How to Start Discussions About Race and Equality at Work

Business owners have a responsibility to talk about race and equality in the workplace. While these discussions can be difficult, it is more important now than ever before to acknowledge issues with diversity, inclusion and equity and take steps to address them.

Demetria Miles-McDonald, founder and CEO of Louisville-based Decide Diversity, helps companies increase the effectiveness and presence of underrepresented groups in the workplace. She recently hosted a webinar called “A Candid Discussion About Race for Business Leaders” with Cara Silletto of Crescendo Strategies outlining how professionals can discuss today’s racial concerns at work.

Here are some of the tips and ideas she suggested:

1. Read the room. Every office environment and company structure is unique. Recognize where your individual employees and overall team stand to inform where to begin. One-on-one discussions or anonymous feedback may be needed to understand where growth and change are needed. Miles-McDonald pointed to the Intercultural Development Inventory as a tool to gauge internal competence for inclusion and diversity.

2. Acknowledge that not everyone is in the same place. Look at who is suffering the most and what your company is doing to address this already. Be mindful not to put additional pressure on employees who are already disproportionately impacted. Educate yourself first and be supportive as others learn and grow.

3. Create a safe space. Make sure that everyone agrees to respect the thoughts and feelings of others. Acknowledge that these are hard things to talk about and may be uncomfortable. By being open-minded and responsible for their own growth, they will find that real change happens outside their comfort zone. Grant others grace to make mistakes and learn from them.

4. Don’t limit yourself to what’s traditional. We are in uncharted territory. Recognize what you’ve done before may not work for the future. Be flexible and listen to what people need. Look for what you can do to create a happy and inclusive workplace for everyone. You may have to go back to the drawing board to make sustainable changes.

5. Recognize that one talk will not be enough. Creating a flourishing office environment where everyone feels respected and valued is a constant work in progress. Plant the seeds for growth and set goals and reminders for long term benefits.

Recognizing that you need to have these discussions is the first of many steps. Being transparent and compassionate in your pursuit of inclusion will have a ripple effect for positive change.

— Rachel Nix

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