Facilitating Diversity Conversations in the Workplace: 14 Tips

Many companies have become fond of the idea of diversity and inclusion, they might be oblivious of a simple and effective way to promote diversity and an inclusive environment, and that is via meaningful conversations.

The diversity and inclusion movement has increased the need for safe platforms where team members in a workplace can develop real connections and also share or make a conversation about their personal experiences in and outside work.

What does it mean to facilitate diversity discussion or conversation?

women standing beside corkboard
Group of people discussing diversity

It is simply to have a discussion on diversity which is intentionally guided by someone, called a facilitator. It is also a practice of being open to change.

In the light of the above, Team Crescendo is of the position that HR professional all wants to play a role in helping their workplace to improve diversity and inclusion. And according to the team, that can be a difficult task.

The actual way to create an enabling environment where all differences are appreciated and celebrated is to create a level of honesty that can make people feel uncomfortable and worry about confrontation.

And to get to this point, that can only happen if people are willing to have those brave conversations that change hearts and minds. 

It is important to have these conversations about diversity because such meaningful conversations can widen our horizons, leave us better informed, and more connected to others. Further that, conversations can make the employees learn about their and others’ beliefs, values, identities, behaviors, and interactions.

In addition, according to Amy Watts in her report on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, she opined that “workforces via diversity have been able to find more innovative solutions and break more barriers than teams with homogenous backgrounds”.

This is also reaffirming that having diversity and inclusion discussion topics will help the workforce become better and find more innovative solutions. 

14 ways to facilitate diversity conversation in the workplace

coworkers working together
Coworkers working together

1. Set the stage 

As an employee or a manager, you should be well aware of the fact that there will be a serious and compulsory conversation that has to be done regarding diversity.

Knowing this fully well will allow you to prepare adequately for the conversation. You will know the question and concerns you’d like to address. Also, in preparing, you need to be clear about the purpose of the conversation. 

2. Conversation Guidelines

In facilitating diversity conversations in the workplace, there is a need for some established guidelines.

Given the complexity of our society with diversity, the workforce in the workplace will need to approach the diversity discussion with humility and also with a heart to learn, to be heard, and understood.

Thus, to have a productive conversation, some of these guidelines are needed and should be kept in mind by teams; 

  • Be willing to talk about their personal beliefs or opinions about race and racism as well as talk about what they do not know 
  • Confidently ask questions about people’s experiences with racism
  • Listen without interrupting 
  • Allow everyone to speak 
  • Don’t allow criticizing of one another, rather challenge harmful social ideas and norms 
  • Avoid the use of disrespectful language and, 
  • Give room for people to ask questions without judgment. 

3. Make the discussion a devising session

A common goal and objective amongst employees should be solving division, as this encourages teamwork and unity amongst them.

Therefore, you may need to prepare some questions that would make the conversation a brainstorming one such that it will start in a welcome way and allow the participants to fully participate and share. 

4. Encourage humility and expect different perspectives

You must understand that people’s personalities, identities, or opinions are formed over time based on family influence, religion, gender, community, and so on.

Thus, discussing diversity or having a diversity conversation might make at least one person, if not all react defensively. Therefore, you have to open or start the conversation with a note of assurance that they are in a safe place to express curiosity and vulnerability.

The main point in all of these is for you to show respect, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand others’ struggles. 

5. Don’t speak too much

You have to listen more than you speak.

Encourage others to take a pause or think through before they respond and also carefully consider if they understand an opinion before reacting to it, either assumedly or defensively.

  • In a smaller group conversation on diversity, you can ask the listeners to repeat what was shared in their words, the idea is to show they are listening and understanding.
  • In a larger setting like a seminar or large group discussions, as a leader and a neutral facilitator, you can also do the same thing to ensure that they heard and understand the opinion shared. 

6. Allow for a lot of questions

In facilitating diverse conversations, you need to ask questions and encourage people to ask questions.

This will allow them to experience what it is like to be in someone else’s position. When they are also allowed to ask questions, they get to understand varying perspectives, and the more they become empathetic.

Thus, for a successful diversity conversation, questions are a very important aspect of the process. 

7. Do not humiliate participants

You can’t achieve a successful diversity conversation if you are not prepared to say no to shaming or humiliating others.

Any act that embarrasses or shames others for voicing their opinions, background, or naivety will make them hesitant to participate again in the discussion.

Of course, the conversations may get serious and heated, however, you cannot afford to direct or vent your anger towards someone in particular. 

8. Deal with hesitancy 

There is a need to discover the reason behind why some are hesitant to converse or share.

While some may feel embarrassed to participate or share just because they are afraid of the opinions of others about them. Some may even be that they are afraid to speak.

Thus, having these open interactions will get them more comfortable and connected because they can see that there are similarities amongst them. 

9. Reemphasize the common goal. 

Since the goal is to achieve understanding, true equity, an end to discrimination, and empathy, it is important you focus on reemphasizing or reminding everyone of the common goal.

Keeping this in the mind of all participants will make it easier to be constructive when responding to those who have been marginalized and how they think they would be well respected, represented, or cared for. 

10. Lead by Example 

As a leader, you can encourage inclusion and foster diversity in the workplace by providing an environment that encourages positive conversations.

This begins with practicing self-leadership which also starts with vulnerability, transparency, and constant communication. If you can emulate these good behaviors, it helps your team to have the tools needed to navigate some emotional discussions, as well as create a culture where people will feel unafraid and comfortable to share and ask questions. 

11. Know when to engage others

As much as it is your responsibility as a leader to facilitate these positive conversations, it is also important that you know when to take a step back and allow others to take over.

Yes, sharing your personal experience will be very helpful, especially to engage others and get them to talk. However, you cannot be the only one doing all the talking, you have to give room for others to take the stage as well. 

12. Identify privileges. 

If you do not recognize or identify the privileges enjoyed by a specific group, you cannot understand the viewpoint of other groups. That means you need to pay close attention and understand these privileges. 

13. Try to lean into discomfort.

This is simply because having brave and honest conversations isn’t honest and brave if there is no discomfort.

Therefore, you have to challenge yourself as a leader, including the group that you need to contribute to despite the discomfort. 

14. Coming to closure 

Usually, you might be tempted to continue a conversation beyond the agreed-upon ending time.

However, it is wise to respect everyone’s tome and also respect the guidelines that had been set by you at the beginning of the discussion.

There are key things you need to note as you come to a closure:

  • First is that as you give a summary of the conversation, and ensure that you encourage people to participate in sharing what other perspectives they have and understand. 
  • You would also need to comment on the effect of this conversation or what the conversation means for the workplace department or programs. 
  • As you are summarizing, you must discover whether your conversation has generated an impetus for action. If it has, you should in your summary of the conversation, indicate who or those that will be responsible to take action. 

Is your company offering inclusive jobs for people with disabilities? As an employer, you can publish your job offers on MyDisabilityJobs and reach thousands of qualified candidates.


photo of diverse coworkers doing fist bump
Photo of diverse coworkers doing fist bump

How can inclusion be encouraged in all conversations? Facilitating diversity conversations in the workplace is an effective way of fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace environment, as fostering diversity breeds inclusion and a sense of belonging.

Further, that, diversity and inclusiveness conversations enable members or participants to learn new perspectives, understand and connect.  Also, it’s important to note that, there are many benefits to hiring people with disabilities.


How to facilitate a discussion on diversity?

The actual way to create an enabling environment where all differences are appreciated and celebrated is to create a level of honesty that can make people feel uncomfortable and worry about confrontation.

Related articles:

Disability in the Workplace: Developing Accessibility in 10 Ways

Diversity Management: What is it and Concept

Diversity and Inclusion Topics for Discussion: 9 Talking Points

Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace & How to Overcome Them

Managing Diversity in the Workplace: 10 Strategies

Inclusive Behaviors in The Workplace | 15 Ways to Promote it

Fostering Inclusion : Work Environment | 12 Ways to do it

Inclusive Workplaces Practices

Benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

DEI Training & Topics: What is it & Implementing Strategies

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