Over the last year, and especially in the last few weeks, discussions on race, ethnicity, #METOO, LGBTQ, religion, gender equity and the like have been catapulted to prominence. Just take a look at this year’s Super Bowl (American Football Championship game) where the conversation was quite evident. Regardless of what you believe personally, corporate leaders are paying closer attention to diversity and inclusion and how it plays out in the workplace and in their bottom line.
Since the year began, I have conducted a number of diversity and inclusion awareness sessions with leaders in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. My motto when conducting these sessions is to simply meet people where they are. Rarely do I have participants enthusiastic about the topic; instead, they enter apprehensive, dismissive, curious, and even quietly combative.
My goal in these sessions is to open the minds of the attendees and challenge their thinking from the edge of their comfort zone. At the heart of these discussions is an underlying sense of fear of losing the status quo and of the unknown, anger from past and current injustices, and a hope that their organization can truly harness the power of an inclusive workforce. I seek to understand their journey and at the same time give them a bird’s eye view of the journey of the people on their teams, the colleagues they collaborate with daily, the leaders that control the helm of their organization and our larger global community.
Uncomfortable? Yes, most definitely, because we are at a time when it can seem impossible to disagree in a civil manner. The goal is to create a safe environment where the uncomfortable questions can be asked, where attendees can speak of the reality of the organization’s successes and areas that need improvement but walk away feeling empowered to make incremental changes that create the momentum that globally competitive organizations possess.
None of this happens without leadership buy-in who invest their time, talent, and treasures. Difficult conversations are possible when the leaders decide that diversity and inclusion must be woven into the fabric of the organization, be a part of their business objectives and not be treated as the occasional celebration or conciliatory program.
Karen Hinds is a leadership and diversity and inclusion expert. She used her experience in building talent pipelines for financial services companies to launch her company over 20 years ago. Workplace Success Group is a strategic, talent development firm that works with organizations to cultivate and retain their next generation of leaders.