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10 steps to having difficult conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion

Conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion can often feel uncomfortable and as a result may sometimes never take place. It is important that we talk more about diversity, equity and inclusion and have open discussions about the issues that matter.

In this post we explore the steps you will need to take to have these difficult conversations, adapted from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Sport.

A starting point is to acknowledge that there is economic value in promoting diversity and inclusion, legal reasons to ensure that those working in and competing in sport are not discriminated against, and moral imperatives to treat athletes, colleagues, and peers with respect and dignity.

Experts who work in the area of diversity and inclusion report that open, sincere, and productive conversations do not happen by accident or magic. Rather, consideration needs to be given to establishing ground rules, cultivating empathy, and helping people understand why these conversations are important to their work as leaders and citizens. According to the CoachDiversity Institute (2020), there are 10 strategies or practices that can help facilitate difficult conversations:

  1. Set the stage. When having conversations about bias and discrimination in the workplace, in a classroom, or on a team, make those who will be participating aware of what the topic is in advance. Give thought to how the discussion is going to be framed and explain to those participating what the purpose of the discussion is.
  2. Establish discussion guidelines. These should be developed by the facilitator or put together in conjunction with the group to promote an environment that is safe and respectful. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL, 2020) recommends that discussion guidelines include a consideration of “listening and interrupting, how to deal with strong emotions, establishing trust, confidentiality, sharing ‘air time’ and dealing with differences or disagreements.” Another key consideration is “making room for mistakes” and acknowledging in an explicit way that “because we are products of a biased society, students may not be cognizant that everyone has biases and holds stereotypes” (ADL, 2020).
  3. Shape discussions around questions that participants can brainstorm and problem-solve. If appropriate, such questions could include an examination of an existing program and its effectiveness. (For example: Do we have a plan to ensure fair and equitable hiring? How effective is that plan?)
  4. Set the expectation that there will be different viewpoints, and encourage humility. There are numerous approaches to fostering open dialogue, one of them being establishing an understanding of the differences between a debate (where each side is arguing to be right, setting up a point/counterpoint) and a dialogue (where the emphasis is on listening, being collaborative, and being supportive) (Hastwell, 2020).
  5. Listen more than you speak. Take a pause before responding; ask questions to clarify what was said. Defer judgment and speculation about motive.
  6. Encourage curiosity and questions. Create a space where genuine understanding can occur when questions are asked and answered in a nonthreatening environment.
  7. Check your privilege. Ask participants to consider how their advantages in life affect their perspective, experience, and worldview on issues.
  8. Be mindful that the climate of the discussion is one where people are safe to express themselves, with an understanding that they will not be shamed or humiliated. Genuine dialogue can reveal naïveté, ignorance, strong emotions, and frustrations. Figuring out how to keep an open dialogue can be both challenging and rewarding.
  9. Anticipate that roadblocks to progress will happen. Conversations about difference occur over time, and it is likely that there will be setbacks, resistance, or hesitancy to tackle certain subjects.
  10. Recenter and refocus the conversation back to the purpose. It can take a conscious effort to work together toward equity and inclusion and the benefits of being aligned with those values (CoachDiversity Institute, 2020).

Learn more about in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Sport.



Adapted from:

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Sport

Ellen Staurowsky and Algerian Hart

Header photo by Andrea Piacquadio

This entry was posted in: Sport Business


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