Sector News

How to have that tough conversation about diversity and inclusion

December 17, 2019
Diversity & Inclusion

Discussions of challenging topics like diversity and inclusion often shut down before they start. Resolve not to be intimidated.
With the holidays rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to think about getting ahead of your new year’s resolutions. Here’s one: Resolve to finally engage with those difficult conversations you need to have as an organization.

At the top of the list might be the one you need to have about diversity in leadership, because research shows that, at the moment, it’s near the bottom of the list for associations. Anxiety over that discussion can be present even at organizations that have the best intentions. As leadership consultant Daisy Auger-Dominguez recently pointed out in the Harvard Business Review, 27 percent of chief diversity officers still have to make the case for D+I. It’s not hard to imagine what the environment might be like at associations that lack the will or budget for such staffers in the first place.

Auger-Dominguez suggests that fear is the major force behind this resistance, leaving people “paralyzed into inaction.” And part of what’s prompting that fear is a sense that addressing diversity issues means having some uncomfortable conversations. But perhaps the job is easier if you frame the conversation about understanding your organization’s culture, not “fixing a diversity problem.” (Figure that by “you” I mean a white, middle-aged, male executive, though these are difficult conversations for leaders of many backgrounds.)

Some of the questions Auger-Dominguez suggests are meant to expose those cultural rifts. “Do you feel safe enough to take risks at work?” “What voice or what perspective is missing from this conversation?” And the leaders of the organization—the board chair, the CEO—need to be the ones asking those questions, lest they be perceived as inauthentic.

“I’ve led inclusion strategy and learning discussions at startups after which founders express dismay that their leadership teams did not participate more actively,” Auger-Dominguez writes. “If you want your team to stand up for inclusion, you need to stand up.”

What you might hear when you ask those questions is that your organization is cultivating an environment where many feel like they’re kept at arm’s length. Writing last week in Forbes, corporate consultant Tanya Meck argues that one reason why women are underrepresented in the corporate C-suite is that companies discount the skill sets that, rightly or wrongly, have been connected to women leaders.

“Conventional wisdom says women must continue to move closer to men’s leadership styles to climb the corporate ladder,” she writes. “That’s outdated thinking. The skills and attributes typically associated with women—collaboration, inclusiveness, team-building, credit-sharing, conflict resolution—are actually what I believe corporations need to keep pace with changing social mores and priorities.”

You may believe your association already possesses that culture. If so, there need be no fear in opening a conversation about it. Given the extremely low percentage of women serving as board chairs—just 4.4 percent, according to one recent survey—it’s a conversation worth having.

And it needn’t be fraught and tormented, but rather simply a discussion based in better understanding of where you’ve been and where you’re trying to get to. One association built that conversation around its recent centennial, and raising the questions out loud can be a powerful motivator for your organization to commit to it. As Meck points in the context of gender parity, “Once you say it, you’ll be held accountable and much more likely to make progress.”

It’s no different than that new year’s resolution you’ve drawn up—except that this one can make a positive change for your association.

By Mark Athitakis

Source: Associations Now

comments closed

Related News

September 25, 2022

What has (and hasn’t) changed about being a Chief Diversity Officer

Diversity & Inclusion

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, corporate interest in DEI is higher than ever. But has this increased attention racial justice and inequity led to real, meaningful change? The authors conducted interviews with more than 40 CDOs before and after summer 2020 and identified four major shifts in how these leaders perceived their companies’ engagement with DEI.

September 17, 2022

3 workplace biases that derail mid-career women

Diversity & Inclusion

Mid-career women are often surprised by the levels of bias and discrimination they encounter in the workplace, especially if they’ve successfully avoided it earlier in their careers. After speaking to 100 senior women executives, the authors identified three distinct kinds of bias and discrimination faced by mid-career women. They describe each bias and conclude with recommendations for overcoming them.

September 11, 2022

Working women and the war for talent

Diversity & Inclusion

Bain research shows that men and women have consistent motivations when it comes to work, across factors like financial orientation and camaraderie. They also have similar attitudes on inclusion, with fewer than 30% feeling included in the workplace. Despite a lack of intrinsic differences, women and men continue to have different outcomes and experiences at work, due to meaningful imbalances in occupation choice, prioritization of flexibility, and the perpetuation of biases.