FEBRUARY 2, 2022

DEIB Can Be Uncomfortable

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility starting with leadership, but the tough reality is that people won’t come to it on their own. This work requires having uncomfortable conversations.

At OAIB, a lot of our work comes down to helping people become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Getting an entire organization on board requires a skilled DEIB practitioner willing to step into systematic practices, unconscious bias, or outright exclusion of people of color.

The best DEIB practitioners won’t pacify. We speak directly, but with understanding of all perspectives. We don’t blame, shame, or guilt people into believing, because we know that doubt is at the root of fear.

Only through starting and continuing conversations can we educate, raise awareness, and create psychological safe spaces for people to share what they really think and feel.

In those awkward, difficult, and honest conversations, blind spots are revealed. Hidden biases are uncovered. Uncomfortable conversations are where transformation happens.

Here are three things we can all do when approaching uncomfortable DEIB conversations.

3 Ways to Be OK With Being Uncomfortable

Does anyone really enjoy being uncomfortable? Probably not. Maybe that’s part of why we have so much miscommunication.

Keeping a mutual objective in mind can help with this process. For example, you may enter a conversation with the intention of helping Black employees freely share their experience without being dismissed, while helping White employees express their questions and concerns without fear of being called a racist.

  1. Be genuine and authentic – If you bring a hidden agenda into DEIB conversations, you will lose trust. People know when I work with an organization, I’ll say the same thing whether I’m behind closed doors or sitting with leaders.

  2. Say what others are thinking – Because people come from different backgrounds, and because we’re not taught or used to speaking about the impact of race on groups and individuals, you may have to translate what is being said, and validate.

    For example, you may have to say something like: “When you tell the group that you grew up in a small town and there was only one Black person in your school, what I’m hearing you say is that you actually don’t know what a Black person’s experience is like working in a predominantly White culture…Is that correct?” “Yes, this is correct.”

    We can’t presume to know what someone is thinking, which is why we validate. This creates a different environment than blame, shame, and calling out, rather than calling in.

  3. Keep dialogue open – Some people just need the tools to have respectful open dialogue. This starts with listening, and naming the behavior and its impact (rather than blaming or labeling the person). For example you may say: “I hear what you’re saying, but I just want you to hear how your words land for the other people you work with…” This works.

And finally, let’s all be more willing to apologize. Everyone is going to misstep, no matter the color of their skin or level of their training. If you do, just display humility and apologize. If you’re the offended party, be willing to accept the apology. This is how we grow.

The workplace is becoming more diverse and we all need to grow if we want to meet new challenges, get ahead of change, and thrive.