It’s no secret that the world has been through some huge, traumatic changes over the past couple of years. It’s also no secret that this trauma continues to happen, even as the pandemic eases — with the declaration of war being announced earlier today. People are struggling, they’re suffering and they’re facing so many invisible and unforeseen challenges that it can be hard to comprehend.
And whilst, for the most part, there is little a workplace can do to help solve these problems or lift these burdens, there are always ways to make employees, colleagues and friends feel safer amidst these frightening times. Inclusivity and diversity are some of the core pillars that help workplaces become more open, more trustworthy, more respectful and more appealing to all workers, and especially when the world is divided on so many topics, striving for inclusivity is one of the most powerful moves a business can make.
But it isn’t always easy. Advocating for inclusivity within a business, whether you’re a barista, a boss, a beautician or a barrister, can be a difficult thing to navigate and there can be so many invisible pitfalls to avoid along the way.
In this blog post, I want to share my tips for finding your voice in the fight for diversity and advocating for inclusivity within every 21st-century workplace.
Keep yourself protected
One of the most important things to remember is that, unfortunately, diversity and inclusivity are not always popular topics of conversation. They can cause tension, frustration, confusion and even aggression, so it’s important to stay safe and protected throughout your efforts.
Speak to those who you know are likely to align to your values first, who have shown an interest in your goals and who might be a useful communication link to those with the power to make real change. Build up a network of like-minded people and keep them updated on your advocacy plans — they might be able to contribute their own experiences, ideas and thoughts, and can support you if things are getting confrontational.
Whilst the majority of workplaces are open and accepting of positive change, there are some spaces that still struggle with it, and so you need to remember that your safety matters. You do not deserve to feel isolated, harassed, bullied or threatened because of your advocacy position and it should have no bearing at all on your job performance. If you begin to feel like your job security or personal safety is threatened, immediately report it to a higher-up or a governing body to quickly stamp out any hostility. You are within your right to ask for change, and no one should make you feel small for doing something good.
Understand your audience
There’s a key difference between understanding your audience and stereotyping them. Immediately assuming that a particular demographic of your colleagues or managers will fight back against positive change is a poor way to begin a journey of advocacy, and is likely to cause more friction than progression. Everyone in your workplace has the power to listen, to understand and to act, but some individuals simply process information differently to others.
Some people may be persuaded by facts and figures, by truthful, logical facts and statements over emotive stories and experiences. Others may need to see workplace benefits and positive outcomes in your proposed changes, and will want to know ‘how will this help the business?’
There are a number of different ways to describe and advocate for diversity and inclusivity throughout your workplace and it can take a little bit of empathy and understanding to figure out your target audience before you speak to them. It’s also worth identifying the people with the power to make decisions and have a lasting impact, i.e. seniors, managers, HR departments, office managers, and create strategies that are likely to benefit them in some way before beginning your pitch.
Be prepared for counter arguments
The world is full of ‘devils advocates’, and the path towards a diverse workplace can be littered with horns and pitchforks along the way. It’s important to understand that you will be questioned and countered on your proposals, you may be met with alternate facts and statistics and you yourself might be grilled on your motives.
Use empathetic logic to try and respond to these arguments before they even come up. Calculate your response in advance and find a great answer that can help support your case without personally attacking or insulting your opponent.
Common arguments that might come up are:
- So we should hire someone simply because of their race or gender?
- But we already have X number of diverse employees
- Isn’t that racist to white people?
- What if no diverse people apply for the role?
- Some of the roles just aren’t suitable for diverse individuals
- We’ve done fine without any diversity moves before
- What’s the point in changing things now?
- If we hire someone because they’re diverse, wouldn’t that just be performance activism?
- We’re not a racist or sexist or ableist company! We have a disabled woman that works in marketing!
It’s also important to pre-emptively consider some of the more contextual arguments that might come up, such as location, industry and business model, which seemingly might lean towards one demographic over another. Finding a logical, balanced and calm way to respond to these counterarguments is a great way to appear confident, level headed and knowledgeable about your cause, without seeming disruptive.
Avoid offending existing employees or policies
Longstanding company employees, managers and founders may be particularly difficult to contend with when it comes to diversity and inclusion advocacy. Those with an attitude of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ or with more traditional approaches to business could be reluctant to embrace change if they believe their existing policies are already working. When pitching for more diverse and inclusive policies, it’s important to avoid insulting or offending these employees by highlighting the negative factors in the way they run their business.
Instead, reframe your proposal as a way to make the business even better. You aren’t complaining, you’re simply improving and contributing in a positive way. These changes could make the workforce happier, more productive, more creative and efficient. It could improve the company’s image and boost its cultural standing. It could give them the edge over competitors and, most importantly, make more profit.
Whilst fundamentally, inclusivity and diversity are not simple booster buttons for improved sales and financial gain — many senior members of staff are more likely to be encouraged by the idea that they are, rather than by the emotive or human benefits of change.
Do the work for them
When advocating any change in a workplace, it’s important to deliver your proposal in a way that won’t negatively impact the existing employees, or appear as if you are asking them to take on more work. This is likely to cause resistance and frustration and can incite people to stop listening to your initial points.
Instead, put in the time to do as much of the work yourself as possible. Whether this means writing out policies, gaining team support, creating guidelines, drafting copy or setting up meetings, the more you can take off their plates, the more likely your colleagues are to support your goals. If all they have to do is sign a pledge, agree to a policy change or attend a quick meeting, the fewer complaints they’re likely to have.
Additionally, with any new change, it can be difficult to know when to start. People will always prefer to edit a draft than write it themselves, so why not write out your ideal timeline and process, and invite people to edit it if they need to. This takes a lot of the burden away from them, but also gives them a visual reference that will be easy to implement.
Avoid letting your work slip in the meantime
Fighting for change can feel like a full-time job, but it’s important to make sure that your work remains at a high standard throughout your advocacy journey. A slipping job performance can easily be used against your proposal for diversity and could even be seen as a negative against the policies you’re trying to implement. You risk losing your trustworthiness, authority and reliability as an employee if they can see you struggling to manage the workload, so it’s important to stay organised as you advocate.
Try to create systems that allow you to manage your full-time job, alongside your campaign, and if necessary put the job first. Not only is your job security as an individual one of the highest priorities, but you also won’t be able to help anyone if you no longer have a position in the workplace itself.
Be mindful of your to-do lists and of what others are expecting you to do and understand that even the smallest of actions is still worth doing. If all you manage in a week is one line of a new policy, due to crazy deadlines and emails that just wouldn’t stop, then you’re still doing a good thing and you should be proud of that.
Being an advocate is a bold, brave and powerful stance to undertake, and it’s important to recognise the good that you can do if your goals are achieved. So hold strong, protect yourself and use your voice — it’s the most powerful tool you possess.