to ask questions and brainstorm together. The more of someone else’s perspective one understands, the more empathetic they will become. When it comes to a successful diversity and inclusion discussion, questions are a critical part of the process.
Asking questions will also help you better understand your team’s perspective and goals. Maybe some colleagues are already working on making recruiting diversely a goal. Maybe some colleagues haven’t thought about it at all and simply asking a question will help them see the possibilities.
Open up the discussion with something like, “As a company, what are we doing to focus our efforts on building a diverse and inclusive workplace?”
Ask people to share a time they felt like an outsider, or a time they felt excluded. Ask them how they felt. The goal is to realize that we all know the feeling of being left out or excluded, — so we all need to take responsibility for being more inclusive every day. Listening is key to starting constructive conversations on building a diverse and inclusive workplace.
4) Define what diversity and inclusion means to your organisation
Asking people to give their definitions for each term will help spark the conversation. The goal is to teach people that diversity and inclusion is a concept that goes beyond just race or gender, and that inclusion is a basic human need and a fundamental to a successful organisation and happy people.
Do some digging to discover why some might struggle to answer what diversity and inclusion mean. Some colleagues may feel embarrassed to comment because they might be getting emotional or they might be afraid of what others will think of them, but odds are that someone else feels the same way and is too afraid to speak up. These discussions help people feel more connected because they can see their shared feelings.
You can prepare by reading books about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, such as Inclusion: The Ultimate Secret for an Organization's Success, to better understand the definitions.
Starting the conversation on diversity and inclusion is not easy, however you can make it easier by coming armed with knowledge that gives you the tools you need to make a good business case for a more inclusive and diverse workplace. In today’s fast-changing society, you can no longer ignore diversity and inclusion at work and now is the time to start the conversation. If you need help beginning the conversation on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, contact us now.