Behaviour Change Platform for D&I

Creating Brave Conversations About D&I in the Workplace

Having Brave Conversations About D&I in the Workplace is a Necessity for Success

As HR professionals, we all want to play a role in helping our workplace to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I). But, that can be a difficult task. How do you create an environment where our differences are celebrated? How do you change long-held beliefs and biases?

It requires a level of honesty that can make people uncomfortable and cause many to worry that it will lead to unnecessary confrontation. To get there, we have to be willing to have brave conversations that change hearts and minds.

In this article, we’ll cover

  • How to facilitate these conversations

  • Recognize blind spots in your D&I improvement efforts

  • Provide an atmosphere that feels inclusive to your employees.

Finding Common Ground Begins with Conversations

For a diverse workforce to feel included and heard, you have to begin by facilitating conversations that cultivate understanding. To practice diversity and inclusion, it is important that our teams understand the people within the organizations that live, look, and act differently from them.

The truth is that standardized D&I training can’t replace the empathy we develop when we hear real stories from people that we know. It can be hard for a person from one walk of life to connect with a person from another. But real-world examples of prejudice and mistreatment can help us to bridge that gap.

The easiest way for a person to connect with someone else from another walk of life is for them to hear about their experiences, hardships, and successes. Conversations humanize us. When we can empathize with someone’s situation, we’re able to connect on a much deeper level.

According to a recent survey from Atlassian, most view individuals as having the largest impact on improving D&I within an organization, over company and corporate initiatives:

Atlassian Graph About Impact on Company Diversity

Source: Atlassian

D&I is a two-way street. It’s just as important for members of the majority within your environment to have their opinions heard and to feel like they can freely express themselves without backlash, so long as they are making an honest attempt to understand and participate.

In these conversations, it’s important for all opinions and viewpoints to be heard, even when those viewpoints don’t align with what most would deem as inclusive or culturally acceptable. These conversations can be uncomfortable, and particularly so for those that find themselves within the majority. We should lean into that discomfort to move toward a more inclusive future.

What to Remember:

  • Encourage sharing from members of majority and marginalized groups.

  • Curb infighting and backlash as it arises.

  • Give everyone the chance to speak.

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Bravery Begets Bravery

Setting the tone is critical in these conversations. Individuals won’t be interested in speaking up if they feel that their own opinions go against the grain and may cause a negative reaction.

As a leader, your input in this situations is integral to the success of the conversation and the success of your D&I improvement efforts as a whole. Leadership sets the stage for how these conversations will go and how willing others are to share their own opinions and stories.

Consider the definition of “bravery.”

Bravery: The quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty.

To encourage bravery in others, you need to set the stage by showing your own bravery. As a member of a majority group, discussing your point of view, either current or previous, and showing that you have grown in your own thinking can be a great conversation starter. On the other side, if you’re a member of a marginalized group, sharing your own stories can go a long way toward making others comfortable to share theirs.

What to Remember:

  • Set the tone by sharing your own brave stories.

  • Recognize when someone has shared something difficult.

  • Find opportunities to highlight similarities between groups.

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Recognition Plays a Big Role in Inclusivity

“Belonging” can feel like a vague concept. It can mean different things to different people, in different situations. Belonging doesn’t mean that everyone around you agrees with you, but rather than they value your opinions and offer respect.

There is reason to believe that recognition plays a primary role in that sense of belonging. In this context, recognition refers both to having accomplishments recognized, but also feeling your opinions and contributions are recognized as well.

Just take a look at the results from a recent LinkedIn report. In the report, employees were surveyed and asked what would make them feel like they belong at the company that they work at. The results were very interesting:

Linkedin Report.png

The top four answers all have to do with recognition — recognition of accomplishments, opinions, contributions, and self. Consider this inside the context of the brave conversations we’re discussing. Recognizing a person’s opinions and experiences is often the most critical step in making them feel like they’ve provided meaningful feedback that has moved the needle within your organization, if even a small amount.

What to Remember:

  • Recognition plays a huge role in the satisfaction of employees.

  • Recognizing contributions in D&I conversations is critical to the success of the discussion.

  • Facilitate recognition of specific aspects of their stories.

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Stories Cultivate Empathy

As humans, we connect with stories. Stories help us to understand situations from the context of another person’s viewpoint. A well-told story makes it easier for us to understand the feelings, actions, and opinions of another person, even when we can’t relate to them directly.

Tough conversations become easier to have when we explain situations and tell stories that led to the opinions that we hold today. If an individual within your company held a view that would be seen as insensitive and shared that view without substantiating it, they would almost certainly be viewed in a negative light by their peers.

By sharing the experiences that shaped their beliefs, you begin to understand what led them to forming the opinions that they have and contextualize the hurdles that they as a person have to overcome in order to open their mind to new viewpoints.

  • Share your own stories.

  • Ask volunteers to share stories.

  • Discuss the deeper meaning and implications behind those stories. Look at how personal experiences shape our worldview.

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Recognizing Blind Spots

Brave conversations aren’t really that brave when you aren’t expressing viewpoints that differ from the people around you. Safe spaces are good for underrepresented groups to come together and support each other, but when it comes to changing the viewpoints of others within the organization you need these brave spaces.

As you promote inclusion through brave conversations, that inclusion has to start with the participants in those conversations. While you don’t have to go down a checklist to make sure that you have participants from every single marginalized group, it does pay to ensure that you have a diverse and well-round group of participants to facilitate multiple viewpoints in each individual conversation.

Following a conversation, consider what viewpoints you heard from and also what was missing from the conversation. Who could have added to the discussion with their unique experience? What opinions would have stirred the pot and facilitated interesting tangents in the conversations that you had?

What to Remember:

  • Take note of marginalized groups that are under-represented in your conversations.

  • Invite members of those groups to contribute at future discussions.

“Diversity requires commitment. Achieving the superior performance diversity can produce needs further action - most notably, a commitment to develop a culture of inclusion. People do not just need to be different, they need to be fully involved and feel their voices are heard.”

—Alain Dehaze, CEO, The Adecco Group

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Best Practices for Brave D&I Conversations

Facilitating brave conversations on issues involving D&I requires foresight and planning. You have to go into these conversations with an understanding of what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it. There are a few best practices that we can recommend for getting the most out of these interactions and creating a positive environment for people to express their opinions.

  • Actively seek out multiple viewpoints. Ask questions to understand the opinions of others and ask about background experiences that have shaped the viewpoints that they share.

  • Recognize privileges. Recognizing the privileges that a specific group enjoys is imperative for understanding the viewpoints of other groups. Does your own class, gender, sexual orientation, or other factor provide you with specific advantages and inherently provide disadvantages to people that belong to other groups?

  • Take a step back. While it is your job as a leader of these conversations to facilitate positive discussions and environments — and sharing your own experiences is helpful in getting the group talking — it’s also important that you know when to step back and let others take the stage.

  • Lean into discomfort. Brave conversations aren’t brave if there isn’t some discomfort. Lean into it. Challenge yourself and the group to contribute, even if they haven’t had time to fully formulate their ideas. Don’t shy away from acknowledging the dynamics and groups within the larger conversational group.

Brave Conversations Lead to Understanding and Empathy

The path to a diverse and inclusive workplace is paved by understanding and empathy. While people within certain groups may not be able to directly relate to others, having an understanding of their experiences and mindset can provide the insight they need that leads to empathy and understanding. Ultimately, these traits help to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace that welcomes people from all walks of life.

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Crescendo is the diversity & inclusion education app for Slack and we’re on a mission to help companies create more inclusive workplaces. You can learn more here!


Stefan Kollenberg