24 June 2021
Dry mouth. Damp hands. Self-doubt. Many managers feel anxiety and even fear about discussing race, gender or sexual orientation at work.
During MindGym’s webinar ‘The State of Inclusion: Where we are now & where to next?’, our attendees expressed their worries about how to talk about diversity problems in the workplace without offending anyone.
In this article, you will learn the proven approach to holding productive and engaging conversations about diversity and inclusion.
Unfortunately, the overreliance on unconscious bias training and zero-tolerance policies has made workplace discussions around racism, ageism or sexism seem like a finger-pointing exercise. Research shows unconscious bias training can leave people feeling attacked for who they are and creates further division within the workplace.
A mindset change is required. One that respects and protects everyone’s individual identities, rather than alienating them.
This starts with an acknowledgment of all the ways we are different – from our ethnicity and educational background to our dietary choices and hobbies.
But all diversity isn’t equal – being black and disabled will have a vastly bigger impact on employment prospects than being a white vegetarian cyclist. MindGym’s headwinds-tailwinds concept puts this into context.
Our ‘headwinds’ are the ways in which the facts of our birth or other aspects of our identity that we can’t choose, have placed us at a disadvantage in comparison to others. Examples could include growing up with an abusive mother, having a chronic illness or being from a lower-income family.
Our ‘tailwinds’, on the other hand, are all the ways in which our birth has placed us at an advantage in relation to others. This includes receiving a private school education, being able-bodied, having wealthy parents or being raised in a big city filled with opportunities.
How to build inclusion in the workplace
Interestingly, research suggests that we consistently underestimate our own tailwinds and overestimate everyone else’s, while doing the reverse for headwinds. Therefore, take control of your diversity and inclusion discussions by asking your people the following:
**What are your headwinds? **Build empathy by allowing individuals to safely express the challenges they have faced in their careers and life.
What are your tailwinds? – Ask employees to dig a little deeper by sharing how they overcame their headwinds to achieve relative success (e.g. graduating from university, gaining a job promotion or making close friends at work). What helped them?
How can they use their tailwinds to help others? – Allow people to discover their own unique superpowers by asking them to come up with ways to help people with fewer opportunities in the workplace. How can a white English woman from a wealthy upbringing help a young woman from a refugee background settle into her job? How could a black able-bodied man ensure his teammate, who is disabled, feels appreciated for their efforts?
Through this approach, leaders can break the wall of silence, making people realise that their identity isn’t under threat, and is instead a vital driver for developing a high-performing organisation.
For further proven practical insights on how to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture, read our free DE&I whitepaper The inclusion solution.
To find out more about how your organisation can embrace your employees’ identities, click here.