Article by Denise Young MAct who offers empowering Keynotes, Training and Facilitation services to a variety of organizations in areas of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Leadership and Communications Development.
I recently co-delivered multiple Equity, Diversity and Inclusion sessions to an audience which were primarily white men from remote areas. I had my own bias going into these sessions which I was aware of and some that were called out during the session which I was “unaware” of. I learned a lot and felt I grew a lot from this experience. I was challenged, triggered and grateful all in a span of delivering 13 sessions in 7 days. Below are some stories and my learning lessons.
Learning Lesson: Seek to understand with an open mind using active listening
I was discussing “words matter (pronouns, inappropriate words on race, gender, disability etc.)”. One participant asked me in a bit of an angry voice “Why are some of these words not appropriate and why do we have to change our behavior?”. My inside voice was “are you kidding, how can this person not know this is inappropriate?” I stopped myself and continued the conversation with him and asked him why he thought it was appropriate as I genuinely wanted to know. He said that he grew up this way and it was “normal” behavior. In the end he asked, “I just want to know what I can say as I don’t want to offend anyone”. Wow, this was a learning moment for me, I was ready to shut this person down and move the content along but I felt that asking for his reason, practicing active listening and seeking to understand, changed his perspective and he understood the impact of his words.
Learning Lesson: Alway support each other and if you see something not right, do something. You have no idea the impact it has on the person you are supporting.
A participant continued to question our content including inappropriate comments. I appreciate being questioned as it is part of learning and self-growth. What was challenging is the questions were asked in an angry and disrespectful manner and the comments were directly targeted at my co-facilitator. Considering that this was a course on “creating a respectful workplace”, you can imagine what was going through my mind. We tried addressing this at the break using the “seek to understand” approach” but this person was closed and had no willingness to seek to understand. At this point we gave up and continued with the session. What helped at this point, were the allies in the room and the courage they had. At first people were hesitant to speak up but then this young man who directly worked for this person, spoke up and said “I disagree with.. and proceeded to continue discussing the content at hand”. This approach worked as he disengaged the person in a respectful way and got the discussion back on topic. Once this person spoke up, other participants started to speak up as well. The impact was we were able to get back to the content and this participant was not as vocal. My co-facilitator and I felt deflated and questioned if we could continue with the sessions. But once we stepped away and debriefed we brought it back that we had support in the room and to not let one person impact our actions.
Learning Lesson: It is important to start where people are at.
As most of the participants had limited understanding of the content we were sharing, it was very crucial to start where they are at. We started with using examples that were “safe” and would not be triggers for people. We were explicit if there was a lack of understanding or disagreement, please question us as we want to create a safe space to openly discuss. The outcome was many participants indicated they learned a lot by us not judging, blaming and being open to having a dialogue.
Learning Lesson: As individuals, we are still going to mess up but what you do after is very important.
I had a situation where I snapped at a couple people after being woken up after 2 hours of sleep. I felt so ashamed and even had a bit of a cry. I thought “how could I do this, I am teaching this stuff, people are going to hate me now and all the good I did over the past sessions is now gone”. I stopped myself, removed my “ego” from the situation and said “what can I do to make it better, what do I teach”. We are human and can’t be on our “a” game all the time, it is how you respond to these situations that is important. So I went on a mission to apologize and to explain the situation that led up but emphasized regardless of the situation, I did not like how i reacted. The response was, “if we were in the same situation, we probably would have done the same thing but thank you so much for apologizing”. I was grateful that people were understanding.
Learning Lesson: To create content that does not have bias’ within it.
It is important to not have bias’ in the content and make it inclusive of everyone in the room. I had a participant ask if harassment can be directed at a man. I realized at this moment that we were using a lot of examples where a man is discriminating or harrassing a woman.
I have many other examples of learning but these are the ones that really stood out for me. I am confident that if we have authentic open communications to really understand others perspectives, we can start shifting our attitudes to creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment.
Denise Young, CEO/Founder/Consultant: Tiger’s Eye Advisory Group. Denise creates collaborative work spaces where “everyone is at the table”. She has a Bachelor of Management and a Masters of Arts in Communication and Technology from University of Alberta. Reach out to Denise, if your organization is interested in EDI, Leadership or Communication Workshops, Keynotes or Facilitation Services.
Connect with Denise:
LinkedIN: Denise Young