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Creating Cultures of Inclusivity and Belonging
Episode 188th December 2022 • Absence Management Perspectives • DMEC
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Employers get a unique and valuable insider perspective on how they can encourage a feeling of belonging in their workplaces, and how those efforts lead to more collaborative environments that tap into the rich experiences and differences of employees. Get insights into how differences make teams stronger and more resilient and ways (and resources) to encourage open and honest dialogue, embrace differences, and build stronger relationships.

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DMEC: Welcome to Absence Management Perspectives: A DMEC Podcast. The Disability Management Employer Coalition, or DMEC, as were known by most people, provides focused education, knowledge and networking opportunities for absence and disability management professionals. DMEC has become a leading voice in the industry and represents more than 160 professionals from organizations of all sizes across the United States and Canada. This podcast series will focus on industry perspectives and provide the opportunity to delve more deeply into issues that affect DMEC members and the community as a whole. We're thrilled to have you with us and hope you will visit to get a full picture of what we have to offer, from webinars and publications to conferences, certifications, and much more. Let's get started and meet the people behind the processes.

o cofounded Epic Education in:

Terri Rhodes: Thank you, Heather, for that. And I am really excited today to talk with Nancy Dome, or Dr. Nancy Dome, for those who don't know her, about the belonging component of diversity, equity, inclusion. I participated on a panel during the DMEC Annual conference this past August and discussed this issue of DEIB with three of our DMEC board members who were able to share their experiences. And one of our board members, specifically the organization that he works with, was focusing on this belonging component. And so I really wanted to dig into this concept a little bit more, because it's something that may be new to some of you listeners out there, but others of you may have already embraced it. So, again, Nancy, I am so excited that you're here. And we're pleased to share some background on the belonging piece of Dei, what that looks like in practice, how employers can and I'm going to put here I'm air quoting here create a culture where people appreciate each other's differences and give each other the freedom to do their best. We took this right from the Epic Education website. We've also included a link in the notes section so our listeners today can go directly to the website. As we've mentioned, the belonging piece is a relatively new concept for some, and I'm hoping that you will be able to shed some light on why it's so important for employers to understand this and embrace it. So, Nancy, how can employers do that?

Dr. Nancy Dome: Well, first, thank you, Terri, for having me. I'm really excited to be here with you today to talk about this because belonging is such an important topic and I think historically we have felt that the workplace was I'm doing the air quotes now, like this professional space. And for some reason, belonging hasn't seemed to always be something that people talked about. So I'm really glad that we're talking about it now. And I would say that it's twofold why we need to include it. One would be because just looking at the bottom line, it improves productivity for any organization. Because when your employees feel like they belong and they know that they're welcome and that they can show up authentically as themselves, then they're going to be better workers for you. And then the bottom line really comes to what kind of spaces do we want to create? And if we want to think about people staying within an organization and not feeling like they need to leave, they need to have a draw. They need to feel like they belong. And so this emphasis on creating spaces and really looking at your climate and culture to create spaces where people know that they can show up, that they can be imperfect, that they can have different beliefs and thoughts and ways of doing things and still be able to contribute to the whole, is really where we're needing to go. And so part of it really comes down to how do we allow people to be themselves without placing our judgments on what we think someone should be or how someone should look or how someone should sound, or how someone should dress or who, you know, people get to love. Like, if we could really allow people to be themselves and refrain from judging in a way where we are then excluding people from the equation, then we would see that we would increase that notion of belonging within organizations.

Terri Rhodes: I think your opening statement, Nancy, where you talked about productivity grabbed everyone's attention because that's what our professional community is so tasked with, is to make sure that we have productive and healthy and happy employees. So thank you so much for that.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Yeah, well, I mean, it's all of us. It's our bottom line. Right. And how do we ensure that we can do the work that we need to do? And part of that way to ensure it is by making sure that our employees are happy.

Terri Rhodes: Yep. So are there some practical steps that employers can take?

Dr. Nancy Dome: Absolutely. But it takes practice. Right. Because this is new terrain for a lot of people, and so it gets into the zone of people being willing to experience a level of discomfort as we navigate this new terrain for us. Right. So, one, if I'm an employer, I have to kind of get used to some discourse that may not be directly related to what's happening at work but is contributing to the productivity and how people are experiencing their jobs. And so creating spaces where you can have open dialogue, where I can share, for instance, let's say that I am trans and I feel very uncomfortable using because we have restrooms that are male and female. This notion of like, a unisex restroom, we see it in bars, we see it in different places because it's been easier to have one bathroom instead of having two for different sexes. When I can go and know that there's a space for me that's safe, that I can participate, that's letting me know that you see me and that I belong. But sometimes that's difficult for people on the other side because I've literally heard statements like, it's just he or she, simple as that. Well, it really isn't that simple. And if we can refrain from imposing our beliefs unto other people and create spaces where everyone gets to show up, then we begin to really shift our climate and culture. And so this willingness to lean into this discomfort is crucial for anyone to start creating that kind of climate where people feel like they belong. It means that they have to be willing to have those tough conversations. They have to ask questions. They have to invite voices into the room that might not necessarily be there. So I think about many, many organizations, a lot of decisions happen from the top down, and they don't always include the voices of the people who are kind of lower down in the wrong of the work that's happening. And so this idea of how do you get those voices and people to give input about their experiences? And how do you listen objectively, not taking it personally? And when I say that I don't feel safe or I don't feel comfortable or I don't feel seen or I don't feel valued, how do I listen objectively and really try to get to the root cause of it and try to resolve it with you instead of for you? And I think that is a big mistake, is that I think I know what you need without actually including you in that discussion of what you know you need. And so how do we open that kind of dialogue and be open to hearing things that might feel a little bit uncomfortable for us?

Terri Rhodes: Yeah, I think I am just sitting here thinking about this. You have to lean into the discomfort. I mean, we have to be uncomfortable in our conversations and that's a foreign concept to many people because they view it as conflict, not uncomfortable. Uncomfortableness. Yeah. We teach in a lot of our courses that it's like with an accommodation, making an accommodation, a reasonable accommodation for someone under the ADA. You don't do that blindly and just say, oh, you know what, I think this is the best job for you. You involve them in that process, that interactive process. That's why they have it. It's to say, well, what do you think you can do? As opposed to me saying you can do this job. I've looked at everything, I've looked at your medical records, I've looked at your restrictions, your limitations, and I've determined you can do this job. So the same thing, it's the same thing that resonates, like, have a conversation and ask people what is it that you can do for them?

Dr. Nancy Dome: Right? And then when we talk about belonging, if I'm asking you what that translates to the employee, is that I actually care about you and what you think and I value your opinion and your perspective. And so that whole idea of creating that space by just having that conversation, you've changed the dynamic of that work relationship.

Terri Rhodes: I'm asking you and not telling you.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Right. It's not difficult and everyone ends up happier. And that's why I'm saying you invest the time now, it will pay off later. But if you continue to do things for people and you think you know what's best, you're going to be disappointed over and over again and it's going to just feel like my voice doesn't matter. It actually begins to break down any kind of climate and culture that might be productive. It breaks it down every time something like that happens.

Terri Rhodes: So true. So I'd love to have you talk about and again, I'm doing some air quotes because we pulled this from your website, this open and honest communication component that goes along with DEI. And I'd like to hear some suggestions for employers so that they can understand and establish and maintain this type of open and honest communication.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Yeah, I mean, some things that we've done, different strategies help to get to this place, but the first one is really taking a pulse or an assessment of your employees. And that's the beginning of open and honest communication, is allowing your staff to provide feedback on their experience in the workplace. Right. And being willing to not just collect the data, because we do that a lot. We send out surveys and then no one ever sees the outcome of that. And you begin to feel like what's the point of even answering or doing this? Because it never comes back around. And so this idea of really having this cycle of inquiry where you authentically ask questions that you want, for better or for worse, to hear the answers to about the environment and the climate and culture and then bring people into the space to talk about it and begin to problem solve. So not just, like, dealing with the symptom, but also dealing with the root cause. Why do I feel uncomfortable here? What's happening? What is my experience? And not to diminish it, because you don't have that shared experience. And this is really when we start talking about empathy. Like, how can I show up for you, Terri, even if I don't know exactly what you're experiencing? How do I show up with empathy and seek to understand what it might be for you? Because you're experiencing this work environment differently than I am. And instead of minimizing you or diminishing you in any way, how do I acknowledge that this is your experience? And then how do we get to the bottom of that together? And so that willingness, again, to listen, to try to refrain from taking it personally. I mean, I think that's probably the biggest thing, because then it feels like it's like this good bad binary, right? If they feel like the organization is not a welcoming place, then it's a bad organization. Nothing is black and white. You know, there's a lot of gray. And so this idea that it's not good or bad, but how do we make it better? It's not as effective as it can be, but how do we make it better together? And I think that together is really the key piece. Again, it shouldn't be coming from the top down. It should be this idea that we are collaborating together with all the stakeholders who are impacted to look at what can we do to make this to improve this climate and culture.

Terri Rhodes: Yeah. And I think one of the things that I'd like you to talk about, Nancy, is the protocol that you've developed that helps with communication. The RIR protocol. I've taken your course. It's great. It's not just directed towards business. It helps in your personal life. And I'd like if you could just talk about that for a little bit and how that relates to communication and open and honest communication.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Yes, thank you. So the RAR is what I would call the tool, and it lives under the umbrella of what we call compassionate dialogue. And the RA was created first as these practical steps to recognize interrupt and repair, which I can talk about briefly. But what I realized in teaching that for the first couple of years was that if you didn't have compassion, recognize interrupt, repair could be weaponized. I can recognize that you hurt me and that you're a jerk. I can interrupt by telling you you're a jerk. And then I can repair it by never speaking to you again and ghosting you. And I was like, well, that kind of defeats the purpose, right? So this idea of having compassion and seeking to understand and connect with each other even when we're in conflict and so the first recognize really invites us to turn inward because if we don't understand our feelings and our reactions to something, we are almost doomed to just react and then give up our control to our feelings. So you do something that I perceive as hurtful and then I'm angry and then I yell at you. Well, that kind of, again, defeats the purpose. So if I can recognize, oh wow, that hurt me and I'm angry and I ride my emotional wave. The idea of interrupt is what question or perspective can you share that will invite conversation rather than shut it down. So if that happens, then my question might be to you, wow, that was really hurtful. Was that your intent or could you tell me what you mean by that? And you begin to see that even asking those questions, they're not super deep, but it gives me a moment to ride my emotional wave and it actually lets me ascertain what your intention was because that really matters. I mean, all of us have put our foot in it and so if you give me the opportunity to correct that error, then maybe the interrupt leads to, wow, I didn't mean it that way, and we can have a different conversation. Or if it leads to, well, I did mean it that way, because of this, we're still having a conversation, right? So compassionate dialogue is not an easy I'm doing the quote, Terri. It's not like this soft, easy thing. What it is, it says, I'm actually going to lean in and I'm going to stay engaged even when maybe my inclination is to fight or flight, right? How do I stay present and stay engaged and seek to understand where this is coming from? And the protocol is powerful and as you said, it works on the interpersonal level. So it allows you to look at your own beliefs and mindsets and biases that you may have. It definitely works on the interpersonal about how we are engaging with each other. And it's a fantastic tool for organizations to use to kind of set the stage for how we communicate, especially when things are difficult. And then ultimately, it's a way to look at the organizational, the practices, the procedures, the traditions, the things that exist so that you can begin to break it down using the RIR at each step.

Terri Rhodes: Yeah, it's very powerful. Great tool for everyone. Please do go to the website and take a look at it. One of the comments again on your website that resonated with me and I'm going to read this for our listeners is in our society, we've forgotten how to disagree, listen and move forward together. And I think most of you out there would agree with that. And Nancy, I think it would be really powerful to hear you talk about this and how you've helped guide organizations through this process and then how it's helped support the concept of belonging with Dei.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Yeah, we put that up there because it is astounding to me, kind of where we are today. And I don't think that I ever believe that we would be where we are, which I would kind of label as basically intolerant right, intolerant of each other, intolerant of different ideologies, intolerant of different beliefs, as if there's only one way in which anything can be done or should be done. And so we really focus on kind of remembering that the beauty actually, and the innovation and the inspiration comes from myriad of beliefs and thoughts and processes, that it is our uniqueness that actually makes us stronger and better and us moving together that is exponentially more powerful than me doing something on my own. And I think that, you know, we've really kind of hunkered down into our camps and so we were only listening or following people who think exactly like us. And we're missing all this other really rich content because it seems to be divergent from what we believe. And we also believe, again, going back to that good bad binary, that if you don't believe like I do, then you are wrong, right? Instead of you are different. And so what we are really trying to do is to create space through the protocol, through compassionate dialogue, to remember that it is our differences that actually will unite us and make us stronger, and it will keep us innovating, and it'll keep us fresh and it'll keep us moving forward. And so how do we create that space to differ and differ respectfully, like, you and I can come from different political parties. We can have different ideologies, but it doesn't mean that I can't respect, love and support you, right? And so how do we find that space? And the work that we do with organizations really goes back to the question you asked before, of how do we begin to really authentically, genuinely, have open and honest dialogue with each other and really seek to understand? Because what we do know, and this is proven through contact theory and other psychological approaches, is that the more time that we spend with each other and we develop those relationships, the more I'm willing to understand you, to hear you, and to support you, even if I perceive that we're different. And so we have to focus on building relationships because it is those relationships that are going to provide us with the ability to be allowing and accepting of differences. And when we perceive ourselves as separate from each other, there's nowhere to go from that. And I think that when you think of a company or an organization, it's really important to figure out, how do we bring people together and maximize the talents that they bring? Each one of you is here for a reason and they're different reasons. You don't hire the same person who does the same thing. You hire different people who are good at different things so that you can have a complete picture. And that's what we have to focus on, is the beauty of our differences and uniqueness, rather than looking at it as a deficit.

Speaker C: So true and so hard. It's at the crux of a lot of problems. Like how do we agree to disagree? We've been saying that for years, but it's so difficult for a lot of people. Lastly, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how employers can create more inclusive cultures and how you differentiate efforts to ensure inclusivity to ensure there's a sense of belonging. I think you kind of tie the two together, the inclusive and belonging. Yeah. I'd like to hear how can we help employers create this environment?

Dr. Nancy Dome: Yeah, I'm going to go back to, first getting a pulse of your organization. I think people think they know everything's great, organization is fine. And then all of a sudden something happens. They're like, oh, they didn't see that coming. Right. But you don't see it coming because you're not actually engaging on a deep, meaningful level. And I'm going to go back to don't take it personally. This is not saying that you're not doing a good job or you're not doing that. But I even know as my organization got bigger, I got a little more disconnected from the people who worked for me. And it's easy to kind of have other things to do. So how do you reengage with your staff, your employees? And I know some of the companies you work with, Terri, are huge and you're like, how do I do that? But this idea of getting a pulse, looking at departments, breaking it down, because each department might have its own issues. There's some department that may be running very well, and there's some that might have some discourse that is not necessarily effective. So first you gotta take the pulse. You got to find out what people are feeling, how are they experiencing the climate and culture that they're working in, and ask for suggestions like, what would you do to make it better? What are things that we could do that we can implement to do this? So, again, inviting that voice in, doing listening circles, doing forums, just different ways where people can voice without fear of retaliation. And this is important, right? Because a lot of people won't say, they won't speak their truth because they feel like if I speak my truth, it's going to come back to haunt me. And so this is where employers really get to walk the talk and say and prove one person is going to take that risk. And how they respond will dictate how they move forward. And so if you can take the criticism and the feedback and use it to inform your decisions around how to make your climate and culture more inclusive and more suited where people feel like they belong, then you will set the stage. And so it really is, it's kind of like someone's got to take a risk and you got to, every step of the way, prove to them that you're going to be consistent and that you're going to hear and that there's not going to be some negative fallout from it being said. And the first time that someone, an employer, reacts and retaliates, you've shut it all down. Right? And so it's kind of like people are going to start taking little baby steps when they see you making that progress, really genuinely wanting to hear and make changes. And the more consistent you are, the more honest people will be. So that's probably one of the first things that has to happen, is you've got to demonstrate to your staff that you are sincere about your efforts. It doesn't mean that you won't make a mistake, it doesn't mean that something won't flop, but the sincerity of your attempt will go a long way and people will see that.

Terri Rhodes: Thank you, Nancy, so much for having this conversation today. I know you've been doing this work for a really long time in a different format, but over the last few years, this topic has really been bubbled up for many different reasons. And so it's really great to be able to have this conversation and hear your perspective and get all of the rich knowledge that you have imparted on us today. So thank you so much.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Thank you, Terri. It's my pleasure. And I know I feel like a broken record, but creating spaces of belonging are not as difficult as we make them out to be. If we are committed to doing them right, it will be uncomfortable, for sure. But it's starting with getting everyone's voice in the room and really stepping back and not taking it personally and being open and hearing it and writing your emotional wave so that you can move through it and actually respond will be the step for the beginning to create those spaces where people want to be and where people thrive. And again, getting down to the bottom line, if they're thriving because they feel that they belong and they're included, then you will see increases in productivity and profit and that's a win-win for everybody, right?

Terri Rhodes: And morale.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Absolutely. We have a lot of resources on our website that are free and you can download the Protocol worksheet. One tool, actually, I would like to leave you with is there's a tool on our website called an Equity Walk and there's one for education and there's one for businesses. And what it does is it looks at for the business one, it looks at your physical environment, your branding, your marketing, your website presence, and it lets you look and ask questions about who are you serving, what does it look like so that you begin to see, is it inclusive? Are you leaning one way? Because it's really difficult. I have a lot of imagery of people of color. I'm a black woman, and that's what I want to see out there. And I have to remind myself that I need to be more inclusive. It's not just black people. It's all people. And so the same thing happens for all organizations that you start to see very kind of singularity in imagery. And so taking a look, that's a good first step too, when you want to start thinking about creating these climate and cultures of inclusivity and belonging, is to actually take a look and just walk through this rubric for yourself and answer these questions. Because the physical environment is a good, easy place to start, to just put that equity lens on and start asking different questions. And once you start there, because changing an image on your website is super easy, and it's far easier than having that difficult conversation. And so you can start by looking at, okay, are we inclusive? Do we have representation? And start that way with a self-reflection and then eventually graduate into inviting those voices into your spaces. And that's under our Resource tab, under Tools of the Trade. And I think it's a great place to start. Please take a look at it. And if you have any feedback, we'd love to hear it because we love people using the tool and letting us know how it works for them.

Terri Rhodes: Great, thank you. Lots of good resources today from this podcast.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Thank you.

Heather Grimshaw: There are lots of wonderful resources and so many important topics that you both have covered today. This is Heather, and I just wanted to thank you both for this wonderful discussion. And I'm sure it will prompt a lot of people to do more research. So thank you so much, Dr. Dome. Thank you, Terri, for facilitating this important conversation. And I have taken lots of notes. I have lots of things I want to follow up on.

Terri Rhodes: Thank you.

Dr. Nancy Dome: Thank you, Heather. Thank you, Terri.



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