Navigating DEI Conversations: Communication, Acknowledgement and Listening Goes a Long Way

Employees putting their hands in a circle having DEI conversations|Employees putting their hands in a circle having DEI conversations

Whether you already have a seat at the table or are working to find one, marketing, communications and business development professionals have the opportunity to embrace and effect change concerning diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). It seems we’re always in meetings: weekly planning meetings, one-on-one sessions with industry or service line leaders, causal conversation with colleagues in the breakroom, the annual strategic planning. Each of these is an excellent opportunity to engage your peers and team in conversation, but conversations on DEI issues often are still considered the elephant in the room, especially in the workplace.

“We need to get comfortable talking about uncomfortable things,” said Jennifer Cantero, director of marketing and sustainability at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. “Until we get uncomfortable, it’s going to be uncomfortable.”

Cantero is leading listening and sharing roundtables for the Association for Accounting Marketing’s board of directors as the association digs into DEI conversations.

“We wanted to start with our leadership to do some work on a personal level, get a unified understanding of what DEI is, including unconscious bias, how it plays out in our society and how it plays out in our work environments. Then, in turn, we can better understand these topics and help our members tackle them in their personal and professional lives. We are putting our own oxygen masks on first, so to speak.”

There are ways to make these DEI conversations easier, though. Cantero shared the following guidelines to creating a brave space you can take back to your firm to engage your staff and team on DEI thoughtfully and compassionately. (These are great for approaching DEI-focused conversations and just general intrapersonal communication best practices!):

  1. Welcome multiple viewpoints. Speak from your own experience by using “I” statements. Ask questions to understand the sources of disagreements.
  2. Own your intentions and your impacts. Respect each other’s experiences and feelings by taking responsibility for the impact of your words. On the other side, if you have a strong reaction to something, let the group know. Be open to dialogue.
  3. Work to recognize your privilege. Use this space to recognize and investigate your privileges (for example: class, gender, sexual orientation, ability). Honor the different experiences we all bring to this space.
  4. Take risks: Lean into discomfort. We are all “works in progress.” Challenge yourself to contribute even if your thoughts are not perfectly formulated.
  5. Step back. Share speaking time and try to speak after others who have not spoken.
  6. Notice and name group dynamics in the moment. We are all responsible for this space. Be aware of how others are responding or not responding. Ask for a “time out” or separate dialogue if needed.
  7. Actively listen. Use your energy to listen to what is said before thinking about how to respond. Notice when defensiveness and denial arise.
  8. Challenging with care. Find ways to respectfully challenge others and be open to challenges of your own views. Think about how to question ideas without making personal attacks.
  9. Ensure and embrace confidentiality. Share the message, not the messenger.
  10. Break it down. Use simple language and background information when necessary. Ask for clarification if needed.

Cantero is quick to point out she’s not a DEI expert.

“I started to dive in and do homework with myself, how I show up in the world, by attending trainings to get all the knowledge I could,” she said. “I still stick my foot in my mouth, but we must have the grace to realize we’re not going to be perfect in everything but know we have accountability partners.”

It’s important to note when becoming more aware of the DEI issue that, at least during the AAM board of directors’ roundtables, most participants believed they have some work to do.

“It doesn’t matter if you think you have biases or not. You do,” Cantero said. “We all have biases; it’s how we’re wired as humans. We need to identify them to work against them.”

Cantero stresses it’s how you internalize, mitigate and understand that fact about yourself, so you can be a better person and understand how racism shows up in you and your organization’s processes, procedures and policies because it’s systematic.

“We need to understand how it shows up in ourselves so we can look into our operations to see how it’s represented there,” she said. “Until we can embrace the understanding in ourselves, it’s going to be challenging to see how it operates in our systems.”

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About Christian Moises

Christian Moises APR is a digital marketing advisor for Inovautus Consulting. He previously served as practice growth specialist for Ericksen Krentel CPAs and Consultants in New Orleans, where he was a one-man shop doing it all. He spent the first 10 years of his career in journalism, serving as an editor with New Orleans CityBusiness, the business journal of New Orleans, before transitioning to marketing and communications, with stops in death care communications, community hospital public relations and marketing/communications for an AM 200 regional law firm. Christian earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Louisiana Tech University.

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