As someone who develops programming to foster more inclusive workplaces, the biggest challenge I face (and I know I’m not alone in this) is tailoring conversations about diversity and inclusion to everybody in the room. Not only are some people more informed than others, but some are more receptive to the need for change in the first place. Preaching to the choir isn’t ultimately the most effective way to drive change. So I created this chart to give leaders a framework for how to best utilize each one of these archetypes to advance diversity and inclusion (D&I) goals.
Here’s who those four archetypes are, and how your company can approach each one.
Who: The experts in the space–corporate heads of diversity and inclusion, D&I consultants, HR and People Ops folks, and allies who are informed and outspoken about these issues.
How to utilize them: These people are going to be your best soldiers, the ones you can mobilize to reach your diversity and inclusion goals. But they’re not always getting credit for this work. Maybe someone is part of an in-house D&I committee, but their job description has nothing to do with those issues. We know that diverse and inclusive companies make more money–so are you rewarding the fact that these employees are volunteering their time to help you build a more profitable business? And just as important, are there systems in place to incentivize them to continue to do this work?
Who: Well-intentioned yet uninformed, these people might include your CEO who drops a tone-deaf remark at an all-hands meeting, your caring but dopey manager, Ashton Kutcher, and all those who are waking up to issues of systemic injustice but aren’t yet “woke” (though they may use that term too liberally).
How to respond to them: It’s easy to get upset when people say ignorant things, but it’s important to remember that we’re all still learning. Everyone has said the wrong thing at some point or another, so we can all have some empathy for what it feels like to mess up.
There are probably many people at your company who care about building a more diverse and inclusive environment, but who are also newbies around issues of sexism, racism, homophobia, and other biases. They likely still think in ways that may even perpetuate the problematic ideas they’re philosophically interested in fighting, and as a result, they may say some problematic things once in a while. How we respond when that happens matters. Attacking or being condescending to people who are trying to help discourages them from continuing to help. It risks converting these uninformed allies into “bystanders” or, worse, “bigots.”
Furthermore, when people witness someone who’s misinformed but well-intentioned get roasted for mistakenly saying something offensive, it can create a widespread fear of being judged harshly for screwing up. And that can make people avoid engaging in real conversations about these topics at all. Of course, problematic thoughts and ideas need to be corrected, but doing so with kindness and empathy encourages everyone to stay involved.
Who: In all likelihood half of your company, these are the people who feel indifferent to diversity and inclusion issues. Maybe they’re “too busy” to think about these things, or they wonder, “What does this have to do with me?”
How to win them over: This group is our untapped market–our “undecided voters”–and our biggest opportunity to deepen support for D&I interventions. These are people who haven’t spent much time thinking about these issues, and likely haven’t had to be confronted with them. Many people in this category are straight white men who aren’t quite sure how they fit into these conversations, or aren’t sure if they should be part of them at all.
To turn bystanders into allies, you need to make a compelling case for why they should care. Listen to their concerns if they have them, respond thoughtfully to misguided thinking, and engage in a dialogue (not a monologue) about these issues. We want to get bystanders to actually care, rather than superficially towing the line just to “stay out of trouble.”
A method that I’ve found successful for the men in this category is to engage in a dialogue about the constraints and pressures of masculinity. This not only helps men (especially straight, white ones) feel more included in these conversations, it helps them better understand and empathize with the experiences of people of other genders, and even people of other races and ethnicities.
Who: Those who identify with the views expressed in last summer’s infamous “Google memo,” and Reddit or Twitter users who feel emboldened to be outspoken sexists, racists, homophobes, and so on.
How to leverage their opposition: If you’re a D&I advocate or professional, your first instinct may be to dismiss these people, discount everything they say, and ignore these viewpoints. But if we want to win this battle for equality, then like any good team we need to study our opposition. That means engaging in conversations with those who disagree–even vociferously. These conversations don’t need to be held publicly, of course (or held at all if it’s going to be triggering for you personally), but as an industry we have to understand where they’re coming from and why they’re hanging on so tightly to their biases: What purpose does it serve in their lives, and is there something we could offer to replace it with?
Even if we never change the minds of many people in this category, understanding why they feel what they feel will help us better target our efforts to those who are undecided. Whatever extreme viewpoints opponents may have, those indifferent to these issues likely have shades of the same ones. By gaining insight into our opposition’s motivations and thought processes, we can frame our messages for the broadest possible appeal.
Our culture has filled us with offensive, problematic, and misguided ideas about gender, race, sexuality–you name it. Everyone is at a different place with how deeply they believe these ideas (consciously or otherwise), and how much time they’ve spent challenging them. Rather than just knowing how to preach to the choir, the better we can meet people where they are, and escort them on their journey forward, the more impact we’ll make in the long run.
Amber Madison is the founder of Peoplism, a comprehensive program to help people challenge and change their biases and create more inclusive companies. She is also a licensed therapist, and an over-analyzer who likes to think through actions 10 steps ahead.