5 Recommendations for Chief Diversity Officers Post-Charlottesville

Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, (and certainly enough of that has already been written by others) we should all be able to agree that what happened in Charlottesville was an awful event. With the current state of our nation politically, tensions are building. So how do we turn this into positivity within our own organizations?

A lot of us are angry. Emotions are flaring not just within ourselves, but between staff in our organizations. So what do we need to do to deal with this situation as diversity leaders, as ones looking strategically across the organization on how to build better teams and continue to deliver upon organizational objectives?

I won’t lie, it’s not easy to remain completely apolitical or unbiased. Most of the time we tend to sway one way or another, but as an organization, we need to remain mindful of who we represent. This not only includes ourselves, but also our employees and our clients or customers. As diversity professionals, we cannot allow outside politics to seep into our establishments and cause chaos. We must build understanding. Remaining quiet and angrily divided will only attract a violent and hostile environment.

However, with everything going on in the world, this allows a dialogue to open up. How we direct that dialogue can either help our organization or hinder it.

#1 Stay Calm

Your key role here is to be the bridge and mediator despite what personal opinion you may have. As stated above, sometimes it is difficult to separate your personal opinion from professional opinion. It is necessary to do this however. We are here to open a discussion in a safe environment. It is our job to listen and connect people through understanding and empathizing.

When others are so divided and quite frankly, stubborn, we have to rope them in through emotion and empathy. These are really the keys to most individual’s decisions. Show understanding, build trust, and appeal to their emotions. Only after we’ve done this can we use facts and logic to show them how important inclusion and diversity is to not only the organization but for our country.

By opening a channel of communication, we are able to bridge a gap. The best part about diversity is how unique everyone is. This also makes being a diversity professional difficult. Since everyone thinks so differently, we must find a way to understand and communicate those thoughts in ways so that everyone can comprehend.

#2 Keep Your Pulse on the Cultural Climate

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Be ready to de-escalate situations before they occur. This means building trust with both sides so that they will report to you before things get out of hand. Building trust is one of the most important things we can do. If you do not build trust amongst everyone, no one will feel comfortable coming to you when they have a real issue. We need to show compassion and care for every person in the organization. It is important, then, to keep up to date on current events.

To merely know of the events that took place in Charlottesville is not enough. You need to understand why it got to the point that it did. We ask that both sides of whatever situation be understanding, so we must follow our own advice. We have to cultivate an environment that is safe and supportive. Again, I want to reiterate here that ideas not supportive of diversity do not have a place in our organization. It is okay to draw lines and say, “This is our culture and values. This is what’s acceptable here.”

However, we also realize that most people are not extremists and that leaning one way or the other does not automatically qualify them for ostracization from the organization. Ideally, we are connecting with people at the beginning of a shift towards a negative mindset so that we can reverse that shift. Also, when certain events happen, it can cause others to react. Emotions get hot and people may say or do things in the workplace out of anger and defensiveness rather than as something they deeply believe. So, how can we stay ahead of the strong emotions events like Charlottesville have on everyone?

Staying on top of it and hosting meetings or training sessions can help dilute a situation before one starts. There is nothing wrong with taking an initiative as a preventative. Meet with the leaders of your organization and put together a plan of action. Doing your own research on why events like this happened, can only help you in the end. Employees will be in a heightened emotional state, and it is up to us to be knowledgeable and on top of finding a solution before a problem within the organization is even noticed. By doing this, everyone will appreciate the work and feel more open to trusting and talking, and communication in times like this is the key.

#3 Focus on Building Dialogue.

Your role is not to judge. It’s also not to punish (that’s HR’s role). When someone trusts you and feels that they can confide in you, then you know you have a perfect opportunity to build unity. Just as it can be difficult to keep your opinion to yourself or to be unbiased when it’s more of a political issue, it’s just as important to not judge either party of the issue at hand. We are there to mediate and come to a conclusion or prevent a situation from happening. So keep the eye on that goal.

It is also crucial to remember that you are not human resources. If you feel there is an issue that requires disciplinary actions, that needs to be taken to HR. As diversity professionals we want to create a safe, happy environment that is conducive to learning and productiveness. De-escalating situations and opening the communication barriers allows that to happen. If employees feel they will suffer some kind of repercussions for opening up their issues to us, we then chance losing that trust. We must be informative and helpful, not the disciplinarians.

Before hosting classes or training anyone within the organization, speaking with the leaders of said organization should be the first objective. Not only do they need to be filled in on the current events and how those events can start to create a ripple effect, but they could also benefit from learning what led to those events. Speaking with them about Charlottesville and getting them comfortable with that dialogue can help everyone else open up. They are leaders for a reason, utilize them. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be successful without the added outside stressors, it is up to the diversity leaders to help attain that goal.

#4 Focus on Solutions and Common Goals.

Sometimes when the issue at hand is very controversial, it’s important to take a step back and remember that you must search for the most appropriate answers. Being a diversity professional is a total balancing act between, respecting both sides, and also creating a compromise. It is so important to bring out the best in everyone and having the organization feeling more like a team.

Finding a common ground is so imperative to figuring out the solutions. When people feel that they are being underappreciated or that their concerns aren’t being taken seriously, they get angrier. Both sides need to feel that they are being heard and that their thoughts are important.

Every time an event like Charlottesville happens, regardless of what the underlying issue is, the next day at work can seem like there is tension. We must address the elephant in the room. It is only as awkward as we choose to make it. Some will not be as open to participate, but there will be people who are scared, angry, or hurt by what happened, and they need to be reassured or feel they have an outlet to express their concerns.

Once you have spoken to the leaders and/or directors of the organization, coming up with a unified stance and solutions to prevent further tension is important. Try to get everyone to open up. Find out what the common goal is for the employees and the organization. What can we do to move forward?

Charlottesville is a difficult issue because it not only brings in race, but it’s also political, which makes for a divided country. When politics are involved, people tend to have much stronger emotions and want to defend “their side.” It is imperative to bring politics into the discussion as least as possible. Find the common ground and be as unbiased as you can.

#5 Stay Strong. You’re Not Alone.

Finally, stay strong and lean on others for support whenever needed. No one said our job was easy. At the end of the day, having people from many different backgrounds allows an organization to succeed well due to the many unique minds. Attaining the right people for the job is no easy task, and making sure there is a respectful environment during today’s world wide and country wide issues can definitely be challenging. But keep your chin up! It’s okay to need support from someone else.

This job can cause a lot of stress, and sometimes there can be an overwhelming amount of pressure put onto your shoulders. Make sure you have your own support. It’s okay to reach out and get opinions of fellow diversity professionals. Rely on your own personal growth and training to get you through the issues at hand. We here at Society for Diversity are on your side. If you need to vent, or figure out what the best solution for your organization is, please reach out to us. We would love to be an available resource for you. The most important thing to remember is to breath!

The Society for Diversity is the largest organization for diversity and inclusion in the US. With members in 43 states, The Society for Diversity represents a highly specialized association of Fortune 500, nonprofit, government and education professionals throughout the U.S. The Society for Diversity is also the parent company of the Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC), which designates qualification credentials to diversity experts through their professional diversity certification program. By teaching diversity professionals and executives how to drive real-world results, the IDC helps individuals advance their careers as well as have a greater overall impact on diversity & inclusion within their organizations. Together, we can standardize and elevate the field. 


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