How To Host Discussions About Diversity & Inclusion at Work

 

Co-authored by Dr. Sarah Saska and Stefan Palios


A quick guide to help you to host discussions about topics relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion within your organization.


BEFORE GETTING STARTED

Ensure your event planning committee brings a diversity of lived experiences to the table to help you impact your whole audience effectively.

However, depending on the topic of discussion, you may not need to/should not do this!  

For example, if you’re hosting a conversation about unpacking white privilege or white supremacy, for example, you may want a homogenous group of folks in the group so that they can tackle some of this hard (un)learning together (and not at the expense of marginalized folks, as an example).


SELECTING A TOPIC TO DIG INTO

  • Create a Google Form or ‘Idea Box’ for members of your workplace to suggest topics relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion that they’d like to discuss.

  • Review topics and have employees vote on topics and also consider the internal capacity to host the conversation (i.e. how advanced is the topic and does anyone within your organization have the personal and/or professional experience to facilitate such a conversation).

  • Understand the representation and where your support is in your organization, if you have an ERG that relates to a specific recommended topic, get their feedback on specific topics.  

  • Research the topic and get external support from content experts and experienced facilitators accordingly.


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IDENTIFYING THE TYPE OF FACILITATION

If you would like to host a discussion with an experienced facilitator with expertise in this discussion area, prepare a list of names from diverse backgrounds and reach out to them to discuss their practice. Consider offering an honorarium or paying their standard rate.

If you would like to host a discussion with a new/learning facilitator, there are many ways to help them advance their skills and host a successful discussion.

Suggested flow (+ support) for facilitator(s)

If you are a new/learning facilitator, these internal discussions provide a great opportunity to develop your skills, so consider the following resources in the preparation:


Ensure you (the facilitator) introduces yourself in both a professional and personal capacity.  For example, you can start by introducing yourself with your professional credentials (role, title, designations), and then reintroduce yourself with context about why you are facilitating the conversation, i.e. what motivated you to do so, your level of experience facilitating (it’s cool if you are just learning!), and anything else you would like to share to help humanize yourself to the group.

Establish a “Group Norm” or “Working Agreement” with the group from the start.  Here are some suggested pieces to touch on:

  • Vegas Rule/Chatham House Rule

    • What is said in the room, stays in the room, what is learned in the room, leaves the room through shared learning

  • Questions, Questions, Questions

  • Stay Smarter Than Your Phone

    • Create a tech-free environment to allow people to feel comfortable to be vulnerable and dig into meaty topics

  • Stop, Rewind, & Change Your Mind

    • We’re all learning as well go; no one is born socially conscious and we’ve all said and done things that harm other people

    • If you say something that you don’t love, pause, and offer something new in its place

    • If needed – apologize!

  • Share the Airtime/Mic

    • Consider bringing a talking prop to be passed around to ensure that only one person speaks at a time and remind folks to be conscious to share the airtime with those around them

  • Build Bridges with New-ish People

    • We all learn and grow when we spend time with people who are different than us, so challenge the group to engage with new-ish humans as much as possible to encourage the collective learning

    • With that said, ensure the group understands that this is challenging for some people, especially if they have just started their learning journey, so don’t push it!

  • Recognize difficult conversations

    • Sometimes it can be difficult to open up about certain topics. Recognize when someone has shared something personal by saying:

      • Thank you for sharing”

      • “That was really brave”

Once you’ve introduced this “Working Agreement”, ask the group if they have anything they’d like to amend or add and ensure everyone signals their agreement through a verbal or physical signal or consider having all participants sign the paper/whiteboard as an ‘agreement'

Consider creating space for folks to share FAQs, or Fearfully Asked Questions in advance, during, or after the session.

  • While we understand that this may not work for all facilitators (sometimes it requires an advanced facilitator to navigate some questions), we know that participants are often afraid to ask questions that they perceive to be too basic, or those they worry may be offensive to people.  

  • When possible, it’s great to create space for these types of questions to be asked and answered with accurate, non-judgmental responses.

  • If you’re able to prepare for the FAQs, do your research and try to come up with a few different ways to answer each question (i.e. short and direct, with an example, with an analogy, and maybe even with some humour).

  • When you have a range of ways to answer “difficult” questions, you can choose the choice that fits the room in real-time.

  • Conduct an activity that relates to your theme or solicits discussion questions from the group prior to the discussion to guide you.

  • If the room is large, plan for enough microphones (one for the facilitator and one to be passed around), but a smaller room with a smaller group number is recommended (maximum 35-40 people) with no microphones needed.

  • If you’d like to use a slide deck, use large fonts, contrasting colours, and minimal text, so people in the room can take in the slides easily.

    • A simple slide deck can help to keep the conversation flowing as it can provide a gentle guideline/framework.

    • A visual is also helpful to accommodate a range of learning styles.  

  • Consider typing discussion points on a screen in real-time and display it so that people with hearing difficulties can engage in the group.

  • Ensure any videos you use during the session have subtitles and described video.

  • As a facilitator, ensure you understand basic mental health first aid.

  • Consider doing a 1-word check-out with the group to allow folks to share how they’re feeling about being in the space after the discussion comes to an end.


ISSUING A GREAT APOLOGY

Whether it's a facilitator or an attendee, someone is bound to mess up. Here are some key pieces to remember during the apology process:

  • Acknowledge It! If you said something that hurt someone in the room or a group of people, acknowledge that you did. “I said XYZ.”

  • Give People Space. Give people space to feel all of their feelings in the room.  This might mean anger or tears, or their exit of the space. All feelings are valid and there is no time limit for how long people should be feeling a certain way.

  • Centre the Hurt. If you messed up, you’ll likely be feeling a bit off, but this isn’t about you and your feelings of discomfort or guilt. This time it is about those who have been harmed. The people we harm should not have to turn around and be supportive of those who need to apologize.

  • Be Accountable. Once you’d had time to reflect, take ownership of the thing you said or did and demonstrate the issue with action.

  • Apologize. Apologize without forgiveness as a target and demonstrate this apology through reconciliatory actions. This may require some Googling, private conversations, or a consultation with an advanced facilitator.


SCHEDULING THE EVENT (TIME & DATE)

  • When scheduling the event, do your best to avoid major cultural holidays or religious observances that any of the potential attendees celebrate.

  • Consider the time of day in order to accommodate those with caregiving responsibilities and commutes, as examples.


COMMUNICATING AND MARKETING THE EVENT

Communicate the following in your marketing and attendee communications:

  • Intended benefits of the event (what will participants get out of it).

  • Style and structure of event (standing room talk, sit down, small-table style, etc.).

  • If the event is not accessible in any way, disclose which element of the event is not as well as a potential workaround

  • Ensure language and imagery in your marketing communications is reflective of the diversity of people, perspectives, and experiences and is accessible in tone and word selection.


REGISTRATION AND INFORMATION COLLECTION

  • Make the event sign-up accessible, meaning easily navigable with a keyboard and functional with a screen reader.

  • Collect required identification information during the registration process only and give people as much freedom to choose how they refer to themselves (open-end text boxes vs. fixed multiple choice options)

  • If offering catering, collect dietary information during registration (Kosher, gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan, etc.).

  • Offer a short disclosure on your event registration explaining why you need certain pieces of data and the key points from your privacy policy (i.e. “We will never share your information with any third parties without your explicit consent”).


EVENT LOGISTICS

  • Have blank name tags available to attendees to write things such as their name, pronouns, and anything else they’d like to share.

  • If conducting a longer or evening event, consider inviting people to bring dependents and organizing for an onsite host to look after and engage with the dependents.

  • Make bathrooms gender neutral or explicitly state attendees can use the bathroom they feel most comfortable using.

  • Provide water in the event space.

  • Provide clear directional signage to the discussion area, as well as key rooms such as washroom facilities and building exits.


POST EVENT

  • Send a short feedback survey that has specific questions about the topic, discussion, format, facilitation, and event space.

  • Host a post-event retrospective where you discuss what went well, what didn’t, and any ideas for the next discussion. Inclusion should be part of the overall retrospective, but you can also have a second inclusion-focused one if a lot of issues or questions came up.

  • If you made a “mistake” as a facilitator, own up to it after the fact and explain what you are doing to fix it – pick who you communicate this to based on the severity and confidentiality of the issue.  

 
Stefan Kollenberg