3 questions to get your team talking about EDI

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

In a recent Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) coaching session, my client, a senior leader passionately committed to EDI, said something that really got me thinking.  They said, ‘I’m so happy with all the work that we’re doing on EDI in my senior leadership team, but having reflected on this, it’s struck me that I never talk about EDI with my own team.’

Having quickly arrived at the conclusion that this was a huge, missed opportunity, our conversation turned to the ‘how’.  After all, this team was gender balanced, seemingly also very inclusive, and there were no incidents of overt bias to call out (all valid reasons, by the way, for the conversation never turning to EDI).  But even the most diverse teams need to have these conversations.  We are all susceptible to the same societal biases, so even in a well-meaning team there will be judgments and assumptions of which we will not be aware.  Another reason is that, even when things look great right now, we ought to ensure they stay this way by making certain that Diversity and Inclusion in the team is delivered by design rather than coincidence.

So how do you put EDI on the agenda of a team that doesn’t think it needs to discuss it?  Here are 3 questions that I have always found open the door to rich conversations about Diversity:

1. How does our Diversity contribute to our success?
The start of any conversation about EDI should firmly establish its value. A conversation that establishes the most relevant benefits to a person, yet allows a space to uncover any scepticism around the topic, is ideal. It provides a perfect starting point from which to understand how much or how little the team appreciates the Diversity of its members. Even more so, this is the kind of conversation that can uncover whether a diverse team is in fact making full use of its Diversity, and whether there might be unexplored opportunities that could make the team even more successful.

Other questions that will provoke curiosity about this topic could be:

  • What does Diversity mean for you?
  • In what ways have we benefited from the diversity of our team? 
  • What can sometimes get in the way of leveraging the full diversity of our team?
The answers to these questions will signpost the most suitable subsequent actions. For instance, if the team appears agnostic or slightly resistant to the idea of EDI, it might be useful to introduce some training on the subject, to heighten interest and personalise the corporate EDI vision. If the team is fully committed, but doesn’t quite know what it should do, a conversation around allyship or inclusive behaviours might be appropriate.

Whatever the direction, once the conversation has started, the most important thing is to keep it going.

2. What are some of the misconceptions about Diversity that you’ve come across? How have you dealt with them?

By now, the EDI conversation appears to have travelled full circle. Whereas there was an upward trajectory in the interest in and commitment to EDI after #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, this interest seems to be fading, and the commitment is meeting with resistance. Backlash in the EDI conversation is as much part of the conversation as its values. Certain beliefs persist, such as the popular assertion that by levelling the playing field, we’re actually exercising ‘positive discrimination’. Others include the fear that to add women into senior layers of organisations means that men don’t stand a chance of being hired or promoted, or the belief that affording some privileges to members of underrepresented groups means taking away those privileges from others.

It would be important to have an open, ‘safe space’ conversation about this where people are given an opportunity to speak their minds, no matter what side of the divide they stand on. Of course, this type of conversation might easily derail into something personal, so it would need to be carefully facilitated. One useful suggestion is to establish ground rules that ensure a safe and respectful environment in which to express oneself. I have recently witnessed such a conversation in which one member of the team was not on board with the EDI agenda of the company and felt very comfortable in expressing their view in a calm manner. Others in the team, while disagreeing with the stance, were very polite and respectful of the fact that one of their team members didn’t see eye to eye with them. The ability to be able to be yourself in this way brought the team even closer to each other, including the ‘outlier’ member.

3. What can we as a team do to promote EDI?

Once the conversation has reached a natural pause, people will often want to know what to do next.  Many people have a preference for activity over discussion and will want ideas to transition into actions.  When this point is reached, it will be a good idea to ascertain appetites for individual commitments and put them together into a team pledge or charter.  What do members agree to be committed to doing? When will they do it by?  How will they be held accountable?  What will be the measure of success?  These are the kind of questions that will need to be discussed in creating guidance for structured action.

Engaging a team in the EDI conversation isn’t difficult.  It’s a topic that is deeply personal and relevant to each one of us.  This means it is also a topic on which each of us has a view and an opinion that we want to share – maybe not immediately, but most probably when the time is right for us.  The trick, therefore, is to find a way to start the conversation and find the angle in which all are vested.  Once that’s done, it will be important to tie in the company vision on the topic and find a way in which the team can actively contribute to this vision.  And, in this one small way, everyone involved can find even more meaning in the work.

Suggested Reading

Diversity is the Reward for Inclusion


3 Things Inclusive Workplaces Have in Common