The social unrest of 2020 brought new attention to long-simmering issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the U.S. and around the globe, and prompted many to seek to learn more about longstanding societal inequities — and potential paths forward.

Through a recently launched, free online course on the Coursera platform “Foundations of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Work” six UVA Darden faculty members offer insights on creating effective change in organizations. Here, professors deliver their thoughts and share additional thought leadership.  

3 Zones of Action

We focus a lot on the belonging components of inclusion and a bit less so on the equity and justice aspects of inclusion. You can belong to a system and be positioned at the lowest rung in that system. Advancing diversity and equity efforts requires us to think about the ways in which we position people in organizations and the opportunities that they have to be valued for their contribution and to shape the strategy, the core values and the culture of the organization itself.

After many C-suite social media posts and internal communications pledging solidarity with Black workers and commitment to anti-racist initiatives, the question on everyone’s mind is: “What now?” Darden Professor Laura Morgan Roberts highlights “three zones of action” to promote true racial equity and inclusion.

According to Morgan Roberts, responsible leaders must engage the head, heart and hands.

Read more in “What Now in Race Work? 3 Zones of Action.”

Considerations of Class

The social signals that we've put a lot of importance on … are such an incredibly important thing to understand. Try to change some of those rituals and understand the power dynamics that are there and create spaces where people can have upward voice and channels to leadership.

People who are able to move between socioeconomic classes through their lifetimes bring unique skills to the workplace. According to Professor Sean Martin, people who move into different social classes throughout their life acquire tools that help them adapt in those environments and become more adept at relating to different groups of people. In the workplace, social class transitioners can rely on their unique experiences to build a bridge between two different groups, or “blend,” sharing their experiences to help promote a more inclusive and culturally sensitive workplace.

Read more in “What Social Class Transitioners Bring to the Workplace.”

Recruiting for Diversity

When we think about what it takes to be successful in an organization as a person of color, critical mass is key. We have to see a greater amount of recruitment of individuals who are different so that they can actually create an environment that doesn't just develop a pipeline, but creates a safety passage to succeed.

How does a company build and perpetuate diverse hiring practices? Professor Toni Irving unpacks three key ingredients, including widening the prospective talent pool, removing implicit bias from the process and addressing potential structural issues within the organization. Irving explains why traditional defenses regarding status quo hiring, especially a supposed lack of qualified candidates, can no longer be considered valid for organizations serious about diversifying their ranks.

Read more in “3 Essentials to a More Inclusive Hiring Process.”

Enabling Crucial Conversations Through Mindfulness

Difficult conversations’ is one of those evergreen topics that people in business are often interested in. My own fascination has been with what I call leading mindfully, and that is adopting the practices of mindfulness writ large as a way of managing our inner experience, because that's really what is coming up for us with difficult conversations.

While mindfulness is often equated with solitary actions, the practice can have important impact on effective communication. Darden Professor Lili Powell explains how to practice mindfulness in low-stakes interactions, before moving on to higher-stakes conversations, through practicing the ABC steps of Arrive, Breathe and Connect. Powell says those who learn how to remain curious, grounded and act with generosity will come off as self-possessed and encourage a similar reaction with a conversation partner, potentially paving the way for constructive communication.

Read more in “The ABCs of Mindful Interaction.”

Build a Culture Committed to Learning About Race

There are systemic biases, individual biases and institutional biases that get in the way of an organization operating at its peak. Organizations that are operating in ways that create the maximum value have to get rid of inequity, have to get rid of the things that shackle or keep it from being the kind of organization that provides true value.

One path to eliminating impediments to value creation: Designing for real diversity and inclusion.  Eliminating barriers takes a committed, holistic approach, and must take into account the interpretation of those efforts from everyone within an organization. Darden Professor and Chief Global Diversity Officer Martin Davidson discusses a key approach to success: Build a learning culture that encourages all employees to adopt a learning orientation toward race.

Read more in “How to Design for Real Race-Intelligent Inclusion.”

The Stubborn Staying Power of Segregation

I want to draw our conversation to the reality of what I call the illusion of inclusion, the way that it appears we're very inclusive, but perhaps we might not be.

Recent unrest across the United States has opened the eyes of many to the differing realities experienced by Americans. Darden Professor Greg Fairchild notes what he calls the “illusion of inclusion,” in which large swaths of the population — notably white people — tend to believe their worlds are more integrated than reality would suggest. In fact, in schools, work and neighborhoods, the U.S. remains stubbornly segregated. Without intentional efforts, we cannot expect circumstances to change, and we should anticipate future social unrest.

Read more in “Segregation in 2020: Why Aren’t We Moving Forward.”