Supporting Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace can become difficult if there are difficult personalities in your way. You know the ones – they’re experts at interrupting, often in an expensive suit. They often won’t act in an overtly discriminatory way because they’re aware of legislation around bullying, hate speech and harassment. As a senior executive, who also happened to be a woman, once said to me: “Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, sexism was on the table, it wasn’t hidden at all. But nowadays it’s still there, it’s just under the table.” So, how do you keep your cool when members of your team attempt to undermine your efforts to improve workforce diversity?
Years ago, I walked into an executive meeting that included ten men and one woman. I had been invited to talk about gender equity, and the group of people knew that I was there in an attempt to increase the number of women at the table. The chair began by deliberately undermining my position, saying: “Okay, Bree. I’m sorry I don't know much about you or what you’re here for so I’ll let you take it away.” He knew – I was on the agenda. Then, about half-way through my presentation, one of the men in the room became agitated and started finger pointing. I got mad and didn’t respond in the thoughtful way I normally would.
What do you do when you find yourself in a situation like this? How do you hold your ground and continue the conversation without becoming the thorn in everyone’s side?
There’s a parenting approach called Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS). It relies on parents changing the lens with which they view a situation. Instead of seeing their kid’s challenging behaviour as naughty, they view the child as someone who’s trying their best but lacks the skills to behave in an acceptable manner. This reframing of their behaviour is also a powerful tool in the Diversity and Inclusion space.
Often, people who sabotage workforce diversity initiatives have spent their life learning that the system – as it stands – rewards their behaviour for being complicit in it. They’ve never had an experience where a barrier exists simply because of an aspect of their identity, nor have they learnt how to be an inclusive leader.
By understanding these kinds of individuals as people who don’t have the knowledge or skills to see how hurtful their behaviour is, you can approach their resistance to workforce diversity in a supportive and, ultimately, more successful way. You’ll also be more likely to find out what they’re driven by – and this is information you can use to your advantage. Though you won’t change everyone’s mind, this approach may give you the chance to enlighten some.
When people have their defences up, they’re unable to learn. So, to create meaningful change in challenging ableism, ageism, homophobia, racism, and sexism it’s important to keep your cool. You need to work with the detractors to educate them and come up with solutions together. You might even start with my tips on embracing Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace.
That being said, it’s not easy and I don’t want to pretend it is. If you have lived experience of exclusion, like I do, these kinds of interactions can be triggering on many levels. When someone pushes my buttons, and I can’t find a different lens to reframe the situation, it’s very difficult for me to keep my cool. I can usually hold my feelings in but find it very hard to unwind afterwards.
But, I encourage you to keep trying. This work is desperately needed because someone needs to be able to hold space in those conversations and walk people towards change and equity. If you’re interested in joining a group of like minded people to further build your skills in addressing bad behaviour, language or backlash join my Diversity and Inclusion network where we discuss these issues (and more!) once a month.
10 May 2022
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