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Want to start a meaningful conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion? Start with this quest

This week I was asked to lead an ad hoc session on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) for a talented leadership group hungry to learn more about engaging their people.

Until very recently, I would have refused.

As a cisgendered, straight, white man, I felt like I was the last person who should lead a session on DE&I.

But I have realised, through learning from outstandingly talented people like Gillian Neish, Tracey Spears and Sandra Sheahan, that I must lean into the conversation.

Conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion are complex and often uncomfortable. Many of us don’t know what to say. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. We have questions that we want to ask, and we are scared to ask the wrong question of the wrong person at the wrong time.

Yet the only way for organisations to progress and create genuinely inclusive, equitable and diverse cultures – as opposed to the occasional DE&I initiative – is for us all to lean into the conversation.

So here is my favourite question to start the conversation. It is unashamedly stolen from Sandra Sheahan and her wonderful work at Merlin Entertainments.

What does it feel like to belong?

This conversation promotes thought, reflection, excitement and a foundation upon which we can also explore what it feels like not to belong.

It is a great starting point.

With the group I worked with this week, we also explored our definitions of the following words:

  1. diversity

  2. equality

  3. equity

  4. inclusion

As you would expect, we didn’t have shared definitions.

The group agreed that before getting into the complexities of what the terms would look like if they were being lived fully in their organisation, they, as leaders, must first be clear and aligned on the terms and which, if any, should be the focal point.

If this article has resonated, if you feel like you want to make a difference in this space but don’t know how to, then start where you are.

Ask your team what it feels like to belong and how you can ensure that more people have that feeling in your organisation.

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