When Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Are Tested by Conflict

  • Employer strategies
  • 2/29/2024
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Key insights

  • Modern emphasis on DEIB, along with evolving generational expectations, can make it challenging to filter out sensitive topics from workplace conversations.
  • Although HR can provide guidance and training, they can’t always protect every supervisor or employee from conflicts arising from personal views.
  • Establish principles or guidelines for conversations, such as acknowledging the significance and emotion of topics and respecting requests to discontinue dialogue.
  • Organizations can offer resources like employee assistance programs and tools for self-care to further support employees’ well-being.

Learn techniques to ease conflicts while still supporting DEIB.

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Complexity affects our work experiences

When a new year begins, employees get deep into resolutions and fresh starts, and employers encourage energetic kickoffs and seek opportunities to have a productive year after downtime with family and friends.

At the same time, the world outside of the workplace may be filled with challenges, like a national election with snowy caucuses and regional conflicts leading the news. While employers and employees may want to just focus on work, difficult topics often creep in.

In the past, employers may have been able to legitimately tell employees to filter out sensitive topics from workplace conversations. However, the current emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) — along with changing generational expectations of the workplace — is deeply challenging this approach.

Even HR has limitations

Human resource (HR) teams offer insights on developing policies and guidelines to help employers and employees navigate difficult situations. They often hear questions like:

  • What should we include in our DEIB statement?
  • How do we balance celebrating multiculturalism while respecting traditions?
  • How do we handle employees’ frustration if they feel politically misaligned and debate has crept into the workday?
  • What is my role as a supervisor when my employees’ fundamental personal differences might impact working as a team?

HR should keep employee handbooks comprehensive and up to date and hold regular high-quality trainings to help employees navigate differences with sensitivity. However, HR can’t protect every supervisor or employee from conflict stemming from personal views.

So, how do we successfully build and sustain work cultures that lift DEIB and support each employee’s ability to present their authentic selves — while maintaining safe spaces with a primary focus on work?

Establish guidelines to steer conversations

Build into your organizational culture an understanding that with authentic presentation of ourselves and the forming of personal relationships, the path will not always be smooth. To navigate the bumps, or when challenging conflicts arise, uphold some principles and guidelines for engagement:

  • As soon as possible, each party should simply acknowledge the topic is meaningful and holds significance and emotion.
  • If the topic is especially sensitive, each party should consider that while it might simply be a policy discussion or a distant international issue for one person, for another it could be deeply personal.
  • Agree that each party can ask to discontinue the dialogue and have their request respected.
  • Contain the discussion to just those who choose to participate. While an organization may and should be reticent to direct employees to quash conversations (there are important legal considerations), it’s acceptable to ask that non-work-related topics be contained to private spaces and others working nearby not be asked to join in.

Offer broader support

Your organization can take steps to help more broadly — not just when there is conflict. Engage and promote resources to support employees, such as an employee assistance program, or provide access to apps for meditation or other self-care.

Most importantly, communicate to your people that the company recognizes the humanity and individuality of every employee, support is meant to be truly supportive, and boundaries in the workplace enable a safe space for everyone.

How we can help

CLA’s certified HR consulting professionals can advise you on a wide range of workforce issues, from establishing policies and procedures to reorganizing leadership structure. With the right HR processes in place, you can align workplace strategies with your business goals while building an inspiring culture for your people.

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