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How to Facilitate Diversity Conversations in the Workplace

You’re interested in facilitating diversity conversations in the workplace – we’re so glad you’re here! Seriously- among all of the initiatives to ensure your workplace is launching a strong annual strategy and work plan, focusing on launching and deepening diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations, with accompanying doable and actionable steps, lays the groundwork for holistic fundamental impact

Courage is the first and foundational aspect of any and all discussions related to DEI in the workplace. If you are raising your hand to launch or deepen conversations and facilitating them, it takes courage. You’ll have to call upon your inner courage and bravery before, during, and at the end of each DEI conversation. However, that courage is what you, as facilitator, and your colleagues will continuously call upon to continue showing up with authenticity, openness and vulnerability

The Importance of Having Open Dialogue Around DEIB at Work

There are many fears, unspoken landmines, uncomfortable silences and, even, the likelihood of negative backlash. We are scared of accidentally and unknowingly hurting a colleague’s feelings or offending someone; we’re afraid to seem ignorant, and we’re afraid of experiencing negative workplace repercussions based on sharing something or ‘saying the wrong thing;’ We’re afraid to be labeled; we’re afraid of our privilege being highlighted; we’re afraid of being triggered. This doesn’t really sound like an opportunity where most people would enthusiastically exclaim, “Sign me up!”

But, people are hungry for these dialogues, deeper engaging, listening, and learning about our colleague’s diverse experiences and backgrounds, sharing and listening to personal stories – understanding more about “where we come from” from the collective sense. We aren’t willing to continue pretending that ‘we don’t see color’ or that ‘we’re all treated equally’ because the research on this is clear, too. And, as we pointed out in Why DEIB Initiatives Matter for Your Nonprofit, the central role that DEIB has in our organization’s wellbeing and impact is clear. 

In the call to courage – yes, the courage will be accompanied by bravery, fear, and the unknown – courageous, brave conversations at work require this over and over again. An important grounding and starting point in the planning and starting the discussions around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at work is establishing a space – brave space – conducive to courageous conversations and do so by co-identifying Grounding Agreements. 

Setting Ground Rules for These Difficult Conversations

Grounding Agreements are a key and foundational aspect of courageous, brave, and difficult conversations because they identify how we’ll engage with ourselves and each other during the conversations in a co-design way. Grounding agreements help establish the norms of how we’ll engage, include definitions of terms that are relevant and important to DEIB discussions, and serve as important reminder-guides of how we’ll respond individually and as a group when we are deeply impacted by comments. This is done by asking folks to identify and name elements that we want to be present, as guides and reminders, of how we’ll show up. We display and affirm these each time we come together and, and add to these if needed, as our conversations deepen. 

Grounding Agreements are about how we will call attention to ourselves and our experiences in the learning journey and also how we engage as a group in a learning and growth process that is authentic, brave, and honest. A key aspect of Grounding Agreements is that they are drafted and co-constructed by the group. This is important in setting intention and constructing a brave space together. 

Before we get to the discussion part, we want to establish how we will engage with one another in this brave and courageous growing space. In a nutshell, this refers to the values, the characteristics, the behaviors, and the tone that will help guide our conversations, our uncomfortable silences, and tense moments. Safety and comfort are two important points because people often seek out exchanges that feel safe. However, DEI conversations aren’t about safety. They’re about increasing self awareness, growth, and challenging ourselves – these conversations require brave spaces. 

Seeking Awareness & Understanding in Productive Conversations 

A central Grounding Agreement, for example, is to listen to learn, not judge or criticize. This is a journey where we are being called in from the margins of comfort, it’s not a sprint. Learning to sit and hold discomfort while listening to colleagues’ experiences and perspectives as we strive for deepened awareness is perhaps the fundamental agreement and task that will help each of us grow towards greater equitable practice.

There are no easy ways to stay committed to uncomfortable conversations that challenge us and cause shame, guilt, or pain. It’s an intentional commitment that, along with some tools and continued practice, keep us moving forward with eyes more fully open.

It’s our willingness to stay intentionally present that helps us hold all the pieces together within the dialogue and carry it forward. It is stressful and you will feel anxious and uncomfortable – stay the course through this discomfort. Oftentimes, breaking up in pairs helps ‘sit with’ the discomfort as we dive deeper, and then coming back together as a full group helps continue the conversation in its myriad points while creating a safe space to explore even more. 

Acknowledge that there is no endpoint, no point at which we can say we’ve arrived at all the lessons we needed to learn. Discussions on race, privilege, and other topics within diversity, equity, and inclusion are all part of being a curious, life-long learner. Incorporating this as part of the mission our organization strives for is essential in impact. 

Incorporating Grounding Agreements into Your Nonprofit’s Mission

Grounding Agreements are a powerful tool that launches the beginning of an incredibly dynamic and rich learning journey. A learning journey centered in courageous and brave intention where we engage with others as we seek to better discover and lead ourselves. Conversations within and about diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, access, race, privilege, etc., often push us back to our families of origins, how we grew up communicating, and what tough conversations looked like, so having Grounding Agreements that are co-constructed helps navigate the moments that challenge us to stay the course – for the long haul. 

Even though they’re only one part of holding a courageous conversation, we’ve put together a list of Grounding Agreements to help you and your group both launch and get started and navigate the conversations, staying mindfully and intentionally present. Download them below!

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