Talking about diversity

Many employees, managers uncomfortable having difficult conversations

Talking about diversity

With the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, there’s been a big push around race and gender equity, along with a massive groundswell for a more inclusive culture at work.

And while those conversations are tough to go through, they must be conducted, says Mark Atkinson, CEO at Mursion in San Francisco, in talking to Canadian HR Reporter.

And that's true even with the huge rise in work from home.

“In the workplace, you could pull somebody aside and say, ‘Hey, listen, that thing that you just did in that meeting? I bet to whoever was in there with you, they might have interpreted what you said a little differently.’ It’s really hard to do that in Zoom or Google Meet or whatever other platform you’re in. You have to really think through how am I going to organize myself to do that? How am I going to do it appropriately? Am I calling more attention out that I would ordinarily be able to do when I just pull somebody aside at the office?”

About one-in-four large companies (with 2,500 or more workers) in the U.S. have had no formal conversations with employees around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), according to a survey of 400 employees and 250 managers in January by virtual-reality training company Mursion.

Further, 70 per cent of employees and 55 per cent of managers say they either avoided these difficult conversations or only did so reluctantly.

And most of the discussions happened via email (according to 77 per cent of employees and 63 per cent of managers).

Even informal talks were infrequent, according to 39 per cent of employees and 68 per cent of managers, found the survey.

But having those talks can help in employee retention, according to Atkinson, as many workers today value DEI endeavours.

“If you don’t have these conversations, people won’t stay. It forces you to confront things they’re not easy to confront; there’s an appropriate way to do that. We all have these unconscious biases... and so being proactive about this takes a level of purposefulness and commitment that leaders have to have and managers have to have, and it is at the heart of we call the work we do.”

Mark Atkinson

Having a good communication strategy also helps in both retention and employee engagement, says Atkinson, but it can’t be simply lip service.

“What people want to hear is actions and outcomes; they don’t want to hear intents and promises. They don’t want you adopting a slogan. They don’t want you simply cashing in on the good efforts of a few active employees. They want to see systemic change, systemic commitment and systemic results. In the same way you would never report to your shareholders that you sold one more unit of your product, you would measure the total units that you sold; the total profitability of doing that.”

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