Gone are the days of companies having diversity training programs just for the sake of having diversity training. Corporate leaders who have been reading the room know that doing any kind of DEI programming simply to check a box is so 2020.
Many have observed in the short span from 2020 to late 2022 when the world faced an onslaught of traumatic and passionate catalysts to take DEI to the next level, that not everyone took the same approach. Many who allocated time and money to DEI did so from a reactionary mode. This did not make them ill-intentioned or wrong. But in doing so, a metaphorical avalanche of “good diversity intentions” wreaked havoc on a lot of workplaces, just as a literal one can devastate a small village. Being bombarded with reactionary programming has, in many cases, left an aftermath of negativity and an aversion to DEI in its wake.
Casualties came from rushed and divisive conversations for which there was little to no preparation or resolution. Some people were thrown into scenarios with no support or backing, struggling to lead heavy sessions and conversations that were bound to come up when such an emotional and personal topic as diversity is brought to the forefront. We are exiting that era of being reactive and (hopefully) entering one of being proactive.
This means having eyes wide open to the sensitivity and vast array of thoughts, ideas, and individual experiences that will come into play when addressing DEI in the workplace and, more importantly, harnessing the tools to avoid previous missteps. There will still be choppy waters because that’s real life. But by following the 7 C’s of modern-day diversity, you should be ready to eagerly grab the helm, adjust the mast, and set your sails for smooth sailing into calmer waters. (Yes, all of those nautical puns were absolutely necessary.)
1. Compassion (aka Empathy)
A world without compassion, aka empathy, breeds feelings of isolation, depression, and resentment—all things that increase conflict. This is the exact opposite goal of those committed to celebrating diversity and evoking true inclusion. So how does compassion decrease conflict? Well, it begins with another “c” word: curiosity. Genuine curiosity is showing an interest in others with no ulterior motive. It requires setting the ego aside so that you can understand their perspective. This isn’t an easy feat, but it is entirely possible and becomes easier the more we practice having compassion for one another.
We create connections with one another with every interaction, whether that connection starts with a phone call, an email, a handshake, or a smile. The latter, no surprise, is one of the BEST ways to connect with another human being. It’s the universal invitation that warmly says, “I welcome you into my fold, my circle.” A smile is the first action that creates a feeling of belonging.
There are a variety of other ways to create connections. These connections strengthen when we shift the focus from what makes us different to giving attention to our commonalities. The reality is, despite what we see on TV or social media, we actually have more in common with one another than we don’t. But it takes creating a connection to see it, and it takes a little bit of energy and effort to build and strengthen those connections.
If we were all being honest with ourselves, we’d wholeheartedly admit that communication is the key to getting through all the division and polarization we see around us. Learning to listen objectively. Expressing ourselves clearly and authentically. Reacting responsibly. Being present. Giving constructive and inclusive feedback. If we could master these, imagine the healthy and high-functioning workplaces employees would thrive in.
It is entirely possible to up your communication game by paying attention to how you show up in conversations. Take a good hard look at how you convey your thoughts and ideas and how you receive others. What tone of voice do you use? Do you let other people share or do you cut them off to give your two cents? Do you listen and process or just react? Do you honor and use your voice to speak up for yourself or others? Communication requires more than someone speaking and someone listening. These are skills that can be enhanced through awareness and practice.
Community is when there is an established level of comfort with others so that ideas and communication can flow freely. Signs of a healthy community are when people thrive in their environments, where their achievements are celebrated, and their failures become great lessons for the future. Communities support their members through the good and the bad experiences. There is a psychological safety that allows for critique and feedback that will usher in improvements on both a personal and professional development level. When workplaces build this true sense of community, everyone can bring their whole selves to work and be recognized for it.
It takes tremendous courage to give attention to any of these 7 C’s. It takes courage to look within and take a personal assessment of your shortcomings and what it might take to make improvements. It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone, be honest, and strive to be a better person. It also takes courage to look past your personal likes, dislikes, biases, and beliefs to hear someone else’s thoughts and ideas. Courage means feeling the fear, the discomfort, and the unease (all of which are temporary emotions), pushing past them, and still showing up for the conversation, the activity, the meeting, and the training. Courage means holding on to your core values that are true to you but respecting someone else’s right to do the same.
Another word for consciousness is awareness. When we have consciousness about something, we are dialed in. We see it with clarity, sometimes even with new eyes. It’s like waking up after a deep sleep, and your eyes go from fuzzy to focused. When this occurs, we see things in greater detail and recognize nuances and specifics. The same can be said for having an awakened consciousness about someone on your team or in your community who was out of focus for a while. The lack of consciousness wasn’t a reflection of who you are as a person but rather where you were before being introduced to a new way of seeing someone else and their experience.
The key to any type of healthy relationship or connection to another person is understanding that we’ve been conditioned or programmed to relate to people from the time we were children. This conditioning shows up in how and what we think about people who aren’t like us. What were you conditioned to think about police officers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, and people of religions or ethnicities that differ from your own? Some of this conditioning was positive, and some negative. When we recognize the negative conditioning, we are one step closer to re-writing that program.
Whether someone is in their infancy or is a veteran on this DEI journey, having guidance to get through the fog and confusion can help leaders and those invested in DEI avoid the very real pitfalls that could throw an entire organization off course. The 7 C’s are insights, reminders, and even nudges that leaders and their teams can intentionally weave into workplace programs so that DEI isn’t a chore or burden but a welcome way to create a successful culture.