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Mary-Frances Winters

The Winters Group

President & Chief Executive Officer

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Diversity and inclusion: how to have bold inclusive conversations in the workplace

Becoming more inclusive means tackling challenging conversations head-on.

Traditionally, conversations about race, religion, or politics have been taboo in the workplace. In 2017, I wrote We Can’t Talk About that At Work!: How to Talk About Race, Religion, Politics and Other Polarizing Topics in response to our rapidly changing socio-political environment. Companies were finding that they needed to respond to what was going on outside the walls of their organisations but didn’t know how to discuss heretofore taboo topics. Engaging in these conversations is important because it impacts engagement, productivity, and retention.

Too many of us minimise the challenges in engaging in these conversations. We think that all that is required is positive intent, but it takes much more than good intentions.

The model for bold, inclusive conversations provides a blueprint for developing the skills to prepare for, facilitate, and engage in cross-cultural dialogue about polarising topics. The prerequisites to engage in bold, inclusive conversations, include:

  • Fostering self and other understanding by  examining our culture, biases and worldviews.
  • Assessing organisational and individual readiness by gauging factors like trust and exposure to difference.
  • Preparing for the conversation by understanding the who, what, where and why of the dialogue.
  • Practicing behaviours that support finding common ground, and continuing to practice inclusive habits that support cross-cultural effectiveness.

Another core aspect of the model is the emphasis on reflection and ongoing learning – something that is often overlooked in our attempts at dialogue, especially about polarising topics. Without these necessary skills, you will not be able to get to the deep conversations where shifts in worldviews are possible.  

Executive officers, employees, and educators alike have all begun to use this model to increase their knowledge and capacity for engaging in and creating brave spaces for bold, inclusive conversations. Organisations are beginning to embrace the idea of employees ‘bringing their whole-selves to work’, because it enhances engagement and innovation.  

Eight conditions for engaging in challenging conversations

In July I will be releasing my newest book Inclusive Conversations: Fostering Equity, Empathy, and Belonging Across Differences, where I build upon the work around bold, inclusive conversations. These conversations are not limited to those around race, religion or politics, but also include those common conversations in the workplace that can influence our experiences, for example, performance management or feedback discussions. These conversations can be particularly difficult across differences.

Too many of us minimise the challenges in engaging in these conversations. We think that all that is required is positive intent, but it takes much more than good intentions. Throughout the book I offer eight important conditions including:

  1. Commitment
    Inclusion will not happen without our collective commitment to eradicate persisting inequities. Anything we are committed to takes time and effort.
  2. Cultural competence
    There are specific skills and abilities that are required for inclusive conversations. Cultural competence can be defined as a continuous learning process to gain knowledge, skills and understanding to discern cultural difference in our own and other cultures.
  3. Brave and psychologically safe spaces
    I recommend that we create brave spaces so that people feel safe in conversations.
  4. Understanding Equity and Power
    Equity is the treatment of people according to what they deserve with an underlying assumption that some groups may have historically been denied what they deserve, due to entrenched systems of inequality.  Inclusive conversations much consider equity and power dynamics.
  5. Ability to face fear and fragility
    We are afraid of talking about diversity and inclusion topics because we might get it wrong and we will not be forgiven. Fear can lead to the more serious manifestation of trauma. Acknowledging and understanding our fears is an all-important step in engaging in inclusive conversations.
  6. Grace and forgiveness
    Unless we are willing to forgive at the individual, interpersonal and systems level for wrongs that we have endured, inclusive conversations will get little traction. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget the transgression. Grace is related to forgiveness. It is unearned consideration.
  7. Trust
    Building trust across different dimensions of diversity is complex. Contributing to the lack of trust for historically subordinated groups is a history of inhumane treatment.
  8. Belonging and inclusion
    Belonging has been described as workers feeling secure, supported, accepted, and included. Inclusion and belonging go hand in hand. Inclusion is the intersection of belonging and where a person feels appreciated for their uniqueness.  

The purpose is not to gain cross cultural understanding with one conversation, but instead practice having these conversations, as if they were any other skill, until inclusive behaviour becomes natural. My challenge to you all is to set your mind towards actualisation and make inclusivity your everyday reality, whether it is in the workplace or community.

It’s about committing to knowing, getting, and doing better than we did yesterday, keeping in mind that our commitment to live inclusively is a journey, not a destination.

You can take the pledge to Live Inclusively®, here.

Interested in this topic? Read Diversity and inclusion: Waking up to your privilege to help tackle unconscious bias.

One Response

  1. I wonder why should we talk
    I wonder why should we talk about religion or race at work and how it helps anyone to reach company goals? To me talking about them is completely off-topic. I don’t label people by race, religion or anything else. The only thing that counts is their skills.

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Mary-Frances Winters

President & Chief Executive Officer

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