Sustaining Conversations About Diversity and Inclusion at Work was originally published on Idealist Careers.
A renewed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has shone a light on the importance of connecting with co-workers and creating a safe environment for open dialogue. And one way to proactively facilitate this dialogue is through book-club style discussion groups.
Discussing topics like implicit bias, systemic racism, intersectionality, and bystander intervention at work offers an opportunity to connect with co-workers, openly address workplace challenges, and create solutions together. The simplicity of these events usually mitigates administrative burdens and bureaucratic hurdles, and they only require a few people and a few hours of planning to get them off the ground.
Here is a simple guide to facilitating meaningful and intentional conversations about DEI at work.
Planning a diversity and inclusion discussion group
Think of this group as a flexible book club. Each session, the group reviews and discusses a short article, book chapter, or video.
Once you have selected a topic or resource, add a one-hour session to your shared calendar and invite co-workers. Share the resources beforehand so that people have time to read and digest the materials on their own, but mention that there will be time set aside at the beginning of the session for everyone to get up to speed. People may not have time to read an article or watch a video before the session but can still have the opportunity to participate.
Finding topics and articles to discuss
Here are some suggested resources, but feel free to crowdsource ideas and ask colleagues what topics they would be interested in exploring. The facilitator does not need to be an expert on the topic, but should feel comfortable asking questions and discussing the material.
- Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh
- So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
- NPR Code Switch podcast
- TED Talks on Diversity
- TED Talks on Race
- Harvard Business Review’s Racism at Work Reading List
Facilitating an open dialogue
Preparing discussion questions will help with facilitation and guiding the conversation, but ultimately, the objective is an open and honest back and forth. Some of these discussions can be challenging and sensitive, so start with ground rules or a community agreement to ensure a safe environment for people to learn and explore.
Here are some general discussion questions to help you get started. Tailor the questions to the topics and materials for a more fruitful discussion.
- What is something new you learned from this material?
- What biases of your own, if any, were revealed as you reviewed this material?
- How do you think this topic shows up in our workplace? Can you share any personal experiences that relate to this topic? Can you share any relevant situations that you have encountered at work?
- How have you responded to these types of issues? Can you share any examples of how these issues have been resolved? Can you share any examples of times your coworkers have responded in a productive and helpful way?
- What are the benefits of addressing and solving these issues? How does it benefit the workers and our workplace overall?
- What are some strategies and tactics for working together more productively? Who needs to be involved? How can we take action immediately? What are things we can work on longer term?
Sustaining DEI conversations
These conversations will often be met with enthusiasm and appetite for more and you may find that you need a team of people to distribute the work as well as to advocate for its importance across your organization. Here are ways to continue to expand and maintain your efforts:
- Crowdsource ideas at the end of each meeting or event. By asking for input from already engaged colleagues, you can lessen the burden of brainstorming and identifying new topics and resources as well as ensure that future events will resonate with others.
- Ask for volunteers at the end of each event. This is a great way to provide leadership opportunities to already engaged co-workers. You can continue to support the event, but someone new can volunteer to help with planning and facilitating for the next session. If no one volunteers, try reaching out individually to someone who was engaged during the session and ask if they would like to get more involved.
- Create a how-to guide to share with volunteers. Developing a brief document that describes how to plan this event is a helpful resource for new volunteers. Include your best practices for planning, finding resources, and facilitating discussion groups. Share this document with anyone who is interested in volunteering as a starting point for getting more involved.
- Connect with an existing diversity and inclusion group. Does your workplace already have a women’s group or BIPOC resource group? Attend their meetings to plan these events together or ask members if they would like to help plan future events. This step is crucial for contributing to an inclusive culture that brings in more voices and encourages collaboration.
- Create a team or committee. If employee resource groups do not already exist, look into creating a team or committee. This could start with even two to three engaged people meeting once a month to brainstorm and plan.
The goal with these discussions is to learn, grow, and actively participate in creating a more inclusive and equitable work environment. With the understanding that systemic change requires change on national, organizational, team, and individual levels, these discussions will help create a workplace culture of accountability and understanding.
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