It is no secret that the culture wars are intensifying as the 2024 presidential election approaches. The United States is culturally and politically divided, according to an NBC poll.
In some locations, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are also being criticized, with states such as Florida and Texas scaling them back in part because of the belief that diversity programs exacerbate divisions.
As the proprietor of a company that helps other organizations create more inclusive workplaces, I believe that many of us have incorrectly interpreted the concept of being inclusive. From my vantage point, many of us have lost the ability to understand the nuances of another’s viewpoint, which is preventing us from moving forward.
It is crucial to refute false narratives and divisive talking points about DEI that lack supporting data. From my perspective, the reality is that some individuals may fear they are unable to compete from a skill-based standpoint. However, the primary purpose of DEI is to allow the most talented individuals to succeed.
One could argue that opposition to diversity is opposition to capitalism. By failing to implement guidelines that enable the best product or person to rise to the top, we prevent some of the most talented individuals from entering the market.
In 2023, however, it appears that emphasizing the “D” in DEI is deepening divides rather than creating bridges, so I believe the key is for businesses to emphasize the “I,” or inclusion. This approach should not disregard the systemic inequities faced by some individuals, but it is a method to assist employees in identifying commonalities.
Despite the fact that our individual circumstances may vary, we all face personal obstacles. This is inherent in being human. This is the essence of what inclusion truly entails.
At least in the workplace, we need to return to a place where we focus more on where we share common ground and what we must accomplish together. Staying polarized and divided will prevent us from making significant progress, being innovative, and identifying the most effective solutions.
Here are three ways leaders can prioritize the “I” in DEI to foster inclusive workplace cultures:
Seek out common ground.
Often, we are so focused on how we differ from others that we fail to recognize the many similarities we share. I adore the “All That We Share” campaign from Denmark because it so beautifully illustrates how people who appear different on the outside share similar experiences, such as falling in love, being harassed, and having national pride.
Consider a coworker who you perceive to be distinct from you, whether on the basis of ideological differences, such as opposing political views, or other dimensions of identity, such as socioeconomic status.
Take a few minutes to list all the ways in which you are genuinely similar. This list could include superficial things, such as being the same gender, or it could include information you either know or have actively sought out by conversing with this individual, such as sharing the same interest or having grown up in the same area.
By proactively focusing on the similarities you share, you will develop the habit of connecting with those you perceive to be different, which is a crucial step in fostering inclusive cultures.
Describe a time when you felt like an outsider.
Consider the following exercise for a recurring meeting (if you do not conduct the meeting, suggest it to the leader as a team- and empathy-building exercise): Share and request that others share a situation in which you felt excluded. It could be at work, school, a function, or anywhere else.
For instance, a team member from a partner organization exercising this exercise shared her experience of coming from Asia to the United States without knowing English and attending a school where children refused to play with her and made fun of her name.
Even though their backgrounds were diverse, her team could empathize with her because almost everyone felt like an outsider at some point in their lives.
The practice of inclusion can be strengthened by providing individuals with opportunities to share their experiences. We may be able to rationalize our perspectives when they differ from those of others, but learning about the experiences of team members fosters empathy for one another. As a result, it becomes simpler to listen than to judge when inevitable disagreements arise.
Explain the narrative based on facts to your personnel.
Try implementing the “shine theory” in the workplace to foster a culture of cooperation over competition and to make team members feel seen and included. The premise, coined by podcast hosts Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, is that when you help your teammates rise, you all shine. Kindness fosters relationships and allies, which foster sentiments of belonging. Make it a habit to seek out opportunities to help others succeed, thereby fostering a culture of psychological safety. Some suggestions to get you started:
- In a meeting, amplify the speaker you believe is not being heard.
- Inform your supervisor of a positive action taken by a coworker.
- Offer assistance to a colleague who is struggling with a project or procedure.
- Congratulate a colleague who received a challenging assignment, even if you’re regretful it wasn’t you.
- Publicly commend a colleague in a message or during a meeting.
Over time, even minor changes can have significant effects on culture. By focusing on the “I” in DEI, people of all backgrounds will be more motivated to establish workplace inclusion as opposed to focusing on divisions. While it may feel as though polarization is tearing apart our workplaces, identifying and remembering our commonalities will ultimately help us move forward together.Source