A while ago, I talked about the importance of transparency when it comes to diversity initiatives and focusing disproportionately on communication. Easier said than done, I know. After spending an entire lifetime avoiding difficult conversations around differences, it is only natural that discussions around diversity make us uncomfortable. After all, no one ever trained us on what we can say and what we can’t.
Given the sensitivities around the topic, it is often safer to stay mum than say a word. However, given that continued avoidance is no longer an option, let’s take a look at what should we talk about when we talk about diversity and how.
Start by answering the most obvious question. Why is the focus on diversity essential? It is important that you have the answer on your fingertips. Spend time on putting together a convincing answer in place; one that you believe in. Try straying away from vague sentences and dig deeper. Specificity is your friend.
Go as far as to collect useful diversity facts and store them in memory. Once you have built a convincing answer, it is time to share it. However, facts can only get you so far. Make the message resonate by coupling facts with experiences. Encourage people to share experiences and talk about how it made them feel.
Stories can surprise and evoke change. You will be surprised to realize how the smallest of actions can make the biggest impact. Also, spend time talking about the filters ingrained in human beings as a factor of their environment and how one can begin to recognize them.
Now that we’ve glossed over the what, let’s take a look at how. There are many ways to get facts and experiences out to everyone in the organization. Begin by using the easiest channels – the intranet, posters, and newsletters. Then begin to incorporate bits and pieces into meetings.
Find fun ways to talk about diversity. How about creating a “Diversity Mixtape” challenge? Ask employees to use songs to convey their emotions around diversity. You could also host a 21-day inclusion challenge where you send out one email a day for 21-days to all participants on various videos, articles, snippets related to diversity & inclusion. Challenges are a fun way to increase awareness and focus on the ‘why’.
What is the organization doing about it?
Now that you’ve shared why a focus on diversity is essential, it is time to let people know what you are doing about it. This is a good time to share details on the variety of initiatives that you have running in the organization. Post the details, anticipated FAQs on the intranet, and while you are at it, include a few e-mail ID's where the curious ones can reach out to in case of any questions.
When it comes to talking about what your organization is doing/planning to do, no amount of communication is ‘too much’. It is a good idea to proactively tackle any questions that may come your way. Hold open houses to get your leaders to talk about this. Encourage people to reach out and voice their opinion.
One question you will definitely be asked is why some aspects of diversity are focused on more than the others. For e.g. if most of your focus is on gender diversity, why is differently abled not getting similar attention? Have these answers ready. It is possible that these be the current areas of focus as they are visible markers or easier to achieve than the others. Maybe it is a phased plan and others are in the pipeline. Whatever the reason, be willing to share.
How can they contribute?
It is equally important to address this question, as it is to address the ones above. Often many want to contribute to creating a diverse and inclusive environment but don’t know where to start. It is our job to make it easy for them.
Encourage your employees to attend trainings that you may have around inclusivity and unconscious bias. Have them talk about their experiences and encourage them to be inquisitive. Make it easy to establish talking circles or create one and ask for participation. Leverage them to spread awareness on the importance of a diverse environment. Maybe even ask them to come up with ideas.
If you are working on diversity initiatives, get them involved. No initiative would go far without them. If you're looking for gender-balanced interview panels - ask them to nominate themselves as interviewers. Hiring differently-abled candidates, ask them to attend training on how to be sensitive and action on learnings.
What is important is to keep the conversation going and ensure that it is a two-way dialogue. Everything related to diversity should be accessible by those who want to know. The good part is that there is no such thing as too much talk about diversity. Not yet. Yes, there will come a day when people will tire of hearing about it. That day will arrive faster if talk doesn’t translate into action. However, we’re still a long way from there.
The only ones who are tired of all the talk about diversity are those who believe it isn’t being done right. Talk to them. Open and honest conversations are the need of the hour and hopefully, this will help you get started. Go on. What holds you back now?
Ankita Poddar is an HR professional based out of India. Identified as one of the emerging young HR leaders in India in 2016, Ankita's experience as an HR Business Partner gives her the opportunity to work closely with business leaders, innovate and execute on the behalf of customers especially in areas of people analytics, employee engagement, rewards and recognition and performance management.