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Having Conversations with DEI Skeptics

One of the hardest parts of gaining commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in organizations is convincing those who are skeptical that DEI is worthwhile. When organizations initiate efforts to improve their DEI efforts, they are often faced with backlash from individuals who may be cynical or doubtful of why DEI is important or necessary.


Having conversations with those who are skeptical of DEI can be taxing and frustrating, but including everyone in these efforts is paramount to success. Individuals who don’t feel included or don’t feel like their voice is being heard won’t participate and will likely aim to convince others that these efforts are not beneficial.


Therefore, it is important to find ways to have conversations about everyone’s role in DEI and meet people where they are when it comes to engaging with these efforts.


Where do you start?

When starting conversations about DEI at your organization, there are three methods that you can use to avoid skepticism.

  1. Positive framing

    1. Framing your DEI efforts positively, rather than as something than an attempt to control employees’ behavior, can enhance engagement among your employees. Other ways to increase positive reactions include encouraging dialogue and contact across different groups, and identifying individuals’ needs and concerns at the start of the conversation.

  2. Shared values/goals

    1. Another important way to increase engagement and buy-in from DEI skeptics is by emphasizing the shared values and goals of everyone in the room. By emphasizing the important business value of DEI and the positive effects it can have for every employee, you may be able to create a unified mission towards improving DEI at your organization.

  3. Tailoring your approach to what motivates individuals

    1. Lastly, similar to framing DEI as positive, it’s important to tailor how you’re discussing the value of DEI based on the individual. For example, more senior leaders may want to see data supporting the profitability and productivity impact of investing in DEI. Middle managers may want to see how strategic DEI can improve their processes, including ways it can improve efficiency and workflow. Individual contributors may be interested in what DEI means for their day-to-day lives in the organization.

    2. By setting the focus of your conversation at the level that is most meaningful for your audience, you will be able to gain better buy-in and engagement from the start.


Important notes to keep in mind

While these first steps can help to encourage meaningful dialogue around the subject of DEI, there are some important things to keep in mind:


  • Set clear boundaries: While everyone’s voice deserves to be heard, it is important to establish upfront what the boundaries are for what can be sensitive conversation topics. For example, here at Mattingly Solutions, we use the following ground rules to set the stage for discussing DEI topics:

    • Participate fully

    • Listen actively — respect others when they are talking.

    • Speak from your own experience instead of generalizing (“I” instead of “they,” “we,” and “you”).

    • Do not be afraid to respectfully challenge one another by asking questions, but refrain from personal attacks — focus on ideas.

    • Participate to the fullest of your ability — community growth depends on the inclusion of every individual voice.

    • Instead of invalidating somebody else’s story with your own spin on their experience, share your own story and experience.

    • The goal is not to agree — it is to gain a deeper understanding.

    • Be conscious of body language and nonverbal responses: They can be as disrespectful as words.


It is important to remember that individuals won’t listen and participate if they don’t feel that their voice is being heard and respected. Following the above steps to set the stage for an engaging conversation, while still respecting clear boundaries, can lead to important and productive DEI conversations in your organization.


Looking for guidance on how to have productive DEI conversations in your organization? Contact Mattingly Solutions to learn more about how we can become your trusted partner, helping you create a more inclusive workplace. Together.



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