Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Is Not a Monolith
I'm a Christian. My friend is Jewish. In the past, I have celebrated Hanukkah with her, and she's celebrated Christmas with me. We get along fabulously, and we don't have to be at war with each other just because we have different beliefs. Telling my friend Happy Hanukkah doesn't make me any less firm in my beliefs. It means I wish her well during her holiday, and I hope she makes the most of her celebration.
As a society, we need to stop censoring the use of different holiday greetings. Happy Holidays is a copout that we use to not offend anyone, but it then offends everyone by making it wrong to use specific terminology to celebrate the holiday that is special to me. It's meant to be inclusive of everyone and have everyone conform to the same standard. The problem with Happy Holidays is that we censoring people from expressing their own religion or cultural values. It is rather presumptuous to assume that people want to be wished Happy Holidays.
We need to be able to celebrate our diversity, not conform to one general standard set forth by governments or administrative bodies.
How do we encourage differing opinions instead of conformity?
This same idea applies in the office. When employees aren't empowered to have a say and leaders aren't seeking ways to encourage healthy discourse and opposing opinions, we start just agreeing, creating unhealthy conformity.
We need to create a culture where all employees can have their own opinions and openly share their thoughts and ideas with others, avoiding groupthink. If you're a leader, there are several things you can do to help with this:
Get opinions in advance of meetings. Ask your team members for thoughts about the topic or issue and get ideas from each employee before they know what their co-workers are thinking. Give them a chance to share honestly, without pressure, and you'll create an inclusive culture for everyone.
Lay out options. Often, the leader is not the expert on the subject matter at hand. Once feedback and opinions are gathered, lay them out anonymously for everyone to review. The team can then make a sound decision based on the pros and cons, with no judgment toward anyone.
Manage different personalities. Leaders need to manage their team members. A team is not one person but the whole group, and once one voice is louder than others, the flow of the work can be disrupted. Know the strengths and weaknesses of those on your team so you can manage situations before they get out of control. This allows everyone to be able to voice their opinions on a topic or project and not censor themselves for fear of retaliation.
Why do diverse opinions lead to better outcomes?
Most projects need ideas and discussion to come to fruition. This is how diversity makes us smarter as individuals and as a whole. Diversity allows us to share these ideas that have come from different backgrounds and perspectives. We all come from uniquely different places in life, and by seeking out new perspectives, we begin to understand why one approach may work better for a specific audience, or why marketing a particular product should be done in a way that takes cultural things into consideration you never would've thought of.
It is natural for people to be comfortable with their own views and not necessarily look for new ones until they are forced outside their comfort zone.
In the workplace, we need to make it safe to seek new perspectives and share unpopular ideas so we can grow and create better teams. We need to normalize having nonjudgmental conversations among employees.
What is healthy discourse?
Healthy discourse allows us to have a mutual airing of opinions and views without being punished or ostracized. When we are of the belief that diversity of thought hinders belonging, we can't have this discourse. We can't take down walls and move forward. Instead, we just nod in agreement, even knowing that something is not right, because it's safe. That is where it takes personal integrity from the individual and intentional leadership to create a safe space from whoever is in charge.
Anything other than this doesn't make for an inclusive workplace or a community of belonging and diversity. It again turns us into "Happy Holidays" mode, where we just conform for various reasons. It's time to accept that diversity and inclusion in your organization is not the same as DEI in another company. Not everyone needs to have the same conversations or strategies. Each team has its own needs and an inclusive leader needs to figure out what that is, so you can mitigate your weaknesses and build upon your strengths.
Let's figure out how to help move your org to the place where you can celebrate those differing opinions and become better because of them. Reach out for some ideas on how to get started.