4 Exercises to Enhance Your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts

I sat down to watch The Social Dilemma with my husband this past weekend. OH.MY. Netflix describes the show as a “documentary-drama hybrid [that] explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.” 

Besides the realization that our every move and word, maybe even our every thought at some point, is being tracked by our smartphones and computers for the purpose of benefiting a profit machine, I was most fascinated by the premise that social media is one of the key factors polarizing us as a people and growing divides in our world.  Basically, social media and search engines perpetuate our divisiveness by the stuff it “feeds” us. 

How do we combat these engines? How do we overcome the us versus them in so many aspects of our lives? 

We’ve always focused on intentional leadership and team development at Horizon Point, but the last year has brought about a hyper-focus on making explicit how it ties to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace.  How do we overcome the us versus them mentality in the workplace has been a question we are continually asking ourselves and seeking to help our clients tackle. 

Much of what is out there now focuses on training interventions that educate people on conscious and unconscious bias, seeking to build self-awareness and change behaviors. 

But as a recent Forbes article focused specifically on racism articulates, the head and the heart have to be engaged before the hands- or behavior- can follow.  And a key piece of this is self-awareness but it is also other awareness.  We are polarized because we don’t actually know people.  The Forbes article articulates this so well: 

I’m constantly surprised to learn that people who work closely together and literally log thousands of hours side by side in the workplace don’t really know each other. Until we close the distance, our relationships remain superficial and transactional. In that closeness—in living, working, eating, and breathing together—regard and affection don’t automatically result unless we deliberately connect and mutually invest in our relationships.

So what do we do? 

Using an Encounter Group format (also referred to as t-groups), we can begin to engage people in talking to each other and listening to each other in a psychologically safe way in order to direct the head, heart, and eventually, the hands to embrace each other instead of despising each other despite all the things out there that seem to be programming us to tear each other apart.

As the Neuroleadership Institute states in a blog post, we have to activate insights to change habits which is necessary for behavior change. “Insights are the breakthrough moments that change how people see the world, and our research shows they are highly motivating — when we have “Aha” moments, we really want to act on them.”

We can do this through the encounter group format.

Here are some ideas for exercises within an encounter group or similar group format that you as a leader can facilitate or hire an outside facilitator to conduct: 

1. Sharing Story.  “To initiate connecting, model and assign your team members the task of sharing their stories with each other. Be the first mover by sharing appropriate background and experiences about yourself. After demonstrating your own vulnerability ask, ‘Would you tell me your story?’” states the  Forbes article.  

We do this in a group format by giving participants a sheet of paper that has up to seven sections where they can write up to seven experiences that have shaped their life and who they are. We ask them to share stories that are not just work-related and that incorporate not only adult but also childhood experiences.  We give them time to reflect on this and then they come back together and verbally share their stories with the group.

When done right, people share openly and you can usually hear a pin drop in the room while one person shares the experiences that shaped them.  I’ve never seen people listen as intently to others as when we’ve done this exercise with some groups.  It is also amazing to see how many shared experiences happen amongst the group between people that on the surface seem to share none. There are also many “aha” moments that happen where people say, “Oh, now I understand why you behave that way!” and come to appreciate that behavior that they may have once resented. 

2. Reading Story.  Assign readings that emphasize the stories of individuals in marginalized groups and have your group discuss them. Our previous blog post can help you with some memoirs to start. 

3. Living Story.  Get the group to engage with a marginalized group for at least a day-long project. I’ve seen some of these projects last up to a year.  For some thoughts on how business leaders can and should do this, check out this post here.

4. Critiquing the Story.  Put major news network names (CNN, Fox, NBC, etc.) up separately as labels on the wall.  Get participants to stand/sit by the network they watch the most. Then get them to critique their own source of information with the group they are sitting with.  What leanings and biases do the networks have? Then, what might the impact on their personal conscious or unconscious thoughts and therefore decisions and behaviors be based on due to their news source(s)?  

You can also do this for social media channels and consider how actually showing The Social Dilemma to the group might enhance the session discussion and opportunities for insights to take place. 

When we engage in these types of activities, we get to know people. We build relationships.  And when we know people it makes it much harder to hate them, or people that are “like” them.  

As Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” 

What do you think is creating the polarization in our country and what can you do as a leader to impact DE&I efforts for your organization? 


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Mary Ila Ward