Doing Diversity: A Sample Exercise from a Workshop on Identity

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Take 3: Diversity in the Digital Workplace

This worksheet guides a process that helps employees to take stock of their own experience with cultural difference, and to learn about their colleagues'.

Click here to view the worksheet: Identity, Difference and Complexity: An In-House Conversation on Diversity

Designing a Discourse

All productive workplaces hope to foster genuine conversations about diversity and inclusion. All too often, though, these become stuck on the same setting: making sure workers avoid saying the wrong thing. How can we take diversity work a step beyond this and transform workplaces into sites of cross-cultural conversation and innovation?

When a workplace has committed to transforming its culture to not just accommodate-but nurture-the work of women and minorities, diversity training must go a step beyond basic training. After we establish a sense of what kinds of interpersonal communication are acceptable and unacceptable at the workplace, we hope to foster a community that is open to new issues in inclusion and diversity as they arise, and that signals an ongoing commitment to a world of cultural voices and influences. This means acknowledging cultural difference rather than bracketing it out of workplace interactions. 

This workshop is based on the idea that no one is born knowing how to think about and talk about race, gender, religion, sexuality, ethnicity or other kinds of social difference and inequality. When conversations about these issues inevitably unfold in the workplace, stakes become very high. Those who are concerned about discrimination but new to these discourses, shrink back and become defensive; the most visible minorities-women, people of color, international workers-become burdened with voicing experiences and observations that leave them vulnerable; invisible minorities or those whose relationship to discrimination are complicated or unpredictable feel conflicted or silenced.

Accessing true expertise in intercultural communication–and moreso, expertise in conducting transformative conversations around race, gender, class and other forms of social difference–is a critical step in changing workplace culture,

Drawing in New Voices

One of the most difficult issues in workplace diversity training is the collective expectation that minoritized members of the community should carry the conversation while others–particularly those who have less experience speaking about racial, gender, ethnic or class difference–listen passively. While it's important to give workers who experience workplace discrimination a platform to voice their experiences, they can end up carrying the burden of saying risky things or contributing personal stories to a conversation that might end up making them even more uncomfortable. 

This worksheet draws from CultureEncode CEO Ali Colleen Neff, Ph.D.'s doctoral training in intercultural communication to help workers think through their own unique cultural perspectives. The objective is for each community member to share times in which they or their families have been considered "different." Whether it is being a part of a religious minority, an experience with a learning disability, having an accent thought to sound "uneducated," or having a status as an invisible minority who must bear hearing homophobic comments, workers begin to understand how the sense of being "othered" can feel on different scales and with different levels of impact. This exercise, completed first in small discussion groups and then brought into a larger forum, is meant to open up space for empathy.

The exercise then moves into a guided discussion about how systems of inequality mean that some workers must experience discrimination in both their daily lives, and in terms of a lifelong battle to access resources and representation. Ultimately, they come to understand that while each of us experiences difference, workplace discrimination means that only some community members must carry the heavy burden of cultural difference at the workplace, and must constantly navigate discrimination in their lives beyond work, as well. 

The conversation has moved away from the pattern in which minoritized community members are asked to carry the dangerous burden of publically voicing workplace discrimination. Instead, workers are asked to imagine together how ongoing dialogue, cross-cultural conversation, and, most importantly, safe space for the complex identities we all carry, can emerge through tbis process of opening up a richer discourse on diversity.

Warning: This Can Get a Little Tricky!

Falling into the usual patterns of workplace diversity training often means that workshops become a placeholder for culture-changing conversations. If the objective is to transform the cultural landscape of the tech workplace and the field as a whole, participants must bring a little of themselves to the table. This worksop is designed to do that safely, in a context of non-judgment, and in a way that does not attempt to place different kinds of experience in a hierarchy. Those who have had difficulty voicing their own histories will have the opportunity to do so, while the broader patterns of racial, gender, class, sexual, and ethnic discrimination become apparent. As workers share their own stories and histories and witness others', it is important to pre-empt the urge to compare histories with one another by contextualizing each through the following questions:

  • How might some of your experiences with social difference drive your sociological imagination, or how you perceive the systems of communication and power in the workplace?
  • How might your experiences help you to understand the experiences of others who must navigate social inequality?
  • How will you continue to learn about the ways in which minoritized people must struggle for equal access to resources?

This technique encourages employees to relate to others' experiences without comparing them: a fundamental in breaking down barriers to intercultural understanding.


How Hiring a Consultant Can Help

Drawing from twelve years' curriculum development, NAACP Award-winning teaching, and groundbreaking social research, CultureEncode's workplace diversity seminar is designed to break out of the grooves of diversity training to foster a more productive, innovative, and fulfilling workplace. Moreso, it promises to deepen the kinds of conversations and collaborations possible. When a more diverse body of workers becomes comfortable with bringing their unique cultural experience to the table, they also begin to imagine how this experience can serve the mission of the company, the output it produces, and the markets it reaches.

To learn more about our services, read here.

AliColleen Neff