D&I pushback often comes in three forms: - Denial: “This is not a problem.” - Disengagement: “This is not my problem.” - Derailment: “What about other problems?” Gartner
Tips for obtaining leadership buy-in:
➖Understand leader motivations. Before approaching leaders, take time to research their motivations, priorities and concerns. Tailor your messaging to align D&I initiatives with their values and organisation's goals.
➖Use the business case.
➖Link to strategy. Show how D&I aligns with your organisation's strategy and mission. Siloed initiatives not aligned with the strategy are doomed to fail.
➖Highlight risks of not implementing D&I initiatives including legal liabilities, reputational damage, poor decisions, and missed opportunities for growth and innovation.
➖Emphasise the ROI. Outline the potential return on investment (ROI) for D&I initiatives - better, less risky decision making, increased employee retention, reduced turnover costs, enhanced recruitment efforts, and improved customer relationships.
➖If D&I is baked into the organisation's mission, values and behaviours, alignment will come as performance of employees will be assessed against both what they achieve and how they demonstrate the values/align to the mission.
➖To head off attempts at denial or derailment before they occur, consider the different perspectives employees may have, anticipate the threats they may perceive and address these proactively in your communication strategy.
➖Partner with internal communications and be as transparent about why a D&I program or strategy is being rolled out, sharing data that makes the case for it, and the role that all employees play in advancing D&I and the outcomes the strategy intends to achieve. Provide educational resources, workshops, and awareness / training sessions to increase understanding about the importance of D&I in fostering a thriving and innovative environment.
➖Actively listen to the concerns and objections raised by individuals who are resistant to D&I initiatives. Show empathy and try to understand their perspective, even if you don't agree - the aim is not to invalidate feelings. 'Answer questions compassionately, while being clear that DEI is a non-negotiable priority at the company' says Aubrey Blanche-Sarellano.
Dealing with pushback - communication tips:
• Ask open-ended questions. With closed-ended questions, you get a yes or no answer. A closed-ended question can make the individual feel like they are being judged and the greatest benefit of having a difficult conversation is obtaining new information that changes people’s perspectives. Open-ended questions encourages the team member to share the information they are comfortable with.
• Use positive non-verbal communication. Preferably, the conversation should be one-to-one, on equal footing, without any physical barriers such as a table, and with eye contact, to show the other person that what they are saying is important.
• Check and clarify. Make sure you have understood everything you have discussed so far. Every so often, check that you have really grasped what the other person is saying before proceeding based on assumptions.
• Foster openness. Find a way to encourage the other person to open up to you.
• Reflect and summarize. Although we rarely do it, periodically summarizing what the other person has been saying is helpful. It is an effective way to make them feel like they are being heard and can delve deeper into the conversation, giving more details.
• Use silence well. Most people are uncomfortable with silence. If managed well, however, silence can help the other person to communicate.
➖Some pushback might stem from misconceptions or misinformation. Clarify misunderstandings and provide evidence to counter misconceptions about D&I initiatives.
➖Active, visible senior leadership support and accountability. Having the support of top-level leadership is crucial in overcoming resistance to D&I. Leaders should publicly express their commitment to these initiatives and the positive impact they can have on the organization.
➖Convert line managers’ resistance to D&I interventions/initiatives to ownership by involving people managers in creating transparency, developing metrics and the people decisions necessary to meet D&I goals. This can help build their sense of ownership and investment in the outcomes.
➖Encourage employees and people managers, especially those from dominant groups, to engage in employee resource group (ERG) membership (attending their events and subscribing and sharing their communications).
➖Encourage open and honest discussions about D&I in the workplace or community. Use experts to facilitate 'safe spaces' where people can voice their concerns, ask questions, and engage in constructive dialogue without fear of retribution. Allow employees to make mistakes and ask uncomfortable questions without feeling threatened and without putting the burden of educating them on employees from underrepresented groups. Learning activities such as these that aim to build empathy and awareness of other groups' experiences can help diminish a sense of threat.
➖Share success stories of organisations (including clients and competitors) that have successfully implemented D&I initiatives and the positive outcomes and benefits experienced as a result.
Educate employees and leaders about the difference between equality and equity and why the organisation is striving for equity rather than equality. 'Equality is giving everyone a shoe; equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits', Naheed Dosani.
- Article: How to Navigate Pushback to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts, Gartner (paid subscription required)
- Article: How To Address Employee Pushback To Your Company's DEI Efforts, Forbes
- Article: How Do You Handle Pushback Against DEI Initiatives From Employees — or Even Other Senior Leaders?