How to Talk About Diversity

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How to Talk About Diversity

When it comes to diversity, do we have the tools necessary for a productive, inclusive conversation? Follow these tips to strengthen the conversation!

Leah & Jackie 1-19-15 © Julienne Schaer
Bespoken co-founder Leah Bonvissuto

Diversity is a growing buzzword in every aspect of our lives, and rightfully so—women directed only 4 percent of the top movies over the past 13 years, the Republican frontrunner is stoking racial divides amidst the growing Black Lives Matter movement, and for the second year in a row, the Academy failed to nominate a single actor of color. Yet when we try to talk about it, we fail (did you see the Oscars this year?).

We know that women coders do better than men when you take gender bias out of the equation. We know that diversity unlocks and drives innovation. And we know that female leadership leads to more productive and creative output. In every determinable way, diversity is only a positive (and, hey, radical inclusion is also the right thing to do). Yet, according to Scientific American, “In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word ‘diversity’ can lead to anxiety and conflict.”  So, how can we deepen and strengthen the conversation to move the needle forward and ensure that all voices are heard?

Cyrus Innovation is tackling the issue head-on. According to Cyrus CEO Tami Reiss, their Diversity Apprenticeship Program is “an option for recent bootcamp grads to get contract to hire positions with Cyrus clients.” (Earlier this year, the Cyrus team also launched Just Not Sorry, a plugin that alerts you when you are using words that undermine your message—a useful tool to empower all of us and level the playing field).

At Bespoken, we specialize in helping people communicate with clarity, control and conviction but the diversity conversation is often so dreaded that people avoid it all together. We’ve seen enough blunders to put us on edge. We worry we’ll say the wrong thing. We fear that if we acknowledge our differences, we won’t be able to see anything but our differences.

In order to deepen the conversation, we have to identify and acknowledge why effective communication when it comes to the topic of diversity is difficult in the first place.  We then need to practice and ingrain tools to make sure these conversations are handled with compassion, empathy and inclusion. Here are some techniques to implement the next time you approach this conversation. 

Communication skills to deepen the diversity conversation

Acknowledge the effort

Recognizing that this is not an easy conversation to have can help deflate it and start everyone off on the same page and on the right foot.

Clarify your intention

Understand why the conversation is important to you on a deeply personal level. Moving it from the abstract to the personal will help keep the conversation focused, present and specific. Reframing the conversation will empower everyone in the room and help them understand their unique perspective and contribution, and how to communicate it.

Be present

Identify unconscious bias and implicit associations—we all have them. Acknowledging what you’re walking into the room with can free you up to have a more grounded and authentic conversation.

Speak in perspective statements

Empathy is powerful stuff—and it’s important to put yourself in another’s shoes—but when it comes to diversity it is essential to speak for yourself and not for a larger group. Start thoughts with “I feel…” to ensure you are not accusatory and to optimize your ability to connect.

Keep the conversation grounded

Heated conversation can go off-the-rails fast. Preempt this by building in checkpoints—every 20 minutes would not be overkill—to assess the effectiveness of the conversation thus far and to remind everyone in the room of the intention originally put forth at the beginning of the session.

Follow through

If you think you’ve said something offensive, acknowledge it, dissect it and move on. It may be uncomfortable at first but it’s the best way to get to the root of the problem and move forward with clarity and compassion.

Let us know how these techniques work for you and check back for future installments in our series on diversity!  


BespokenFOX_0187 is a coaching firm based in New York City that is dedicated to helping people speak with conviction and communicate with confidence. We believe everyone has an innate ability to communicate powerfully and purposefully. The story of Bespoken began when two friends, Leah Bonvissuto and Jackie Miller, decided to channel years of professional theater experience into helping people be better, bolder communicators. Offering 1×1 coaching and small group masterclasses, Bespoken training is customized, on-your-feet and interactive. Rooted in powerful yet practical theater techniques, our work is designed to help you harness your innate ability to communicate effectively in any situation.

This post was written by Leah Bonvissuto

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