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From Pressure to Pearls: Conversations on Diversity and Inclusion

A deliberately out of focus image of people sitting at a table having a meeting.

In a recent article in Boston University’s magazine (BU), The Brink, the author stated, "Diversity in the workplace creates friction. It forces people to work harder, challenges their assumptions, and makes them less sure of themselves." As a diversity and inclusion professional, I would have to agree with this statement.

Although I am intentionally immersed in this work almost daily, I still find conversations about diversity and inclusion to be difficult at times. For instance, in a recent meeting, an individual lifted an interesting point. The person stated, “Why are we asking people about their past views on diversity and inclusion? I am only interested in hearing their perspectives on this matter moving forward.” I wanted to respond, but I found myself momentarily frozen. I had a response, but I was unsure if the room was prepared to hear the words that were swirling in my mind and bubbling up in my heart. As if she were aware of my state of momentary paralysis, my neighbor leaned over and asked if I was going to speak up. I did, but I was reminded of the discomfort that far too often comes with talking about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

In the same BU article, Professor Evan Apfelbaum, in referring to conversations on diversity and inclusion, states “difficulty can become the irritant that creates the pearl, in terms of an idea, or correcting a mistaken assumption.” This is so true. While I was uncomfortable at the moment, I was able to speak up and share my views on the importance of talking about our past experiences with diversity and inclusion. I was forced to speak to that which I encourage others to do– find comfort in talking about uncomfortable things.

How can we do this you may ask? I offer the below strategies to consider when engaging in conversations on diversity and inclusion.

  1. Recognize your value at the table. If we are going to confidently engage in these difficult conversations, we must know what we bring to our workspaces. No one can determine our value better than we can. There may be moments when it feels as if people are judging us, writing mental stories about us, or attempting to determine our worth, but do not let these things prevent you from speaking up at the table. You’ve got a story to tell.
  2. Be mindful of when you should speak and when you should remain silent. There is something to be said about having enough self-control to know when to talk and to know when to listen. Listening is a sign of respect for our colleague’s capacity to bring something of value to the table, to teach us something and to expand our knowledge base through conversation. Sometimes it is to one’s benefit to be able to engage in conversation without saying a word.
  3. Be clear and concise. One of my first research mentors shared invaluable advice with me as I was preparing to give my first oral presentation. The advice was simple, “Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them.” I have held onto this advice for nearly 20 years as I’ve come to understand when we ramble, we lose people’s attention. It is essential that we know our main point, avoid jargon, and constantly watch the nonverbal cues around us.
  4. Think outward. How many times have you found yourself in a conversation and you’re stuck in your thoughts and opinions? If you’re like me, it has occurred more times than you would like to admit. I would argue this is simply human nature. Yet, I believe when we are charged to engage in communal dialogue there’s value in thinking about how others think. One of the beautiful things about diversity is the vast experiences that shade the lens through which we view life. When we open our eyes to the pictures that others see, while welcoming them to catch a glimpse of our own picture, great synergy can happen.
  5. Be brave. Conversations on diversity and inclusion often require a degree of vulnerability where we find ourselves exposing the authentic nature of our beings. In sharing our perspectives, we may find ourselves going against the grain and challenging all that seems normal around us. It is hard work and it is okay. Nothing great happens without one having to dig deep and find the courage to face the hard stuff.

I challenge you to dare greatly and be brave in this work, feel all of the nervousness, feel all of the uneasiness, feel all of the fear, feel all of the pressure and find the courage to still be brave and engage in the conversation. Be open to the ways you can learn from the experiences and diverse thoughts of others in your workspace. Finally, be confident in these conversations and be reminded that you may be the one who helps start the work of creating a pearl in your workspace.

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