As leaders, we want to communicate openly and honestly about D&I in the workplace. But that is often easier said than done. How do we create an environment where our differences are celebrated? How do we change long-held beliefs and biases?
It requires a level of discomfort and a willingness to be open to different perspectives, but in the end, we are all better off from having these difficult conversations. This blog post will discuss how to facilitate conversations, common barriers, and more.
The first step to navigating these difficult conversations is facilitating conversations that lead to a greater understanding. While standard D&I training is important, having someone to facilitate conversations among colleagues is necessary to understand how D&I affects everyone.
The easiest way to gain a deeper understanding is to hear about someone's experiences, hardships, and successes. When we understand someone's story, we connect authentically.
Also, remember that D&I is a two-way street. Letting everyone share their experiences and opinions without judgment or backlash is as important as sharing your experiences. If you don’t, you open up to lawsuits, employee disengagement, and more.
1. Lack of awareness & understanding: D&I wasn’t taught in schools, so it's no surprise that most people lack awareness and understanding of D&I issues. The lack of awareness and understanding can make recognizing and addressing certain uncomfortable topics difficult.
Example: Bob is a white male employee or manager that doesn’t support DEI initiatives. Bob feels left out. He thinks employees of color are getting too much attention or unearned raises and promotions. He doesn’t understand why supplier diversity is important when the vendors he has been using for the past 10 years are “just fine.” Bob is concerned about his position and feels threatened by the new “inclusiveness” of the organization. As a result, Bob challenges everyone, regardless of the validity, and refuses to be a team player.
2. Fear of conflict: Difficult conversations can often be emotionally charged and involve disagreements. Some people may fear having disagreements, facing backlash, or being labeled biased.
Example: Darren is a black male employee that plays the race card to avoid accountability. He understands how uncomfortable it makes a white person to discuss race and uses it as a weapon. Darren chooses the rules to abide by and the ones to throw to the side. He overreacts about the littlest things, leaving other employees feeling like they need to walk on eggshells, creating tension and toxicity.
3. Power dynamics: Power imbalances can significantly impact the ability to have open and honest discussions in the workplace. People may hesitate to speak up or share their stories for fear of retaliation. Or they will quickly back down if the majority isn’t on their side.
Example: Helen is a middle-aged white woman, overwhelmed by the public DEI commitments companies have made and feels pressured to respond. She believes in doing the right thing and has sent a press release stating that the company takes DEI very seriously. Helen drafts an email to the entire organization announcing their new commitment to DEI. However, with some pushback from other leaders, she folds and agrees the company has women and minorities, so everything is fine.
4. Lack of trust: Trust is essential for having open and honest conversations around diversity and inclusion. A lack of trust among participants, particularly between marginalized and privileged groups, can hinder open dialogue and prevent progress in addressing DEI issues.
Example: Maria is a young Hispanic employee that doesn’t trust her supervisors because of past experiences. She has been stereotyped and experienced microaggressions and biases in previous roles. When discussing DEI, she often shuts down and refuses to converse openly and honestly.
So how can we move forward and have difficult conversations around diversity and inclusion? The first step is recognizing that uncomfortable conversations are necessary for creating an inclusive culture.
Next, you have to assess what your employees need - do they want to have these conversations with HR, or would they prefer an outside consultant? Either way, none of this matters without action.