3 Ways Managers Can Become Advocates for Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion at Work

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Kristy Busija289
Executive Coach & Talent Management Cosultant

The goal of DEI is not new. Whether overtly or covertly expressed, employees want to be treated with dignity and respect. What is new is the dedicated attention and focus on ensuring it comes to life. And managers have a pivotal role to play in helping to move things forward. Here are three things you can do immediately. 

1. Don’t wait for someone else. Take action.

Each action you take reflects what you value and stand for.  And sometimes, you need to channel managerial courage to support your team and colleagues (and yourself).  For example, what do you do when you see another colleague being disrespected or another leader demonstrating behaviors that are not inclusive and/or respectful? Do you choose to do nothing and assume that someone else sees it and will say something? Or do you lean in and have a crucial conversation? The unintended consequence of saying nothing is you are sending a message to others that you agree with the behavior and/or condone it, even if you don’t. 

  • When you hear yourself saying “someone else will surely say something,” verify your assumption. And when needed, say something.

  • Ask yourself how you would want your team to be treated. If the behavior is not in alignment with the organization’s culture and values, have a managerial courage moment and lean into a crucial conversation.

2. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Far too often, when something is uncomfortable (conflict, awkward conversations, you don’t know how to respond), leaders avoid it. Not because you don’t want to tackle it, but because you may not know how to or you are worried about damaging the relationship. It is handled behind the scenes, in a passive-aggressive manner or it’s ignored altogether.  For example, you may choose to avoid the conversation, or worse, you perpetuate the uncomfortable moments amongst team members and don’t help them positively work through it. No one benefits and the unintended consequence is you are robbing all parties of a chance to learn and grow from the situation. And possibly damaging working relationships in the process.

  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable and lean into the conversations you are avoiding. Acknowledge to the other person that you are uncomfortable with the conversation and your honest desire to talk it through. 

  • Keep to the facts. Share your perspective, invite the other person to share theirs, and leave the conversation open to explore a path forward.

  • Suspend assumptions as you walk into the conversation. While you may think you know why the other person said or did something, you never really know. Let them share their point of view and be open to hearing it. You might hear something that changes your perspective altogether.

  • When you see your team members avoiding uncomfortable moments, encourage them to speak to one another directly. Offer your support if they need help having the conversation (but only if they come to an impasse).

3. Re-evaluate and expand your “go-to” group.

It is a natural tendency to gravitate to those we know we can count on to get the work done. While this helps make things “easier,” the unintended consequence is that we have created the perception of favorites. The “in” group who gets all the resources/assignments, seems to be in the know and the “out” group seems to be the last to hear anything or doesn’t have the opportunity to work on new projects. This can create an environment where those known for getting everything done get the most work piled on, leading to burnout and frustration.

  • When work needs to be assigned, to reduce the potential favoritism bias, discuss the work with the team. Ask them who is comfortable taking on the assignment and who may want to support them to gain valuable experience. 

  • Regularly review the work on everyone’s plates and be open to re-distributing the load as needed.

  • When you hear an employee say they are overwhelmed, pause and take a look at how much they are assigned. Does something need to be re-prioritized or re-assigned?

Leadership isn’t always easy and sometimes the hardest thing we can do is to break the cycle of behaviors that don’t move us toward the goal of everyone feeling valued, heard and respected in the workplace. Be inclusive when distributing the work, work through the uncomfortable instead of around it, and have the courage to advocate for others (and yourself.)  For more tips, check out my article on Ways to Practice Inclusion (That Don’t Require a D&I Course).  


Kristy Busija is an executive coach and talent management consultant, who is known for helping individuals, teams and organizations unleash their optimal potential, one conversation at a time. What is your Next conversation? Check out Next Conversation Coaching to see how she can help you today.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for advocating for DEI at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!