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Diversity and Inclusion

How to start the conversation about D&I at work

Words matter 🗣️

Of course, the way we talk about diversity and inclusion is ever-evolving. No one’s blaming anyone for being uncertain about what is and isn’t the right terminology.

But knowledge is power. So, here we’ve outlined three simple guiding principles to help you start the conversation about D&I at your workplace.

In many cases, there’s no single “best” way to describe a dimension like gender, race, ethnicity or disability.

Guatemalan or Latina? Hard of hearing or deaf? Bangladeshi or British Asian? That’s impossible to know given they’re all acceptable descriptors – it’s really up to the individual.

So, it’s best not to make assumptions about how people identify themselves.

As long as you have good intentions and avoid obviously inflammatory terms, it’s usually fine to ask someone how they’d describe themselves. Here’s how:

🙈 Be Vulnerable – kick off with some vulnerability to disarm them and show them your intentions are good. A few suggestions:

  • admit you’re clueless about this stuff
  • say you’re not sure the right way to ask this and you hope it doesn’t come across as being intrusive
  • if the conversation gets uncomfortable, speak about your own experience and background and explain that you’re always trying to learn more

🤔 Ask – be curious & respectful with your question: “I’m curious to know…

  • … how you identify yourself?”
  • … what’s your background?”
  • … what’s your heritage?”
  • … how should I refer to your impairment?”

🙏 Give thanks – it’s always nice to end with a “Thanks for sharing!” or similar

Although it’s inevitable that we’ll need to use labels, in general, labeling people by a single dimension is problematic because it reduces their identity to that single factor.

Labels can also contribute to stigma and discrimination.

An example:

💡 “My blind neighbor Dan…”

Well, surely there’s more to him than his blindness – is that fact really central to your comment?

When using a label related to a condition or disability, describe people with adjectives, not nouns. This is known as “people-first language”.

In other words, the label should be a descriptor of them as a person rather than the entire definition. This acknowledges and humanizes the individual, showing that they are a person first and foremost, and are defined by more than just their disability.

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Braving eye-opening conversations about D&I needn’t be a minefield. You can be respectful, confident, curious, and inclusive with the help of these three simple guiding principles. They’re really just about being kind and thoughtful.

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Have you checked out our comprehensive A-Z diversity and inclusion glossary covering everything from terms to describe race or sexual orientation to types of bias and processes you can use to rectify them? Head to it now!

State of DEI 2020-2021

How has 2020 changed the way we work? Hive Learning reports on the State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2021.

Read the report

Fiona Young (she/her)

Having previously led Learning and Development for 3,000 people at Europe’s leading venture builder, Blenheim Chalcot, Fiona knows a thing or two about how to build high performance culture. As Content Director at Hive Learning, Fiona pioneered the organisation's leading guided content programmes which are designed to turn learning into action. Most recently, Fiona led the inception, development and delivery of Inclusion Works by Hive Learning - the world’s first diversity and inclusion programme focused on turning unconscious bias into conscious action - created from over 1,000 leading sources.