Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Listen and Learn


Honest talk about our differences leads to greater understanding.

We should all engage in dialogues with people who are different than we are — whether that's a different race, gender identity, cultural background or generation — to learn about perspectives other than our own. Listening sessions create safe forums where these needed conversations take place. It's where diverse groups of people share personal experiences and perspectives, clarify viewpoints and develop solutions to common concerns. Achieving these worthwhile goals begins by simply talking to others who challenge your worldview. Here's how to get the conversations started.

  • Expand your world. You must first address confirmation bias, which involves gravitating to information that confirms what you already believe and what you've experienced. To combat confirmation bias, connect with people with backgrounds, interests and abilities that challenge your worldview. Go to different events or visit various communities, not to help or save, but simply to share experiences with people who are different than you.

Hearing stories that are counter to your life experience doesn't deny the validity of your past. When open and honest conversations occur, all participants have opportunities to clarify their viewpoints and ultimately develop solutions to issues or concerns that define the community in which they work or live. Addressing issues related to equity or inclusion can't happen until these dialogues occur.

  • Have courageous conversations. Holding listening sessions with a diverse group of individuals can be a powerful and rewarding experience. Many of us come from various cultural backgrounds and have different lived experiences. It's easy to dismiss the experiences of another person if they're vastly different than our own. However, it's difficult to ignore shared stories from a group of people with similar cultural backgrounds. Listening to them and suspending your disbelief about their viewpoints is a valuable exercise.

Ensure that people who want to participate in listening sessions feel welcome and comfortable doing so. The conversations should be open forums, but not mandatory.

Everyone involved in the conversation should be interested in being there.

Establish basic parameters first, such as respectful listening, to ensure the dialogue is productive. Also allow the group to come up with guidelines that they believe will help guide the conversations.

  • Work with a facilitator. Make sure whoever is facilitating the conversation is well versed in the unique skillset that role requires. The facilitator shouldn't dictate what people talk about or have an agenda of the outcome. They should enter the session with conversation prompts and an open mind, and work to find the conversations that the participants are wanting to have.
  • Ensure adequate representation. It helps if at least one of the facilitators comes from a historically marginalized identity. Additionally, you must ensure adequate representation within the discussion group. Discussions or decisions pertaining to a specific group must involve representation and direct participation from members of the group. To be blunt: A room full of white people shouldn't talk about their perceptions of the minority experience. However, they would have an excellent opportunity to discuss what a white ally is and what it means to be an advocate for minorities.

The impact of what is said is often different than the intent, but facilitators must be willing to step in as necessary if hurtful dialogue could further harm members of historically marginalized groups.

The impact of what is said is often different than the intent.

Facilitators could ask, "How could someone misinterpret what you just said?" That gives someone an opportunity to roll back their comment and say it in a different way.

  • Develop action steps. Honest conversations are important, but it's equally important to commit to incorporating takeaways into the listening session, through follow-up steps for your group or for you as an individual. Take notes during listening sessions (avoid recording them so participants feel more comfortable sharing) and summarize for the group key thematic takeaways. Follow up with the participants two, three and six months later to ask about the strides they've taken to meet the action steps they developed after listening to and learning from others. These follow-ups should be gentle reminders to recenter their efforts on the commitments they made.

After participating in open dialogues about diversity, you'll develop skills that can be applied to other conversations with people who challenge what you've been taught to believe through culture, the media and society.

A first step

History, data and statistics are important to promote inclusion in our society, but personal stories and experiences can make an even greater impact in fostering a greater understanding among people of diverse cultural backgrounds. Perhaps listening to others will help you enter DEI work where you're most comfortable. From there you can begin the journey from uninformed to informed, from informed to concerned, and from concerned to called to action. OSM

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