How do I Get My Colleagues to Care About Diversity and Inclusion?

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion by Rachel Murray

We were recently asked a question after a senior leadership workshop from someone who is part of a diversity and inclusion task force: “my leadership is doing this work, but how do I get my colleagues to care?” We thought it was a great question!

We wrote a post a while back on how to get your company to recognize you have issues. Here we’ll hone in specifically on those colleagues you interact with regularly who aren’t paying attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

First, it’s important to note that we can’t change people who don’t want to change. We offer ways to educate people who are interested in learning more about how to create a more equitable and inclusive culture, but we never go in with the mindset that we can change people’s minds. We recently wrote about how mandatory training can have incredibly negative consequences with that in mind. That said, there are ways to influence your colleagues in more subtle ways. Here are a few recommendations.

Ask bought-in senior executives to use their voice to articulate how important this work is… and have them show it.

If your senior leadership is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive company culture, encourage them to speak about it at staff meetings, ask them to include clear references to their commitment in company-wide emails, and have them lead the charge in establishing processes and policies that encourage inclusion, including changes that may cost money. Seeing executives agree to spend dollars on inclusion efforts over, say, t-shirt swag, is an indicator on what the company values. One example is to have a welcoming and warm nursing room for new mothers. Another example is to ensure that every meeting room has video conference capabilities so that remote workers can be sure to be included in every meeting. Another is to provide budget for employee resource groups (‘ERGs’) to host events and workshops. By having leadership invest their time and money in ensuring an inclusive culture, they’re sending a message that this truly matters. Read this article on how critical the role of leadership is to company culture.

Lead by example.

Whatever your position at the company, you have an impact on its culture. Being inclusive in many ways means being empathetic. If someone says or does something that is inclusive, highlight it. If someone says or does something that isn’t inclusive, address it, but in a productive manner (see the next bullet). If you’re leading a team meeting, practice inclusion. Here are some suggestions for running a team meeting with those who are introverted.  If you manage people, try the platinum rule.

Learn how to have difficult but productive conversations.

Having difficult conversations around sensitive topics is brave… they’re not called difficult for no reason. If you’re unsure how to have those conversations, the best way is to practice in an environment that feels safe. Be sure to come prepared and think through what you want to say before you say it. Focus on how you felt about the particular situation and articulate that point of view rather than accusing someone of “being racist” or “being sexist”. That will shut the conversation down immediately. Also focus on the act or action, as opposed to the individual. Try to stay calm and expect that the other person may not respond the way you want them to. It’s important to provide space for people to make mistakes, learn, and not feel ashamed for messing up. Empathy is key.

Provide research that shows the benefits of having more diverse thought.

For your colleagues who are more data-driven, looking at research might provide an opening to expand their thinking on diversity, equity, and inclusion. There is a plethora of literature out there and we include roundups in our newsletters so you can share that research. While you may find that your colleagues will look for competing research, the next step may be to have them examine how their research stacks up. James Damore wrote his infamous memo on women and engineering based on research, but that research was found to be faulty. If logic doesn’t seem to rule the day, it’s probably not the best approach. This work requires a meeting of the heart and the mind and that’s not always possible.

While we wish we could say that it’s easy to get your colleagues to care about issues of diversity and inclusion at work, the truth is: it isn’t, but it’s not impossible. After trying some of the above methods, we’d love to hear from you. What worked? What didn’t? Did you try something else? We love hearing from you, so tell us everything!

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