Diversity conversations causing frustrations

More than a quarter (26%) of employees find conversations about diversity and inclusion (D&I) frustrating and 22% of employees find them nerve wracking, according to a new report.

The research, by diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultancy The Unmistakables, found that 21% of working professionals feel excluded from conversations about D&I because of who they are. 

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Simone Marquis, managing director of The Unmistakables, said conversations around DEI become difficult because people in the majority of the workforce are fearful and minoritorised people are exhausted. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “We often hear people in the majority telling us they are worried about saying the wrong thing and inadvertently causing offence, that there may be negative repercussions and also that they don’t want to centre themselves in the EDI conversation. 

“Conversely, we hear from minoritised communities that they are feeling exhausted by the pressure to continuously educate colleagues about their lived experiences and this in turn is feeling transactional and one-way.” 

Asad Dhunna, founder of The Unmistakables said many professionals use words like ‘diverse’ to allude to personal identities but are unable to engage with conversations around DEI on a deeper level. 

He said: “We often hear companies say they want to hire ‘diverse employees’ and create ‘diverse cultures’. But what does it really mean when someone says ‘diverse’? 

“Are they talking about different genders? Sexualities? Ethnicities? These kinds of expressions often simply refer to people who are not white, cisgender, and straight.  

“They end up telling us what we’re not — as opposed to who we really are. When we frame identities this way, it often creates a feeling of us versus them.” 

Many working professionals avoid DEI-related conversations for fear of getting something wrong; 70% of respondents have avoided a conversation about socio-economic status, 67% have avoided one about race and 67% have avoided a conversation about religion. 

Simon Fanshawe, co-founder of Diversity by Design, said businesses should value curiosity, discussion and disagreement in these conversations. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “We need to engage in the reality of people's difference and learn what we don't know from each other.   

“For example, men and women are socialised differently and react to risk in business differently. It’s important to have both viewpoints in the room.”  

Fanshawe said people must avoid generalising, and instead be accurate with what they mean and who they are referring to. 

He added: “Even if there are disagreements thrown up by these conversations, that’s something we can learn from. True safety is when people can agree well.” 

Marquis said there continues to be a disconnect between what is said and done in the workplace. 

She added: “Big efforts are put behind specific days or months where people from minoritised communities are actively invited to talk about their culture, backgrounds and lived experiences.  

“But for the rest of the year, we’re still seeing people from minoritised communities being overlooked and their opinions disregarded. 

“For example, women being described as emotional or abrasive and people of colour being overlooked for promotions and development.”