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When Fostering Diversity at Work, Listening is the Key

Protests sweeping across the country and around the world have ignited urgent new conversations about race and racism. During these times, we have heard repeated requests from educators, activists, academics, artists, and ordinary people to listen to people of color – to make space for the voices of those traditionally marginalized, including in conversations about diversity at work.

Deanna Van Buren, an architect and restorative justice expert explains, “Black and brown communities are speaking out now, and we must recognize that they (we) are the only experts that can identify the goals to aim for in rebuilding and restoring communities.”

Isn’t diversity at work too touchy of a subject for the workplace?

This may feel uncomfortable to you – and you’re not alone. Many companies prefer to avoid discussions about bias or racism for fear of ‘saying something wrong’ – or being held legally accountable.

Failing to broach the subject of workplace diversity, however, sends a powerful and damaging message to your diverse employee base that they cannot and should not speak up about their experiences. One study found that 38% of Black professionals felt unable to discuss bias with their employers, a sentiment shared by 36% of Asian and 28% of Latinx respondents. 

This culture of silence has consequences. Employees who don’t feel comfortable discussing these biases also report higher rates of isolation and lower overall morale. Moreover, they were almost three times more likely to leave within a year of hiring.

Not listening to your diverse employees isn’t just a missed opportunity for organizational growth. It’s a direct hit to your ROI on hires and to your bottom line as an organization.

So, how do you build a culture of listening to promote diversity at work?

Knowing that you need to start listening is one thing, building a culture of listening in your workplace is another. It starts with a commitment to fostering diversity at work and prioritizing a sense of inclusion and belonging for your diverse employees within your broader organization. 

Here are a couple of tips to work towards building diversity at work through listening:

  1. Encourage employees to share how they feel their differences may have impacted their professional experiences along with any past specific negative experiences they may have had.
  2. Train leaders to model a willingness to listen and receive feedback so that employees don’t feel that this sharing is falling on deaf ears.

How do you train leaders to be good listeners?

Here are a of couple tips to get the leaders in your organization started:

  1. Take their perspective. It’s natural to want to connect with others by drawing parallels between our lives and those of others. Unfortunately, this puts you – the listener – at the center of the conversation. Instead, work to fully place yourself in the position of the person speaking and inhabit his or her reality.
  2. Get comfortable with discomfort. It may be that colleagues and co-workers need to share experiences that make you feel upset or defensive. Resist the urge to shift the dialogue to address these issues unless and until others indicate a willingness to engage.

But remember, listening is not enough when fostering diversity at work.

Listening is necessary but not sufficient. Opening a dialogue creates an expectation for action, and without follow-up, it becomes just another expression of indifference. Creating a culture of listening should be a precursor to an organization-wide commitment to change

So, use the feedback from your diverse employees to shift underlying assumptions or cultural values within the organization.

Do the hard work to change your organization.

True organizational change requires many small, sustained adjustments. Workshops and retreats are a great starting point, but real inclusion will entail tweaking company policies and fostering new team behaviors over the long run.

Re-examining how you hire, develop, and promote employees must be a key component of any effort to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Organizations need to stop looking at diversity as a compliance checkbox issue. Instead, take proactive measures to remove implicit and systemic bias from your talent management process. Cangrade’s bias-free technology is here to help.