It’s not easy.

As leaders, we trained and rose in an environment where work came first.

Family matters were kept strictly out of the workplace. More so if you were a woman. Mental health was certainly not a boardroom topic.

But thanks to COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement, the world has taken what was a slow drift towards a better way of working, and collided it with another landmass altogether.

DEI. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Not an easy topic.

And it’s really no surprise that the old way of training (think video clips, Q&A, and classroom discussions) just isn’t cutting it.

Without leaders taking the initiative, DEI will merely end up as another popular acronym, rather than a pathway towards a better workplace culture.

Leaders, Get Talking about DEI Learning

Today, 42% of U.S. managers are preparing to have meaningful conversations with their teams on sensitive topics, including gender equality, LGBTQ+ and racism in the workplace.

And if you, like me, believe that good intentions alone aren’t enough, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve listed some of the ways in which you as a leader or manager can talk about DEI learning, with your team.

1. Share your own Stories, Including the Pitfalls

As a leader, your past experience can be an invaluable tool to showcase your growth and your team to open up about their own negative experiences. Talk about the failures, the disappointments, the times when your manager made you feel incompetent because you put your family first.

By uncovering these uncomfortable moments in your past, you help your team members examine their own feelings and experiences in turn.

2. Talk about Equity versus Equality

We often make the biggest communication blunders by assuming everyone on the same page. Knowing the difference between equity and equality may seem basic. But can you say for certain every team member has given it thought? It is important that your team approaches their DEI learning from the same point. By communicating the concept of equity yourself, (rather than leaving it to a trainer or HR leader), you emphasise to your team that your own beliefs aren’t based on bias.

3. Use the Data to Describe the Current State

Know your numbers before you initiate any conversation. Addressing points of improvement (as opposed to problem solving) is more likely to get DEI issues truly heard. Data can help you show where the company is at, so you can explain to your team where you want the company to be.

People will need to understand and accept that even the most positive workplace has scope for improvement. By initiating a conversation on how to improve metrics, you can initiate a trickle-down effect on the changes that need to take place.

4. Create and Emphasize Safe Spaces for Learning and Disclosure

Ever notice when a contrary opinion is voiced, people glance at the leader to gauge their reaction?

This is a natural reaction in a hierarchy, which is the state any business operates. Team members need to be assured they will not be penalized for voicing unpopular opinions. And to achieve that, you need to ensure they have the power to speak without fear of judgement or retaliation.

As a leader, it is your job to ensure that safe space exists.

5. Acknowledge Differences of Opinion and Experience

People handle conflict in various ways. Some hold grudges. Some move on. Some refuse to discuss points of contention that make them uncomfortable.

As a leader, you have witnessed various differences in opinion being played out. It’s again important to talk about how differences can coexist without negativity. Acknowledge that in any group of intelligent people, differences will arise. What’s important, is to accept that having a difference is not a bad thing. And differences, can, at times lead to something bigger.

For this you may need to rely upon your own experiences, or use examples when your team didn’t always agree with each other, but worked together regardless. Were the results good? Did negativity impact the end result?

6. Encourage Dialogue Over Silence

It’s actually harder to get the non-contentious people to open up. I used to be guilty of this. I would take all measures to avoid conflict rather than “talk it out”.

But this doesn’t work for leaders, and it doesn’t work for DEI workforce learning. Dialogue brings out the issues, while silence hides them. As a leader it is important that dialogue exists so that there is scope to improve. Without discussion the status quo remains, and issues stagnate.

7. Address Unconscious Bias

“You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, JV jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don't eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet and the worst.” This line from the movie Mean Girls, has the lead student classifying and categorizing everyone in the cafeteria.

We organize our worlds by a tendency to categorize. It’s not surprising therefore for unconscious bias to exist within us. What is unconscious bias? These are beliefs that we hold about social and identity groups, which we sometimes aren’t even aware that we have.

Leaders who recognize the existence of these unconscious biases, can take steps to help their team members do so as well.

8. Turn Good Intentions into Reality

Knowing that you want to make a change is a step short from making the change. By knowing the goals, leaders can initiate the steps that lead to a more inclusive, and diverse working environment. It’s important to recognize that even good intentions can fall short without an implementation plan.

Leaders can initiate active change by working with experienced trainers to create DEI learning experiences that help teams learn what they can do, to move their intentions to action.

9. Take the First Step

In any group dynamic, change often begins with the leaders. It is therefore your responsibility to explore the changes that must be made to bring about lasting, real change.

It’s not easy.

But taking that first step to support equity and diversity is crucial to the wellbeing of your team. Your business will be able attract better talent and in turn, stay competitive. But only if you take that first step.

If you’d like to talk about how your initiatives as a leader can help bring about a DEI learning experience that accelerates business performance, write to me.

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