Regulated conversations are important for employee inclusion.
Recent events have brought attention to the need for more integrative and comprehensive inclusion efforts in the workplace. Harvard Business Review reported that studies show that mandatory diversity training does little, if anything, to improve marginalized groups’ experiences at work. Rather than simply sending employees through diversity and inclusion programs and checking it off the list, business leaders recognize the need for pervasive changes, including regulated conversations. These conversations benefit employees who might have diverse experiences concerning race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability. However, inclusion does not stop there. Many people come from circumstances and backgrounds and experience life events such as mental illness or incarceration that their colleagues might not understand. Conversations that broaden empathy and understanding are advantageous to everyone—employees, managers, customers, and the community. Below are some ways to facilitate these conversations in a way that can allow positive change.
Build relationships of trust
Employees must feel valued as people and feel safe in their identity while building work relationships. If you suspect your workplace feels hostile, unfriendly, or unsupportive in any way, please consider ways to address morale before engaging in sensitive conversations around inclusion.
Leaders and HR professionals can identify where the company might have weaknesses, specifically in hiring and promoting, but in other areas. Look at the data for common patterns. Help people in influential positions recognize where and how they can improve.
Ask people what they need
Rather than relying on guesswork or stereotyping, business leaders can directly ask their employees what they think would be helpful measures to take in the work environment to promote inclusion.
Avoid putting the burden on minorities.
This goes beyond requesting input from those who may be struggling. Many employees who identify as part of a minority or marginalized group find themselves in the position of fixing issues without the support or acknowledgment of management and colleagues. These issues can be addressed by your company’s leadership proactively, rather than shifting the burden to those already at a disadvantage.
Separate discussions of discrimination from diversity and inclusion
Often people feel threatened by discussions of diversity and inclusion because personal beliefs and experiences can frame these discussions as accusations. Be careful not to combine discrimination, malicious or not, with efforts to educate your employees on inclusion.
Discuss, welcome, and celebrate different styles of communication
People communicate in different ways, and they can all be supported and understood when given the opportunity.
When people trust their employers and colleagues enough to share their difficult experiences, encourage listening for understanding and empathy. Rather than relying on scripts or lectures, or enabling competition or debate, allow difficult experiences and feelings to be shared. Welcome vulnerability, reward it by hearing and understanding, make changes where necessary, and make a genuine effort to create a better situation specific to the issues in your sphere of influence.
As we continue these challenging conversations in appropriate and helpful ways, businesses will thrive along with individuals and communities.