So, you’ve been asked to lead or participate on a diversity and inclusion team, committee or council. Here are 10 tips and strategies to use to ensure a high impact experience and results.
1| Treat diversity and inclusion as a strategic issue.
Approach diversity and inclusion (D&I) as you would any other strategic issue or challenge. The team must use the same tools and approaches to analyze options, create strategy, develop solutions, gain competitive advantage and measure results. Before the end of an inclusion-themed meeting or discussion, ask each participant to reflect and respond to the question “how will this work improve internal or external outcomes?" Remember, feeling better and more included can result in better attitudes, improved workplace relations, and more willingness to stay with the organization through tough times.
2| Establish the mindset that "Inclusion is a Journey."
Clearly define the destination by establishing a definition of inclusion, an inclusive culture and inclusive leadership. Recognize that your organization is not the first to travel this road so take advantage of well researched models, tools and processes for creating inclusion. Use a simple 5-phase model– intolerance, tolerance, awareness, understanding, valuing - as a starting point for mapping your inclusion journey. Adapt the language to fit your organization’s communication needs and preferences. Lastly, recognize that journeys are seldom traveled in a straight line. Give people the flexibility to progress at their own pace and realize that it is possible for the same person to be accepting and inclusive of one aspect of diversity while being indifferent or intolerant of another.
3| Cultivate a learning environment.
Meet people where they are at and consistently push them to take the next step. Ensure that every team meeting includes a 5-15 minute Inclusion Learning Moment (ILM). Share the responsibility for learning among team members by establishing a schedule of D&I topics and allowing team members to select a topic and meeting time.
4| Let others speak first.
This approach is simple to understand and yet complicated and challenging to implement. First, do the math! If the team includes 5 people each person should only speak first 20% of the time; but many people (unconsciously!!) use the 50/50 calculation – wherein they “let others speak first half the time” -- that’s more than double their allotted time. More importantly, letting some others speak first may require becoming comfortable with silence. Those who are more introverted as well as those who may be more analytical and detailed will likely require a little quiet time before jumping into the conversation.
5| Lean into discomfort.
By definition diverse teams include differences in individual and cultural perspectives, opinions. This requires becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable can be an indication of an individual or organizational unintended or unconscious bias. When addressing discomfort, leaders and teams must resist the temptation to reach consensus. Agreeing to disagree is acceptable as long as the group agrees on how to make a final decision and move forward.
6| Assume positive intent.
Everyone is on a learning journey and people will unknowingly say something that may be interpreted negatively by someone else. Including others who are different can be hard work for some.
7| Be PC. Respond to bias with B.I.A.S.
Be PC -- POLITE & CANDID when someone makes a statement or comment that is unconsciously or consciously biased. Remaining silent may give others the impression that you agree or that the behavior is tolerated. Have your team adopt this simple approach.
- Be ready and use a simple statement or open ended question "Why do you say that?"
Identify the behavior. Avoid labeling or loaded terms. Repeat what was said in the form of a question “Are you saying that all women are less qualified than men for this position?”
Appeal to principles by broadening the issue to universal values. “You’ve always been fair minded. I’m surprised to hear you say that there are no women who can do this work.”
Set limits. Recognize that you cannot require someone to change their opinion or bias, but you can state what is acceptable and unacceptable. “Having a diverse slate that includes women, is a requirement. We need to keep searching until that requirement is satisfied.”
8| Insist on keeping commitments and promptly address non-performance.
Do not allow being inclusive to include non-performance! The D&I team or committee must be a high performance team. Inclusive leaders must balance acknowledging and responding to different work styles, communication preferences and personal situations with the need to accomplish individual and team goals.
9| Encourage and recognize small wins.
D&I advancement is not a linear function, where each increment of input as a direct and equal corresponding output. D&I change and progress behaves more like a learning curve. Initial input by individuals and groups will be significant and there may be no noticeable change or improvement. The D&I team leader and members must continually recognize and celebrate the effort and investment. Eventually, support, knowledge and understanding of D&I will reach a critical mass and visible results will occur more quickly.
10| Allow yourself and others to have fun.
Ultimately, inclusion is the essential behavior that makes diversity work. It is about acknowledging and respecting differences and creating an environment to trust, challenge and speak candidly. In a truly inclusive environment, we bring our whole self to work and have the potential to create lasting and meaningful relationships that allow us to experience a full range of human experiences and emotions – including fun!