As a diversity and inclusion consultant, I have a keen understanding of the need to engage diverse groups effectively. Not all strategies for engaging people of diverse backgrounds have the same impact. Today, I want to share how you can increase your own ability to engage a diverse group, either in your workplace or community organisation, as effectively as possible.
What is Diversity?
Before jumping into the strategies we can use to engage effectively, it is worth examining what diversity means. Diversity is something we find all over the world. All people are diverse in their opinions, tastes and habits. However, on a macro level, we can see diversity in terms of countries, religion and culture. This is usually what we think of when we talk about diversity.
To my mind, an appreciation of diversity does not just demand us to accept other faiths or customs. It goes much deeper than that. Respecting diversity involves being open to the different, lived experiences of other people that may be very different to your own. Diversity is all about perspective, really. In Ireland, most people are of white Irish ethnicity, this is the norm. The dominant religion in Ireland, according to the census is Catholicism. However, we know very well that these broad strokes do not accurately represent the Ireland that you and I live in today. When we take an equally limited view of other cultures we can make assumptions that are not necessarily true, and which limit our own view of the world and of those newcomers to our communities.
Benefits of Diversity in Organisations
The benefits to organisations of promoting diversity are many. Not only do you infuse your organisation or workplace with a varied bank of people with different experience and education, the different opinions that they bring with them can open up new creative possibilities in terms of product and service offerings, ways of working and incredible innovation. This can, in turn, lead to a happier workforce and increased sales as the public see your brand as one that represents a wide sector of the population.
Now that we have explored the ‘why’ of diversity, let’s explore some strategies you can use to engage effectively with diverse groups.
To work effectively with diverse groups, we must all be willing to approach the work with curiosity. If we enter into the situation willing to learn, open to new approaches and opinions, we are more likely to embrace what we see. However, if you approach it from the point of view that the way things have always been done is the way they should always be done, then this rigidity can put up walls between the people involved, particularly if a section of the group feels that they are not being listened to.
Empathy is another key ingredient to work with diverse groups successfully. Empathy is the ability to imagine what it would be like to walk in the other person’s shoes, to see the world as they see it. This can be difficult when we don’t understand, so again, we must be willing to try to understand and then empathy can be used well.
Look for Similarities
Try to approach the people in your group from the point of view that ‘we’re all just people’ instead of that person’s from Dublin, they’re from Galway, so and so is from Kiev, he’s from Bangalore and she’s from Lagos. When we look at people in this way we instantly put walls between us. Instead of searching for common ground we have started from a place of difference. It is much easier to allow people to get along when we start from commonalities and work out to our differences from there.
Let Discussions Flow
Maintain open dialogue as much as possible. When people are talking, asking and answering questions of one another, we are in the learning or discovery mode. This allows us to fill in our limited understanding of who that person is and what their concerns are. When you are chatting, be mindful of the language you use and the speed at which you talk. Although many countries around the world speak English, the way it is used differs from location to location. Individual accents can be difficult to understand, while cultural references and colloquialisms can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings.
Focus on making people feel welcome. This is so important and yet, is often overlooked. When we are busy trying to get our work done, it is easy to dismiss the little things. Are there people in your diverse group who may not be used to the structure of your meetings? Little things such as the setting, the other people in attendance and expectations may be a cause of anxiety for some. Take a moment to welcome everybody, make sure that people are properly introduced to one another and that everyone knows what the aim of your meeting is and what the outcomes you expect are. This allows people to relax, safe in the knowledge that there are no surprises around the corner for them.
Drop Your Defences
This might sound a little frightening for some people. However, if you are the leader of a group of diverse individuals, you need to lead by example. That means being cool-headed, fair and slow to react when your buttons are pressed. Yes, there can be misunderstandings when a large group of diverse individuals are present. However, chances are you’re all meeting up for a common purpose. In order to achieve that purpose, the group will need guidance and that should come from the top.
As you learn about the other members of your group there may be things that you do not know about just yet or understand. Some people in the group may be very private and feel reluctant to share details about themselves in a group setting. Be proactive about arranging meetings for times that work for the majority of the group, while acknowledging that some people may have different prayer times or other customs which they feel the need to observe and which may necessitate an absence on occasion.
As the director of PhoenixRize, a business specialising in diversity and inclusion practices here in Ireland, I will be happy to speak to you about your organisation and how I can help you can improve your performance in this area. You can contact me here.