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DEI is "Everyone Work"

I often assert the idea that DEI is “everyone work”.

It is the work of every person in an organization to understand and practice the behaviors that reflect a reality of commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. While systemic changes needed to address lack of equity in systems will be primarily in control of leadership, there are many actions that every employee can take to ensure greater inclusion and belonging for one another. These are behaviors that will enhance and promote diversity and allow delivery on the promise of DEI within organizations.

Throughout my career, I’ve observed the tension that happens between embedded DEI teams and their (often) HR counterparts where DEI leaders point fingers at Talent Acquisition leaders and vice versa. Hiring Managers often assert that “of course they support DEI, and if the recruiters would ‘find diverse talent,’ of course they’d hire ‘them’.” First, stop saying that, leaders. Yuck. Second, when I advocate for DEI, this is not the work I’m advocating for. Do we need to ensure we’re reaching beyond the bounds of where we’ve historically and traditionally sought talent, in many cases, especially predominantly white homogenous businesses? Yes. Do we need to examine the criteria and words we’re using to evaluate and select talent? Absolutely. Do these assertions challenge you? We can talk about these ideas in another post, but for today, I want to talk about the everyday things we can do to be more intentionally inclusive as individuals.

The reality is: As humans, communicators, coworkers, participators, idea sharers (and so on), if we’re not being intentionally inclusive, we’re likely being unintentionally exclusive.

When I’m sharing an idea, or asking a question, or having a conversation, I hate being ignored, interrupted and misunderstood. I hate having my ideas co-opted and claimed as someone else’s, or changed into something unrecognizable without acknowledgement…. and these things happen in dynamic conversation. As much as I hate being interrupted, sometimes - especially when I’m excited - I’m totally guilty of interrupting others. It’s one of my most annoying traits (self-diagnosed, and likely confirmed by those who love me most).

That said, I also work super hard to be inclusive because sharing the air in the room is extremely important to me. Here are some things I attempt to do when I am at my best in sharing space and ideas with others that you can try:

Check myself

I try to pay attention to how much I am “leaning in” versus “leaning out.” If I catch myself commenting on everything others say or taking up more than my fair share of air and space in the room, I practice leaning back, listening more and centering the perspectives and experiences of others. This might look like:

  • Practicing tolerating silence and not feeling drawn to fill it. Silence often enables the quieter processors in the room the space to share

  • (internal dialogue): I’ve been talking a lot, and we’ve not heard from xyz persons in the room. How might I pull them into the conversation?

  • Asking questions: “I’d love to hear from others on this topic “What am I missing?” “What’s coming up for others?”

Practice curiosity

Along with asking questions, appropriate and not intrusive ones, must come the commitment to hearing the answer as well as the commitment to challenging ourselves to dig deeper into hearing and listening especially when that answer challenges us. This might look like:

  • Asking questions and listening and actually being interested in hearing the answers

  • Seek to understand more instead of disagreeing when someone’s perspective challenges.

    • Say, “tell me more about that?” or “That perspective challenges me, can you help me understand?”

  • Do your own work. Challenged by an idea? Say “I need to learn more about that, may I have time to do so?” Then go read up. The internet is a wonderful resource and lots of people have published works who want to be your teacher. Don’t expect your friends and colleagues to do the labor of teaching you without their consent.

  • Avoiding asking questions to feign interest in others or to demonstrate knowledge on a topic or guide to my preferred answer

  • A significant percentage of communication is non-verbal. Pay attention to body language. Are they engaged with open and interested body language? Are you shutting others down by being overbearing? Are they closing their body, do their feet look like they want to walk away from rather than to you? Are they opening and closing their mouth like a fish every time they start to say something and are interrupted? Be curious even about that : “I noticed your body language changed, can you share with me what just happened?” or “Oh, maybe that comment brought something up for you, let me pause - can I hear from you?”

Ask better questions and call people into conversation, accept when they pass

A natural follow on to curiosity is about asking better questions. In addition to some of the above, these questions create intentional space and inclusion for those who are quieter in the conversation. Applicable in both group and 1:1 conversations, this might look like:

  • Can we hear from someone who hasn’t yet had an opportunity to share?

  • Who haven’t we heard from yet?

  • What perspectives might be missing here?

  • Who else do we need to talk to about this who may not be in the room?

  • (call in person), we’ve not heard from you yet, and I am really curious what’s coming up for you. No worries if you’re not ready to share, I just wanted to create space to ensure you could get into the conversation.” This is especially essential in dynamic conversations when some people are in-person and others are remote to ask of those that are remote – it’s hard to jump into dynamic conversations for processors, introverts and people not in the room, limited by inability to read body language.

    • Be sure to accept their pass if they aren’t ready to share. “No worries, please jump in if something comes up, or feel free to share it if it comes up later”

Pay attention to power dynamics

Hierarchy is challenging to navigate and we all have different relationships and expectations with power. Some of us deeply value hierarchy and defer to leaders, others have a more egalitarian “everyone is important” style. These differences can create communication challenges. When we are making an effort to be intentionally inclusive, we must pay attention to how these dynamics impact sharing. This might look like:

  • Notice when members of dominant groups are overshadowing or over-talking or interrupting less dominant group members’ participation

  • If someone else is an interrupter, be an advocate. Invite a person who has been cut off to share “Friend, I noticed you weren’t able to complete your thought, I’d like to hear, please” .. or to the interruptor : “Just a moment, can we wait to hear (person’s) thought, first before you jump in?”

  • Leaders speak last in decision making rather than asserting their position and influencing the group. This is true of those with positional authority and those who bear a lot of influence among the group.

  • Pay attention to how real and perceived power is impacting participation. For established groups with leader/facilitator engagement consider setting agreements for participation:

    • Everyone’s perspective is important here, and as such leaders will speak after we’ve heard from everyone else.

    • Those with louder voices are encouraged to monitor their participation and create space for quieter participants.

At the end of the day, we all want to feel like we’re a part of the communities in which we exist. We want to feel like we can share our ideas and be heard. We want to feel valued. While communication is but one part of creating an environment that welcomes and values others, it is one very important part that we do every day - with varying success.

While there are many things to consider above, the idea is that we continually strive to improve our skills, not that we are perfect. So lean into practice over perfection and becoming a better, more inclusive communicator with each conversation you encounter… and let me know in the comments how that’s going for you.

Until next time. I wish you well.


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