Having difficult diversity conversations doesn’t always have to be difficult. A few weeks ago my 9 year old and I were watching the Great British Bake Off final in our usual position side-by-side on the couch. I love this programme for so many reasons and consider it perfect family viewing as it shows such very different people enjoying each other’s company whilst learning together (and making mistakes).
Watching the show, the fantastic hosts Matt and Noel provided the usual combination of heartfelt contestant care with surreal (I.e.distracting) antics and japes. Gleefully observing Matt doing something particularly naughty, my son turned to me and commented “ooh I bet his wife wouldn’t be very happy about that!” Now as a parent, when these opportunities present themselves naturally, you have to take them so I thought carefully, and then pounced upon it. “Well George” I began, “I think Matt is more likely to have a husband than a wife.” A moment of quiet contemplation from George so I followed up with “You did know some men marry men and some men marry women didn’t you George?”
I listen carefully for a what might come next, inwardly preparing multiple responses for the answer George gives. “Well yes mummy I knew that, I just wasn’t sure if you did…”
The conversations we are wary of at home are often the same conversations we think will be ‘’challenging’ or ‘difficult’ at work. Checking how someone wants to be addressed, which pronoun should be used or asking a question about someone’s religion or belief – all questions we have unnecessarily put in the ‘awkward’ category.
These assumptions need to be revised. In my experience, an authentic interest in someone’s background demonstrated by a genuine question asked with honesty and integrity is unlikely to cause offence. And if a friend or colleague is inadvertently offended, a swift and heartfelt apology will quickly rectify the situation.
Showing colleagues that you are interested in them enough to want to know more about them ensures they feel valued. And setting the example of asking question in a respectful way sets the tone for an inclusive workplace culture.
Knowledge is power. We are less likely to fear what is understood, so there is power in an appreciative enquiry.
And there is power in cake.
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