The other day I was on a call, and the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion came up. I could feel myself sliding into that uneasy zone where you no longer know whether anyone wants to hear your perspective. To try and break the ice, I half-heartedly joked, “Well no one wants to hear from a white male about diversity.” A female colleague immediately stopped me and said, “No, you are precisely the group that needs to talk more about diversity.”
I was surprised by her response. I had been sure that the only viewpoints that mattered were voices from diverse groups. My colleague went on to explain that she didn’t need me to share my empathy or support, what she needed to hear was what am I doing, as a leader, to build a more diverse workforce? What are my goals in doing so? Why does diversity matter to me and my organization, and what have I learned?
My friend is right! As members of a majority, let us not offer bromides and flattery. Our empathy rings hollow because there is no true way to understand the minority’s perspective. Yet, as my friend suggests, we can describe what are going to do to move this initiative forward.
Here are some ways to describe what you are doing about diversity, equity, and inclusion in your own leadership efforts and organizationally.
Explain what you have learned. Describe a genuine moment where you have seen things differently and where your perspective has changed for the better. Clarify what changed your mind. The Irish author George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
As I reflect on my colleague’s advice, I am grateful for her encouragement. I had felt that I was in a no-win situation, and that no one wanted to hear from me. I still find myself hanging back and letting others voice their perspectives about diversity and inclusion, but now, I am prepared to step in and explain what I am striving to do in this context. I now feel like I can be a part of the conversation.