What Does It Mean to Lead DEI Conversations at Work?

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

So you’ve just joined your company’s DEI committee or signed up to lead an employee resource group (ERG), and though you’re excited to start doing the work to advance DEI at your workplace, you may be experiencing a bit of trepidation. How do I participate in hard conversations about race and equity? What do I even know about inclusion and how to foster belonging? What do I say when someone reports experiencing a microaggression? 

First things first, friend, BREATHE

All of these are natural questions that arise when people engage with DEI initiatives that require them to have potentially challenging conversations. But what does it mean to lead DEI conversations? At its core, leading DEI conversations involves creating spaces where employees feel safe to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion topics. It means fostering an environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds feel heard, understood, and valued for their unique perspectives and experiences. One of the fundamental aspects of leading DEI conversations is cultivating empathy. You have to be able to actively listen to the experiences and concerns of others, acknowledging and validating their perspectives. By demonstrating empathy and understanding, you can create a sense of psychological safety that encourages individuals to speak up without fear of judgment. How do you do that?

Be the Anchor, Not the Captain
Leading DEI conversations isn’t about dominating the conversation. Your role is to create a safe space for other voices to be heard. Work on active listening, asking open-ended questions, and encouraging respectful dialogue. 

Check Your Biases
We all have them, but they can cloud our judgment. Notice, name, and actively reflect on your own biases and how they might influence your understanding of others’ experiences. Be open to feedback and willing to adjust your perspective.

Amplify Marginalized Voices
Don’t speak over others, especially those from marginalized groups. Encourage them to share their experiences and perspectives and actively listen without judgment. When you can, assess and utilize your own privilege to amplify the voices of those who are often overlooked.

Facilitate, Don’t Fix
This is often easier said than done but resist the urge to jump in to solve every problem raised in the conversation. Instead, guide the discussion towards solutions that everyone can contribute to. 

Lead by Example
Your actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate your commitment to DEI through everyday interactions, decision-making, and behavior. Be an advocate for inclusivity in all aspects of your work, not just when you’re with the committee or ERG.

Be Prepared for Resistance
Not everyone will readily embrace DEI wholeheartedly. Be prepared to counter misinformation, address resistance respectfully, and offer clear explanations for the importance of these conversations. Learn how to call folks in (or out) when they say or do something problematic, understanding that it may be uncomfortable but necessary.

Embrace Discomfort
Difficult conversations are inevitable – don’t shy away from them! Acknowledge and name the discomfort, validate your feelings, and encourage everyone to learn from different perspectives. Remember: growth often lies outside our comfort zones.

Be a Continuous Learner
DEI is a lifelong journey. Stay updated on current events, research, and best practices. Seek out diverse perspectives and be open to learning new things, even (or especially) if they challenge your existing beliefs.

Celebrate Progress, Big and Small
Change takes time, so acknowledge and celebrate every step forward, no matter how small. Recognizing progress keeps everyone motivated and reinforces the importance of continuous effort.