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Human-centered business: How to talk about identity, diversity & justice

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Facing a need to create more human-centered workplaces that are structured around a culture of care, belonging & inclusion, more organizations are emphasizing diversity and justice initiatives

There is no doubt that businesses has become more human-centered since 2020, driven by the restrictions of the pandemic and the increasing diversity of Generations Z and Y. In addition, another multiplier-effect has been the shift in views of capitalism that are urging a focus on the needs of stakeholders — employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and the local communities in which companies operate — rather than just shareholders.

Similarly, the greater priority on the well-being of employees stemming from the pandemic is influencing how the cultures of organizations are perceived by employees. Indeed, these employees themselves, often from a wider array of backgrounds, increasingly have varying preferences in where and when they work. Clearly, employees’ expectations are changing faster than are company cultures, which now must play catch up to meet them.

This dynamic fosters a need to create more human-centered workplaces that are structured around a culture of care, respect, belonging, and inclusion.

Building cultures of inclusion

The difficulty in trying to move a company’s culture to meet these needs while the company also continues to operate in a faster business environment across many countries is more acute than ever. Yet, making a more diverse base of employees and customers feel welcomed, accepted, and respected are essential elements of inclusion and belonging, and this occurs most often at the interpersonal level.

So, for companies and other organizations, encouraging behaviors across the workplace that will help drive culture and build human connections authentically — across differences, while managing through conflict and having difficult conversations — remains a real challenge for organizations.

The reality around diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI), is that too often people are still “terrified of saying the wrong thing and retreat in fear,” says David Glasgow, co-author of the book Say the Right Thing: How to talk about identity, diversity and justice. This attitude stunts progress in driving cultural change, Glasgow adds.

To help companies build human-centric cultures of belonging, care, and respect, Glasgow highlighted three practices for organizations to prioritize.

Adopt a growth mindset

A growth mindset, which allows a person to cultivate new skills and abilities through effort, is more effective in responding to situations involving DEI, says Glasgow. However, when a person belongs to a majority group and is approached by a colleague who is upset because they have experienced bias, a person with intense feelings of discomfort may respond to the situation using a fixed mindset in many cases.

And, even when someone has a growth-oriented mindset around work, mistakes in DEI-related conversations often are interpreted through a fixed mindset anyway, explains Glasgow, adding that because the error could reflect on the moral character of the person who mis-stepped. The fixed mindset discourages a willingness to learn from the snafu.

To adopt a growth mindset, Glasgow advises a person “to attach the word yet to things that they don’t know how to do.” For example, he says that “instead of saying that, ‘I’m not good at navigating these conversations,’ reframe by stating, ‘I’m not good at that yet, but I can get good at it by practicing it.’”

A key ingredient for this approach to work successfully is to create an organizational culture that is generous toward people who make mistakes, in order to urge people to adopt this growth mindset.

Follow the “Ring” theory

The ring theory suggests that a person provides comfort inward to someone going through a crisis, and “dumps out” their own negative emotions to people in outer circles.

Glasgow explains how this works in the context of conversations concerning topics of identity, diversity, and justice. “You’re allowed to feel those emotions, just don’t dump them into the person who has shared their own painful experience with you,” he says. “Wait until you can go back to your own family or your own friends outside of that circle and share your own pain.”

Choose a learning posture

Adopting a learning posture means that a person should enter into DEI-related conversations with radical humility and curiosity and with the acknowledgment that they don’t know everything.

This also means that a person listens generously and shares tentatively. Glasgow indicates that an easy way of putting this into action is to use “I statements”, such as those beginning with, “I feel…” or “I wonder…”. And when responding to another person, say, “Here’s my initial reaction… but it’s a draft, so please edit it if it is not quite right…”.

The imperative to advance inclusion and belonging at work will increase in the coming months and years, as the future of work shakes out, especially around the balance between in-office work and working remotely. Organizations that put Glasgow’s recommendations into practice office-wide are more likely to be effective at winning the ongoing and intense competition for talent through the development of more effective cultures.

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