Inclusive Conversations

By Margarita Sarmiento

Much is being said today about the need for workplace cultures that value inclusivity. Years ago, the conversation was about the business case for diversity, the need to embrace the changing diversity of our communities and recognize that a workplace that does not reflect the people they represent and serve will not survive. Today, we need to consider that diversity is not enough. There is a true business case for inclusivity. Leaders need to utilize the collective strength of differences in their teams to enable collaboration and innovation.

Defining diversity in its basic sense, including categories such as ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation and identity, socioeconomic status and education, to name a few, does not consider the importance of layering the diversity of knowledge, perspective and information—and this diversity is often underutilized in an organization.

Diversity broadens the perspective of an organization, inclusion deepens it. Diversity brings a variety of people to the table; inclusivity recognizes what they bring to the table as an asset, encouraging them to actively participate.

This is not about political correctness—a simplification that does not consider the individual. This is about creating a work culture that sees the individual contributor in terms of who they are and the value they bring. Mix Diversity Managing Director Hayley Barnard says inclusion is about nurturing an individual’s diversity in a way that enables them to say, “I fit in here, I feel valued, I can be my true self and do not have to hide parts of my character–because of this I can contribute.”

For inclusivity to exist, the work environment must be comfortable enough for individuals to feel safe sharing their own experiences and getting to know each other from a place of mutual trust. Through personal awareness and exposure to others’ perspectives, relationships are strengthened and individuals will benefit from the rich differences of the workforce.

These conversations can be uncomfortable and difficult to have; so often having to do more with emotion than hard fact. As we tread on the topics of race, gender and sexual orientation, discussions become especially difficult. Vulnerability and fear mix with shame and anxiety. However, we need to be willing to take the first step so these difficult conversations can become easier, and we can develop long-lasting and impactful connections.

Here are some guidelines for these uncomfortable conversations while respecting the concerns and opinions of our clients and coworkers.

  1. Acknowledge you can only control yourself.
    1. Commit to authenticity; be willing to say “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
    2. Identify and admit your own preconceptions and biases.
    3. Adjust your speaking style when necessary; beware of speaking in absolutes.
  2. Prioritize relationship over being right.
    1. Your reality is not their reality; let go of the need to prove your point.
    2. Listen and accept what they say as their truth.
    3. Be willing to admit you were wrong and apologize if necessary.
  3. Focus on why these conversations are important.
    1. Admit this is not easy; admit concerns and stress the benefits.
    2. Accept that no one has the right answer, and commit to do the best you can.
    3. Approach conversations with a mindset to learn, and when you know better do better.

Tony Robbins once said, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world. We must use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” I would add that we must start from a place of humility, focusing more on what we hear, rather than what we are trying to say.

Instead of dodging potentially controversial conversations, use them to increase awareness, mutual understanding and personal growth. Not only will we become better people, we will in turn broaden the effectiveness and authenticity of our organizations.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

Margarita Sarmiento is an award-winning, international trainer & speaker, certified leadership coach, and author. Three major career shifts as a result of reorganizations and lay-offs gave rise to more than 30 years of management and training experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors. These life changes have provided the unique ability to intuitively connect with people by sharing her expertise through personal stories and hands-on knowledge.

After one of these pivots, Margarita found she was providing training and coaching to friends and colleagues. At their encouragement she made the decision to branch out on her own, establishing ITK Consultants. Now, almost 15 years later, she continues to design and deliver customized programs, giving her a chance to utilize her communications degree and influence positive change.

Margarita is a native of Cuba, a naturalized citizen of the United States and an admirer of different cultures, traditions and perspectives. She loves her crazy Cuban-American family and may be guilty of highlighting them in some of her stories.


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