Gone are the days of companies setting up diversity training programs just to get diversity training. Business leaders who have read the room know that doing any kind of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program just to tick a box is ancient history.
In the short period of 2020 to the end of 2022, the world faced an onslaught of traumatic and passionate catalysts to take DEI to the next level, but not all organizations took the same approach. Many who have given time and money to DEI did it in a reactionary fashion. That didn’t make them ill-intentioned or wrong, but good diversity intentions have taken their toll in many workplaces. Being bombarded with reactionary programming left scars of negativity and a dislike for DEI in its wake.
Rushed and confrontational conversations undertaken with little preparation or resolution have rocked organizations. Leaders were thrown into storylines with no backing or support, struggling to carry through the heavy sessions and conversations that were bound to arise when such an emotional and personal topic is brought to the fore.
Now we are moving out of the reactive era into a proactive era. Leaders must be alert to the sensitivity and wide range of individual thoughts, ideas and experiences that will come into play when addressing DEI in the workplace. More importantly, they must leverage tools to avoid repeating previous missteps. There will always be rough waters, because this is real life. But by following the 7 Cs of Modern Diversity, you should be ready to take the helm, adjust the mast and trim your sails to sail smoothly in calmer waters.
1. Benevolence. A world without compassion, also known as empathy, breeds feelings of isolation, depression, and resentment, all of which increase conflict. This is exactly the opposite goal of those committed to celebrating diversity and evoking true inclusion. So how does compassion mitigate conflict? Well, it all starts with another “c” word: curiosity. True curiosity is being interested in others without a second thought. It requires putting the ego aside so you can understand the other’s point of view. It’s not an easy task, but it’s totally possible and it gets easier as we practice having compassion for each other.
2. Login. We connect with each other with every interaction, whether that connection begins with a phone call, an email, a handshake or a smile. The latter, unsurprisingly, is one of the best ways to connect with another human being. It is the universal invitation that says warmly: “I welcome you to my fold, my circle. A smile is the first action that creates a sense of belonging.
There are other ways to create a connection. Connections grow stronger when we shift attention from what makes us different to what we have in common. The reality is that despite what we see on TV or on social media, we actually have more in common than we don’t. But you have to create a connection to see that, and it takes some energy and effort to build and strengthen those connections.
3. Communications. If we were all honest with ourselves, we would wholeheartedly agree that communication is the key to overcoming all the division and polarization we see around us: learning to listen objectively, to express ourselves clearly and authentically, to respond responsibly and to be present. If we could master them, imagine the healthy, high-performing workplaces in which our employees would thrive.
It’s entirely possible to up your communication game by paying attention to how you present yourself in conversations. Carefully consider how you convey your thoughts and ideas and how you receive those of others. What tone of voice do you use? Do you let others share or cut them off to give your two cents? Do you listen and process or just react? Do you honor and use your voice to speak for yourself or for others? Communication requires more than someone talking and someone listening. Communication skills can be improved through awareness and practice.
4. Community. Community is when there is an established level of comfort with others so that ideas and communication can flow freely. In healthy communities, people thrive in their environment, their accomplishments are celebrated, and their failures become lessons for the future. Communities support members through good and bad experiences. There is a psychological safety which allows criticism and feedback that will usher in improvements in personal and professional development. When workplaces create that real sense of community, everyone can get to work and be celebrated for it.
5. Courage. It takes tremendous courage to pay attention to any of these 7 Cs. It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone, be honest, and strive to be a better person. It also takes courage to look beyond your personal likes, dislikes, biases and beliefs to hear someone else’s thoughts and ideas. Courage means feeling fear, discomfort, and unease, pushing those temporary emotions aside, and always showing up for the conversation, activity, meeting, or training. Courage means holding on to core values that are true to you and respecting the right of someone else to do the same.
6. Awareness. Another word for consciousness is awareness. When we are aware of something, we are connected. We see it with clarity, with focus, sometimes for the first time. When this happens, we see things in more detail and can recognize nuances and specifics. The same can be said for having an awakened conscience about a member of your team or community who has been shortchanged for a period of time. The lack of awareness was not a reflection of who you are as a person, but rather where you were before being introduced to a new way of seeing someone else and their experience.
7. Packaging. The key to any healthy connection with another person is understanding that we have been conditioned or programmed to relate to people since childhood. This conditioning shows up in how and what we think of people who are not like us. What have you been conditioned to think of police officers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, and people of different religions or ethnicities than yours? Some of these conditionings were positive and some were negative. When we recognize the conditioning, we come closer to rewriting this program.
Whether someone is in their infancy or a veteran of this journey, having tips for navigating the fog and confusion can help leaders and those investing in DEI avoid the very real pitfalls that could derail an entire organization. The 7 Cs are insights, reminders, and even nudges that leaders and their teams can intentionally incorporate workplace programs so that DEI is not seen as a chore or a burden, but as a welcome way to create a successful culture.