Authentic Team Conversations About Diversity
By Rafaela Reyes, Director of Client Organizational Effectiveness, Corporate College
After recent events, it seems everyone is talking about racial injustice on social media, at home and at work. The happenings were jarring and painful, leaving so many with feelings that are hard to put into words. It has caused us to reflect, to wonder if we too have biases and behaviors that are at times not in line with our values, without realizing it.
It is understandable that these strong emotions and feelings of unease transfer to the workplace, because we are human. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize that current events do impact the emotional state and performance of employees. As such, this could be a turning point to open employee communication, broaden our social awareness and gain a better understanding about the workplace experience of employees from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Understanding their experience can teach us how our behaviors can be triggers without us knowing. Once we understand, we can then self-manage, adjusting our behavior, creating more trust in our relationships.
But if you are like me, you may be hesitant about approaching the conversation and maybe even fearful of saying the wrong thing. You have good intentions, but do not have a complete understanding of diverse perspectives so that you can voice your questions. What can you do?
First, prepare yourself with knowledge. To broaden your perspective about abuses of power in the workplace regarding race, I suggest reading Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. Or you can take advantage of educational resources, such as those from Corporate College.
Prepare yourself as a leader to stand up and participate in the conversation. The Harvard Business Review article, “Getting Over Your Fear of Talking About Diversity,” recommends that leaders who want to promote trusting relationships and supportive workplaces become genuinely curious, and open to learning about diverse populations and their experiences. Seek to understand the challenges employees face and the behaviors that create a negative work environment for them.
Consider actively listening, asking candid questions such as:
- What role does race play in how you experience the workplace?
- What are the biggest barriers to your success and how can I help to remove them?
- Do you feel safe to contribute openly?
- How much of your time is spent on addressing exclusion or microaggressions against you or others?
- How can I amplify your voice and that of other underrepresented voices?
- What pronoun do you prefer?
Actively listen as employees share details about their experiences. Suspend judgement and adjust your talking/listening ratio. While conversing, you may make mistakes, but admit the mistake and apologize, thanking them for the corrections as it enables additional learning. For a deeper understanding, reflect upon the conversation afterwards.
As a result of these conversations, many employees will feel seen and respected. Keep in mind, some may feel triggered due to their experience with marginalization, so allow participants to decide whether they want to participate in the conversation. However, by launching these team conversations, leaders send a powerful message that they are allies, resulting in a more respectful and inclusive environment.