Embracing Discomfort: Conversations on Diversity & Inclusion

July 29, 2016

by Dawn Gipson

Many of us avoid challenging conversations because we’re afraid. We’re afraid to offend. We’re afraid to be judged. And when it comes to potentially polarizing topics such as diversity and social inclusion, that fear magnifies exponentially. So we end up not saying anything at all. How do we move past that fear and have conversations that advance understanding and impact change?

I spoke on this issue at the recent Design + Diversity Conference, hosted by AIGA St. Louis. The event provided a forum for design professionals and diversity thought leaders to explore the value of diversity in design. My goal for the day was to encourage my fellow creatives to look beyond the work we produce and examine how we promote and respect differences in one-on-one settings with our colleagues and clients.

It’s not easy. It requires us to challenge our personal worldview. We need to explore the experiences that shape our opinions. Make note of snap judgments. Notice with whom we choose to spend our time. Then we should question how these things impact our dealings with others.

When faced with a discussion about difference, our first instinct is to fly or to fight. In either case, we reject our ability to listen and miss out on an opportunity to learn. Think about all of the situations you’ve avoided because you didn’t want to ruffle feathers. Or how often have you been thinking about what you’re going to say instead of paying attention to what someone is saying to you? Strong listening skills are key to gaining new insights and expanding points of view.

I’ve often heard diversity and inclusion described as a business strategy. I don’t disagree. Organizations should work to create inclusive cultures that drive innovation.  But it’s our daily, one-on-one interactions that truly define our workplace cultures.