Some 200 diversity and inclusion practitioners; senior HR managers; supplier diversity managers; procurement managers; and others descended on Westlake’s LaCentre Conference & Banquet Facility for a daylong discussion on how to have Bold, Inclusive Conversations in the workplace during the 10th Annual Inclusion Conference, hosted by the Commission on Economic Inclusion, a program of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

Mary-Frances Winters, president and CEO of The Winters Group, and Brittany J. Harris, VP of innovation and learning at The Winters Group, led the crowd through several topics, including:

  • the role of fostering self- and ‘other-understanding’;
  • assessing individual and team readiness;
  • preparing for conversations;
  • guidance for engaging in conversations;
  • strategies for sharpening inclusive habits; and
  • applying the Model for Bold, Inclusive Conversations®

 

The benefits of uncomfortable conversations

During her opening remarks, Winters acknowledged that it’s not uncommon for employees and company leaders to shy away from holding talks that center around difficult topics such as race, politics and religion. It’s important to have these conversations, however, as doing so can yield many positive benefits for companies, Winters said. Some of the benefits are:

  • improved retention;
  • a feeling of enhanced psychological safety on the part of employees;
  • better cross-cultural understanding of coworkers; and
  • higher levels of engagement by employees.

 

“There is a business case to having these conversations,” Winters said.

Building a toolkit for Bold, Inclusive Conversations

There have to be tools in place to have these conversations before any of these benefits can be realized. Winters and Harris began introducing these tools through a series of interactive table discussions and audience participation segments that put a spotlight on how cultural orientations shape how people see the world and how these orientations can play out in a workplace setting.

It’s incumbent on businesses, Winters said, to create a safe, transparent place within their organizations where employees can consistently seek to find common ground and understanding with people who might hold different identities or cultural backgrounds rather than retreating into their own bubbles.

“You have to get over the shame and guilt associated with conflict so you can have teachable moments,” Winters said.

She explained that the first step in developing this toolkit is in building trust through straight talk and describing without judgment how another person’s background might influence how that person is perceived. As employees gain more experience and exposure in learning about what makes each person different, they will be better able to understand difference from a more complex place, she said.

Throughout the day, attendees shared some of the best practices their organizations have adopted in an effort to have more of these Big, Bold Conversations. For example, the Greater Cleveland Partnership has put in place a Diversity and Inclusion Discussion Group that seeks to build upon the Racial Equity Awareness training that all employees of the GCP are attending.

Want more insight into diversity and inclusion? Check out the Commission’s Best Practice Library that has a wide range of content on how diversity and inclusion efforts can help businesses succeed.