Skip to content
We are now Bonterra

How to facilitate diversity conversations in the workplace

March 24, 2022
A group of nonprofit employees discuss giving day team roles so their fundraiser can succeed.

If you’re interested in facilitating diversity conversations in your nonprofit’s workplace, you’re committing to an important, transformative effort. Among all of the initiatives to ensure your workplace considers launching, focusing on deepening diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations, with accompanying doable and actionable steps, lays the groundwork for holistic fundamental impact

If you are raising your hand to launch or deepen conversations and facilitating them, it takes courage. That being said, while bravery and a willingness to be vulnerable will always be core parts of DEI conversations, there are a few strategies you can introduce in your workplace to ensure conversations remain productive. 

The importance of having open dialogue around DEI at work

While there is often some discomfort associated with DEI conversations, many people are hungry for these dialogues and learning about our colleague’s diverse experiences and personal stories. Having conversations that acknowledge differences and encourage empathy can help deepen your team’s sense of trust, responsibility, and commitment to one another. 

To start having team-wide DEI conversations, you will first need to get buy-in from your workplace’s leader. When introducing the concept, ensure you already have a plan ready for how to conduct these conversations. Specifically, you’ll need to explain the importance of establishing a space that’s conducive to courageous conversations. You can do this by co-identifying ground rules, otherwise known as Grounding Agreements. 

Setting ground rules for DEI conversations

Grounding Agreements are a foundational aspect of brave and sometimes difficult conversations because they identify how we’ll engage with one another during the conversations in a co-designed way. 

Grounding Agreements help establish the norms of how you and your teammates will engage. This includes:

  • Defining relevant and important terms related to DEI discussions. 
  • Providing a reminder for how individuals will respond when they feel impacted by the discussion. This should include how both to signal a member would like to share themselves or to just acknowledge they appreciate a point that was made. 
  • Asking team members to identify and name elements that they want to be discussed. Your team will display and affirm these points each time you come together and add to them if needed, as conversations deepen. 

Ultimately, Grounding Agreements are about how to call attention to yourself and your team’s experiences in the learning journey. A key aspect of Grounding Agreements is that they are drafted and co-constructed by the group. This sets your intentions and empowers your team to construct a brave space together. 

In a nutshell, these agreements refer to the values, characteristics, behaviors, and tone that will help guide your conversations, uncomfortable silences, and even tense moments. Here are a few ways you can implement the Ground Agreements you and your team decide upon. 

Understand that discomfort is part of the process and plan for how to approach it 

There are no easy ways to stay committed to conversations that are challenging. It’s an intentional commitment that, along with some tools and continued practice, will keep you moving forward.

The willingness to stay intentionally present will help hold the dialogue together and carry it forward. It can be stressful, and you may feel anxious and uncomfortable, but staying the course is a core part of the process. Oftentimes, breaking up in pairs will help your team ‘sit with’ the discomfort as you dive deeper, before then coming back together as a full group. This helps continue your team’s conversations while creating a safe space to dive deeper into specific topics.  

Learning to sit with and hold discomfort while listening to colleagues’ experiences and perspectives is perhaps the fundamental task that will help each your team grow towards greater equitable practices.

Acknowledge that there is no endpoint, no point at which you can say you’ve concluded all the lessons needed to learn. Discussions on race, privilege, and other topics within diversity, equity, and inclusion are all part of being a curious, life-long learner. Incorporating this as part of the purpose your organization strives for is essential in impact. 

Incorporating Grounding Agreements into your nonprofit’s purpose

Grounding Agreements are a powerful tool that launches the beginning of an incredibly dynamic and rich learning journey.

Conversations within and about diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, access, race, privilege, and other core topics often push us back to our family origins, how we grew up communicating, and what tough conversations looked like. Having Grounding Agreements that are co-constructed helps navigate the moments that will challenge your team and help them stay the course for the long haul. 

Ensure your nonprofit’s purpose is aligned with your commitment to DEI. If your organization already works to improve equity, access, and diversity, you will be able to more easily find actionable examples of why these topic matter and how they impact not just your organization, but society as a whole. 

If your nonprofit’s purpose is dedicated to other causes, still meet with leadership to discuss appending your internal work culture to include DEI principles. Emphasize both why these principles matter and how your Grounding Agreements will work to facilitate productive conversations. 

The bottom line

Starting diversity conversations in the workplace is rarely easy, but the results will transform your team’s ability to work together for the better. To start having these conversations, meet with leadership to explain how these conversations will benefit your organization as a whole, then work with your team to establish ground rules for holding your discussions. 

Ready to Get Started?

    Program Management
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging (DEIB)
  • Corporations
  • Nonprofits