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The good news is that most people believe in the value of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace — yet the minority, although vocal, is roughly 20% of the workforce. For these DEI skeptics, we recommend a three-pronged approach:
- First, learn more about their story and what is holding them back.
- Ask for their engagement directly.
- Offer up a specific way they can show support and hold them accountable.
Learn more about their story and what is holding them back
Overwhelming people with facts and figures is tempting, but often not helpful in changing perspectives. Instead, meet skeptics where they’re at. Give them time to process their fears, concerns and ideas. This can be helpful information for allies that want to better understand the challenges of DEI work. Chances are some other concerns could be valid. As with any line of work, there are always pros and cons and paradoxes that are more often in between.
We’re all a product of our lived experiences. It’s hard for people to take on a perspective that they themselves don’t share. This is why storytelling is so powerful as allies. Asking questions to learn about people’s upbringing, caregiving roles they experienced at home and exposure to other races and cultures growing up is key. People’s socioeconomic class has a significant tie to our perceptions as adults. For example, many lower-class white people share the belief in the myth of meritocracy — meaning hard work pays off. Yet, when you compare notes with people of color, they are unique challenges they often face due to the intersections of racism and classism.
To reach a DEI skeptic, consider asking these questions:
- What aspects of DEI are you most skeptical about? Understanding their specific concerns can help tailor the conversation to address their doubts directly.
- Have you encountered any personal experiences or observations that have influenced your skepticism? Exploring their personal perspective can provide insight into their viewpoint and help build a connection.
- Are there specific examples of companies or organizations where you think DEI initiatives have been ineffective or problematic? What would you like to see done differently? Discussing real-world cases can lead to a more nuanced conversation and provide an opportunity to address specific concerns.
- Do you think it’s important for all individuals, regardless of their background, to have an equal opportunity to succeed? How might unequal access to opportunities impact society as a whole? Exploring the concept of equal opportunity can help highlight the underlying principles of DEI.
- Have you ever been in a situation where you felt excluded or misunderstood? How did that make you feel and what steps would you have appreciated to address it? Drawing parallels between personal experiences and the broader DEI conversation can foster empathy and understanding.
- Are there ways in which you think diversity could be promoted without compromising meritocracy? Discussing strategies that align with their values can help bridge the gap between skepticism and the goals of DEI.
- How do you think diverse teams can contribute to innovation and problem-solving? Are there examples you can think of where diverse perspectives led to better outcomes? Highlighting the practical benefits of diversity can help counter skepticism with evidence.
- Do you think there is a connection between workplace diversity and attracting and retaining top talent? How might a more inclusive environment impact employee morale and job satisfaction? Discussing the potential impact on talent management can provide a tangible perspective.
- What would it take for you to consider DEI initiatives as valuable and worth pursuing? What specific outcomes or changes would you like to see? By focusing on their expectations and potential solutions, you can create a shared vision for the role of DEI.
Ask for their engagement directly
Many times there’s confusion about the role the majority group can play in DEI. For example, older, straight, white men who do not have a disability often say that DEI is not for them. DEI is about inclusion, so it is paramount that everyone is a part of creating an inclusive culture. Rather than wait for the majority group to join the conversation, consider directly asking for their support. Make it clear that you want them to play a role and what specific expectations are for engagement. Consider these ideas to engage them:
- Collaborative initiatives: Create opportunities for members of the majority group to collaborate with individuals from different backgrounds on projects, committees or initiatives. Emphasize the value of diverse perspectives in problem-solving and decision-making processes.
- Sponsorship of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): ERGs are a great way for the majority group to participate and learn alongside members of different groups. For those in positions of power, having them engaged as sponsors can help with resource allocation as well.
- Lead by example: Showcase visible support from leadership and role models within the majority group who actively champion DEI initiatives. Highlight successful case studies or stories of organizations that have benefited from embracing diversity and inclusivity.
- Mentorship: A great way for allies to get involved is by mentoring and being mentored by people different from themselves. This could be a formal pairing program of informally setting the expectation that leaders engage in mentoring folks different from themselves. Most allies report learning more from their mentees than the mentees learn from them.
Offer up a specific way they can show support and hold them accountable
Lastly, it is important that you set the expectation that they are responsible for their own education as potential allies in training. The burden of education should not fall on folks that are already dealing with the adversity of diversity. As with any cultural transformation, accountability is critical to long-term success. It is important to measure outcomes and hold leaders accountable for diverse representation and perceptions of inclusion on their teams just as you would with any cultural change.