Organizations around the country are introducing formal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs to harness the power of difference and mutual respect in organizations. However, making these DEI programs real comes down to real people communicating and working with each other every day: with peers, supervisors, teams, customers and colleagues.
In this article, we talk about ways that all leaders and employees can integrate DEI into everyday work life.
People Are Different: Inside and Outside
Part of integrating DEI into daily work involves recognizing differences that are both visible and invisible, and acknowledging how our identities and experiences shape even basic interactions in our work lives. We are used to starting with race, gender, age and physical disability, but there are many other forms of diversity, including:
- Religious and spiritual preferences
- Gender orientation and gender identity
- Socio-economic history and upbringing
- Family make-up and relationships
- Geographic home of origin; range of living locations
- Different learning and communication styles
- Mental illnesses and other invisible disabilities
- Diversity in information processing
- Range of employment experiences and tenure (besides age)
- Traumatic experiences
No one expects an employee to know about all these different elements of people’s lives, nor are we expected to know if someone has an invisible need or hidden trauma. However, truly integrating DEI at work means that we are aware of and attentive to these many sources of difference and listen carefully to each other’s stories and needs.
We are also not asking people to compromise on performance or mission delivery when incorporating DEI – sometimes, it is falsely claimed that we must “lower standards” to increase diversity and access and to include more voices. In fact, it is the opposite – diversity and inclusion is a mission driver! We want diverse workplaces because high performance and effective mission delivery depend on having many different people with many different experiences who can help each other understand and empathize with the needs of clients and customers and other stakeholders. Diversity does this.
Pause to Look at Who’s At the Table – and Who Is Speaking
One way to integrate DEI into daily work is to look around at each table you sit at. This could include a leadership team, technical team, Zoom meeting, or even the technological “table” of an email chain. Look also at who is attending meeting virtually, and who is in the physical room – and how that impacts the interaction dynamic (in hybrid settings, usually one group wins in terms of getting default airtime).
Make it an exercise to see who is present and who is not – and who is actively engaged and who is observing. Yes, part of inclusion is asking to hear from those who have not spoken – do not assume that it is their job to jump in.
Here are signs that more diversity might benefit your group:
- Do you all look and think alike? Invite people who you know may have a different opinion, or come from a different background.
- Is it the same group as always – the classic “in” group? Talk actively about how you can rotate or bolster the team to cycle in new people.
- Does everyone agree too quickly? That is not always a good thing – irritating as you find them, invite some naysayers and curmudgeons (every organization has them) and even people you don’t always like to join you. What annoys you about them could be their source of unique and underrepresented views and contribution.
- Do a few people control the conversation? Consider coaching them to listen more, and rotate roles in the group depending on the topic.
Everyone has a superpower – looking around each table and identifying voices that are not being heard can help you invite new sources of power to the conversation.
Managing Unconscious Bias
Training in “unconscious bias” is a common element of DEI programs, and is often met by individuals with some trepidation. If something is by definition unconscious, it can feel a little disheartening, and even a bit futile, to figure out how to confront it. Not a particularly empowering way to enter a training.
However, most people find that once they engage in understanding what unconscious bias is, they realize that they actually have tools to address it, or can work on skills to further make the unconscious more conscious. Many of these tools are already part of the emotional intelligence and coaching toolbox. They include:
- Active listening – Take the time to listen to the other person, both in terms of what is spoken and unspoken, is a core skill in broadening consciousness.
- Curiosity – Just starting to wonder about how another might see the world, or what you might be missing makes you more conscious about possible bias.
- Reframing – Push yourself to pause and take a completely different look at a situation – taking the time to really think about how another might view things can help reframe a problem or detect new and unintended consequences.
- Engaging new people – Talk with someone new can help reveal blind spots that you and your group may have developed over time.
- Recognizing systemic preferences – Also referred to as structural inequalities, every governance system has its default approaches that help some and hurt or hinder others. Some of these are more visible than others – and some have lasted so long, they are barely noticed. Get curious about why the most basic processes are the way they are.
- Advocating for alternative views – In DEI terms, this can be extended to be called “ally-ship,” where someone truly and wholeheartedly advocates and lifts up others. Sometimes, though, it can even mean just posing an opinion that you do not yourself hold for a more complete evaluation of a problem.
It is useful to recognize the emotional impact that specialized DEI terms can have for those new to the content. There is a lot of weight, significance, and responsibility that comes with the term “unconscious bias” – and that can lead to nervousness and even fear of trying something new. Reframing it to be more about slowing down and listening and critically thinking, which feel like more familiar concepts, can make the concept seem more accessible.
In the meantime, even if you are nervous about having a conversation about your unconscious – take a chance! You may just get to know yourself and others a little bit better.
Linking DEI to Employee Engagement
Some readers have likely noticed that many of the elements discussed in this article directly mirror concepts from employee engagement. In fact, DEI is an important facet of engagement.
Here are some good reminders of best practices with respect to engagement, which also help to integrate principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Give your full attention. Yes, here we go again with active listening! Setting aside the phone, getting curious about other people, and inviting new information helps you solve business problems – sometimes, the “speed of business” is slowing down to better understand it.
- Notice the whole person and the full room. Most conversations are filled with body language, assumptions, and subtle objections and emotions. Listen beyond facts to the deeper context, and the guiding rules that may be holding the group back and limiting its potential
- Find the other participants’ unique perspectives and experience that can inform the discussion. Our experience shapes how we see the world. Respecting diversity is also listening for the sources of difference that provide an alternative perspective.
- Avoid interrupting people and moving to closure too quickly. Efficiency is not always the goal – and closure reached too soon is not closure if the door blows open in your face downstream. Part of respecting diversity is noticing and following the pace of others.
Next Steps: Building DEI-Related Skills
Employee engagement, communication, leadership, and emotional intelligence are all topics that can deepen your skills in the areas of DEI. Pryor’s more than 30 courses that are directly related to Diversity and Inclusion fall in categories such as Diversity in Hiring Practices, Unconscious Bias, Workplace Culture and Cultural Differences, and Discrimination Laws and Preventative Approaches
In addition to these, Pryor offers courses like Developing Emotional Intelligence and Communicating with Tact and Professionalism to continue building your listening and communications skills. We also have full video series on communication, conflict management, and active listening. Despite the complexities of diversity in the workplace, it all starts one conversation at a time – and anyone can actively include others. Let’s begin!