Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Daisy Auger-Dominguez, chief people officer at VICE Media, offers 5 suggestions on "turning [a DEI misstep] into a positive learning experience."
For many people, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) missteps result in "awkward and uncomfortable experiences" that often "lead to denial, defensiveness, or, worse, staying silent," Auger-Dominguez writes.
In fact, studies suggest that many people remain silent because they are afraid of being punished or rejected. "Afraid of saying the wrong thing, employees, including managers, don't speak up about racist incidents, gendered microaggressions, or abusive language in the workplace," Auger-Dominguez adds. "But that is a huge reason why DEI efforts have remained stalled."
According to Auger-Dominguez, it is necessary to have these conversations while granting people the "grace and space" to voice their thoughts and feelings. "Saying something and showing care is always better than saying nothing," she adds.
However, sometimes people make mistakes.
When this happens, Auger-Dominguez suggests that the responsible parties should "take full ownership of what happened, connect with those offended, and use it as a learning experience to try to do better," rather than getting defensive and making excuses.
If you find yourself making a DEI "misstep," Auger-Dominguez recommends following these tips to take action and create a positive learning experience:
1. Own your mistake
When you make a mistake, don't attempt to immediately resolve it or explain it away. Instead, Auger-Dominguez suggests listening and responding to the things you hear, then taking responsibility for the things you did—or didn't—do.
"Acknowledge your responsibility, apologize, and commit to doing better. Saying sorry doesn't always eliminate the hurt so you might not be forgiven right away," she writes. "What matters more is that you show a willingness to open the dialogue and learn from your mistakes."
2. Foster an environment of respect, dialogue, learning, and humility
"Demonstrate genuine curiosity in better understanding the nature of your misstep," Auger-Dominguez writes. "Ask questions about your word choices, and use this as an opportunity to better understand another culture or point of view."
Managers can establish a regular dialogue surrounding a variety of DEI topics to create an environment "where there is acceptance and respect for expressing emotions and grace to help one another when they misspeak," she adds. "Don't shy away from controversial issues."
3. Have 'courageous conversations' with your team
According to Auger-Dominguez, as managers become more comfortable having conversations about racism, privilege, and oppression, others will notice and follow in their footsteps.
"You can't help someone feel safe about proposing new ideas (or improve team building or anything else) if your organizational culture isn't designed to make sure people know it's safe and beneficial to share who they truly are and what they're grappling with," she adds.
4. Phone a friend
When Auger-Dominguez struggles with DEI efforts, she reaches out to a community of friends and colleagues for advice.
"If you're uncertain about saying or doing the 'right' thing, vet your emails or actions with a broad range of voices. You can also try modeling non-leading 'what' and 'how' questions when speaking with your own teams to get their perspective: 'What was your intention when you said that?' 'How might the other person interpret your actions?' 'Tell me more,'" Auger-Dominguez writes.
5. Be persistent
When you inevitably make a mistake, Auger-Dominguez notes that "how you react is more important than what you did."
Ultimately, if you continue "with kind, authentic, and genuine care, you'll better be able to move forward together with a shared understanding," she writes.
"Most importantly," she adds, "don't let your fears of making a mistake hold you back."
"The path to creating and sustaining an inclusive culture will never be free of obstacles or mistakes. So own them and persist." (Auger-Dominguez, Harvard Business Review, 5/3)
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