Diversity and inclusion are important issues that need total buy-in from your whole team. This can often mean having difficult conversations about tricky topics. Managers often have to walk a delicate line, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to express themselves and feel heard while also ensuring that their workplace remains a safe and welcoming environment.
Starting this kind of conversation might be difficult, but it can and should be done. This article will give you some ideas about how to talk about diversity and inclusion and some of the most important talking points to include.
How to talk about diversity and inclusion
Conversations about diversity and inclusion are essential. However much we might worry about saying the wrong thing, you can’t let that discomfort stop you from having the discussion in the first place.
Approaching these kinds of conversations with a sense of humility and being willing to learn is uncomfortable, but feeling uncertain is a sign that you’re listening and learning. Accepting your discomfort is the first step to improving diversity and inclusion within your team.
Set guidelines for the conversations
Conversations around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) can’t devolve into a free-for-all. Everyone should feel able to share their experiences and concerns. As a team leader, it’s essential to set the guidelines and parameters for these conversations.
Discuss appropriate language
Your first task is ensuring that conversations around diversity remain civil. You might trust your team to have a positive response to your efforts to increase diversity, but a single misstep can be catastrophic for team cohesion and morale. Explain your expectations around language and terminology, and ensure that everyone adheres to these guidelines.
Create a safe space for your discussion
Your next priority is to make sure that your team feel able to express themselves freely. Team members need to know that they can express their thoughts and feelings without being judged. But you also need to differentiate between being judged and being held accountable.
Encourage team members to ask questions about their concerns, but discourage generalisations about particular groups of people.
Engage all team members
Avoid letting one or two people monopolise the conversation. Many teams may have an unofficial spokesperson, but it’s important to hear from your whole team, not just the loudest voices. Some people will feel more comfortable asking questions or raising concerns anonymously, so consider offering a range of different strategies to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak up.
Focus on listening
These conversations are an opportunity for you to learn about DEI issues and build support for your endeavours within your teams. To learn and understand, you need to be listening to what your team tells you.
Listening is essential, but it can be almost as important to show your teams that you are paying attention and care about what they have to say. Here are some active listening strategies to let your team feel heard:
- Paraphrase what someone has just said. “So what I’m hearing is…”
- Ask specific questions about what they’ve just said. “Ok, so how would you feel if…?”
- Keep eye contact when people are talking
- Thank team members for their contribution
Offer real choices
No one likes being patronised or being offered false choices. If you are offering your team members a choice about moving forward, make sure that you are willing to abide by their decisions.
If you want your team members to feel included in the decision-making and to have a sense of investment in your DEI efforts, make sure that what they tell you has a real impact on what you do and how you go about it.
Just like you need to show your team members that you are listening, you also need to let them know how they have influenced events. Take the time to tell your team what you have learned from their comments and what measures you have taken to alleviate their concerns and minimise adverse outcomes.
Do your research
Although team members need to have some meaningful choices, there will also be times when you already know what actions you will take. If you present your team with a decision you have already made, make sure that you have plenty of data to back up your decision.
Giving team members access to the information you used to make your decision can be highly persuasive. It’s also a great way to show your respect for your team. Showing your evidence tells your employees that you want them to really understand and buy into the way forward, and you’re willing to do the work to convince them. If you feel like a diversity and inclusion novice, check out our intro to the key pillars that you need to understand.
Four diversity and inclusion talking points to get you started
Having some important talking points and questions can help you feel more comfortable in your role facilitating diversity and inclusion conversations. Let’s look at some of the most important talking points to encourage your team members to consider diversity and inclusion topics.
1. What would our organisation look like if it were more diverse and inclusive?
This question encourages your team members to think about how it would feel to work in a diverse and inclusive environment. It can also help team members identify which groups are underrepresented and what would change if you had input from a more representative group.
2. Where do we need to improve most?
Asking questions about where you need to improve makes space for team members to be open about difficulties they have faced. Asking where you need to improve most is particularly powerful, as it demonstrates that you recognise the scale of improvements that would be beneficial.
3. How can we foster an open, communicative environment for our employees?
Employees will often feel uncomfortable if you ask them where the company is going wrong. They may be reluctant to offer criticism openly. Asking how to create the kind of workplace and culture you want allows them to positively and constructively present that information.
4. What tangible goals do we have as an organisation around diversity & inclusion? Who is responsible for making sure we meet those goals?
This question serves two purposes. If you have a diversity and inclusion policy, asking team members what it is and who is responsible can provide valuable information about disseminating this information across your organisation. After all, a DEI policy that only reaches senior management will have little impact.
If you don’t have a DEI policy, this question offers you an ideal opportunity to provide your team members with some of those meaningful choices we discussed earlier. Employees involved in drafting your diversity policy are likely to be more active in supporting and furthering that policy.