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Your organization may have the best diversity policies possible, and still be sabotaging its efforts touwards diversity. If you’re identifying and recruiting diverse talent, but not engaging and retaining them, it’s possible they’re being driven away by unconscious behaviors by those around them.

Unconscious behaviors sabotage diversity efforts

I see several unconscious behaviors in my clients that sabotage their efforts towards diversity. Even those of your talent who are the most open-minded and committed to diversity and inclusion need time to surface unconscious behaviors. The higher a person is the reporting chain, the more important it is, because these behaviors affect more people.

I want to stress that that these are unconscious behaviors. All of us learn behaviors, beliefs, and habits from the larger society that we grow up in and live in, whether we’re aware of these or not.

Three behaviors to eliminate

Three behaviors to focus on eliminating are: seeming to discount the perspective and contribution of your diverse talent, giving positive feedback that doesn’t come across as positive, and preventing them from speaking by starting to talk before they’re finished.

Here are some simple things you can do to minimize these behaviors.

  1. Resist the urge to explain how the world “works.”
    People different from you have almost certainly had different life experiences, experiences you may not be aware of and that are completely different from your own. Instead of telling them how the world “works,” listen to them tell you the truth of their lived experience and perspective.
  2. Resist the urge to tell them they’ve been “eloquent.”
    I know this is counterintuitive; why wouldn’t you acknowledge that someone’s explained something effectively and illuminatingly? Unfortunately, they almost certainly have had many people surprised that they can speak well. What you’re feeling as interest in something unfamiliar to you, may come across as yet more surprise and disbelief. Instead of saying that they’ve been “eloquent,” thank them for their presentation.
  3. Resist the urge to start speaking before they’ve finished speaking.
    What you perceive and experience as the person being mistaken or telling you something you already know, may be an unconscious assessment that their opinions are less valid. Instead of interrupting immediately, wait and listen; waiting about three times as long as you think you should is a good guideline.

Make sure your behaviors support diversity efforts

Don’t unconsciously sabotage your efforts at increasing diversity among your talent. The higher up the reporting chain you are, the more important this is. Make sure you benefit from the perspective and contribution of your diverse talent, allow them to speak, and truly appreciate their efforts.

Photo by Global Health Fellows Program

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