Head of People Development and Mediation CMP
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Why companies need to open up the dialogue around diversity

2nd Apr 2019
Head of People Development and Mediation CMP
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staff holding hands
izusek/iStock
staff holding hands

Creating a workplace culture that is truly diverse is not about ticking the 'right' boxes, it requires a shift in the way organisations communicate with their staff, HR teams and new recruits.

Workplace diversity isn't about recruiting a bunch of people from different backgrounds. That's just a diversity of faces, and only leads to employees having to work harder to be accepted and fit into the company culture, leading to potential frustration and conflict.

What's needed is support for inclusion and for conversations in the workplace that support inclusion. We need more awareness of each situation - when we need to adapt a conversation to create more safety and self awareness - to recognise what’s happening in us, or what it is about us that could inhibit inclusion/safety in another person.

Thinking about neurodiversity - an acceptance that we all think differently (even if we might look the same from the outside) - is the new frontier for diversity and inclusion and a solid basis for moving forward and getting to the core issues of how people work together. 

Neurodiversity...is the new frontier for diversity and inclusion.

In practice that means training and development for staff in 'conversational intelligence’: having conversations in which we are curious about different views, experiences and approaches. Listening reflectively, empathising with different views and creating a sense of safety leads to inclusion. These core skills include: situational awareness, curiosity, reflective listening, empathy and self awareness.

Managers need to take the lead, establishing processes for better conversations that encourage inclusion and role modeling good practice.

1. Collaboration not compliance

Inclusive team-working happens when managers don’t rely on power and control. They don’t use tactics like charisma, authority and promises to motivate people and bolster their own position.

A coaching style, based on two-way conversations, supports the growth of motivation and commitment rather than setting limits based around hierarchy. Fundamentally, managers need to make mature decisions about when they need to use their authority, when it’s time for control and time for collaboration.

Managing open conversations - particularly when they are the kinds of difficult conversations needed to clear the air - are based around core attitudes of honesty, benevolence and courage.

2. Actively look for challenging conversations

It’s not just about avoiding conflict. Challenging conversations are good for business, encouraging new perspectives and innovation. They are also a basis for a better working environment, better self-awareness, more positivity and sense of motivation. 

It’s what accepting diversity is all about. Actively decide a conversation is needed - don’t be bounced into it by circumstances or in an emotional way. Plan what you want to accomplish: “what do I need to talk about?”, “what do I really want for myself, for them, for the relationship?”.Find a mutual purpose.

3. Don’t rely on assumptions

Instead of believing your individual experience means you already have the answers, ask exploratory questions and show a meaningful interest in what an employee thinks, believes, fears and wants. 

Not only is curiosity a really strong working relationship building tool, it also gives you more information which will help with problem solving. 

Recognise your version of events is composed of fact, fiction and assumptions, and try to separate what you know, what you believe, and what you are unsure of, before you open your mouth.

4. Get involved

People in groups mimic the behaviour of other people. If you’re tight-lipped and looking only to protect your position, they’ll do the same. So if there’s a problem, don’t make it just about them.

It’s usually very easy to see how the other person has contributed to the current difficulties – something they said or did. Harder to spot is our own role. Once we give up the belief that the other person is completely responsible, we can start to see how we’ve added to the confusion and miscommunication.

5. Do more of it

Workplace pressures, new routines and use of technology are all acting against the everyday flow of conversations. Businesses want action and efficiency without debate. But conversations only improve through being a natural and regular part of working lives, not as an event - being summoned to a meeting, or into a weekly team slot. Frequent, open and trusting conversations need to be part of the culture, encouraged and supported. 

6. Create a clear air’ culture

Rather than limiting or smoothing over differences, it’s important to encourage a grown-up environment where it’s accepted there are going to be differences. That’s what diversity and inclusion is about. 

Beyond the soft skills training itself, businesses can support the creation of their own ‘clear air’ culture by putting in place a basic framework: looking at what happens to complaints and performance issues and how they are actually handled - is there a level of consistency and options that helps avoid more formal problems and the potential for resolving matters at the most informal level possible?

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