The following builds on “How to Normalize DEI in Your Organization, Part 1.”

Enable Mindful Conversations

Insights From Darden Professor Lili Powell

Talking about difference is critical. But it can be uncomfortable, and the stakes can feel very high. The conversation around difference might lead to unexpected tension that can trigger unconscious, aggressive body language and physical cues. Rehearsing these simple techniques in low-stakes situations can help you ensure mindful engagement when you move into more complex conversations. You can think of them as A, B and C.

  • A: ARRIVE. As you transition into present-moment awareness to “fully arrive,” adjust your posture to be alert yet relaxed. It keeps you in the present and communicates attentiveness to others.
  • B: BREATHE. Once you’ve arrived, take stock of your breath. Keep in mind that inhaling brings oxygen into the body, so if you need energy, breathe in deeply. Likewise, exhaling ejects carbon dioxide, so if you need to relax, breathe out deeply.
  • C: CONNECT. If your interaction meets with resistance or is derailed by interruption, it’s hard to stay connected to your intentions, the other person and the moment, and your instincts may narrow to focus on self-preservation. It’s difficult but important to shift from your stress response to a generous interpretation of what’s happening — even if it feels counterintuitive, it is constructive.

Chances are that by practicing the ABC techniques, your own behavior will encourage your conversation partner to mirror your self-regulation and maturity, all leading to constructive communication.

Empower Mentorship and Sponsorship

Insights From Darden Professor Martin N. Davidson

Mentorship and sponsorship are potentially effective policies for nurturing diverse talent, along with unconscious-bias training for executives. These practices can help create a culture and climate shift by fostering greater collaboration and enabling difficult conversations about race, gender and other sensitive differences, says Davidson. You also need to coach diverse teams to work well together: “These actions, taken in concert with structural changes, can make a notable difference,” he says.

Finding allies throughout the organization is another key to accelerating progress. “Many people became passionate and outraged by the Floyd murder, and with earnest hearts, they said, ‘I am going to step in and do something,’” he says. “It’s a very important role, one that is going to help make this work stick.”

Yet allies can overstep their mark, and there is little understanding about what makes for good allyship. Davidson offers this insight: “Becoming a great ally means grounding yourself in your identity as someone with privilege. Another essential component comes down to fundamental interpersonal interactions, coaching and support skills. The third piece is the importance of gathering critical information about these issues.”

Leverage Identity

Insights From Darden Professor Laura Morgan Roberts

In her research and field studies, Roberts has found that minority individuals develop creative and novel ways to make use of their “deviant” identities (identities that deviate from the norm) to navigate bias, preconceptions, stigmatization and day-to-day microaggressions in the workplace. Leveraging their deviance in different ways empowers individuals to bring their authentic selves to the job.

  • Challenge negative stereotypes. An African American news editor interviewed by Roberts in her research on deviant identities proactively dips into his own racial insights and awareness of stereotypes to broaden his readers’ understanding of African Americans living in public housing. His stories offer a more nuanced image of people who “needed a hand-up as opposed to a hand-out,” challenging negative stereotypes around “baby on the hip mothers” and dissolute lifestyles — a more rounded perspective that he could also share with colleagues writing about similar topics.
  • Build positive relationships across difference. Other participants in Roberts’ field studies reported using identity references to bridge cultural divides — no matter how awkward. For Asian Americans, hearing comments from colleagues about them liking Indian food, for instance, could be positively construed as efforts to make a connection. Many said they were prepared to “humor” this kind of interaction if it meant opening more genuine ways to bridge differences with colleagues and to build trust. “For these minority professionals, digging into racial and ethnic connections with colleagues can become a fast-track way to establish trust.”
  • Construct a positive image. Some of the participants in Roberts’ studies reported times they took the opportunity to confirm some of the more positive stereotypes around their racial identities. For African Americans, riffing with the “cool” stereotype afforded them greater cachet in the workplace; for Asian Americans, playing up the notion that they were somehow inherently “hard-working” and “intelligent” also worked to their favor at times. Many reported that this kind of confirming behavior did not make them feel inauthentic.

That being said, forward-thinking organizations that want to capitalize on the very real promise of diversity would do well to be mindful of the fine lines that exist between social engineering and inauthenticity, Roberts says. “As leaders you need to understand that talented people may be doing mental and emotional gymnastics all day long, as they figure out how they can authentically engage their minoritized identities as a source of strength, so they can maximally contribute.”

The preceding is drawn from the white paper Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and 5 Things You Can Do to Normalize DEI in Your Organization.

Normalize DEI in Your Organization
Read more insights in the white paper