Deliberative conversations, also called democratic dialogue, are the repositioning of debate into open dialogue. Everyday conversations can sometimes break down in a way that pushes organizational and personal groups apart rather than together. By contrast, deliberative conversations can lead to a broader and more deeper understanding of different viewpoints.
To further explore deliberative conversations and what’s needed to create an inclusive culture, Sasha Reed, Director of Industry Advancement at Procore, led a two-part series, entitled Foundations for Progress: Facilitating Belonging Through Inclusive Conversations. Reed was joined by other business and social equity leaders to discuss best practices for developing more engaged and empowered teams, key ways to help drive inclusion and improve employee retention, among other topics.
Here is a snapshot of that discussion:
Brave Spaces vs. Safe Spaces
Dr. Rhianna Rogers, inaugural director of RAND’s Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy, believes in the creation of brave spaces instead of safe spaces. The idea of the safe space suggests a power imbalance, whereas a brave space allows anyone – from new employees to middle managers to long-established C-level leaders – to feel they have a say in the organization, according to Rogers.
“There is no person excluded, from the CEO to the janitor,” said Dr. Rogers. “There is no one excluded because that’s how you break the power dynamic.”
The first step in building a brave space is to create a level playing field. When everyone is equal in an organization, individual voices that drown out all others lose their power and everyone, from the CEO on down, knows how to facilitate and encourage others to step up in the brave space.
This leads to the second step, equalization. This encourages everyone to understand that all other employees have valid viewpoints and must be taken into consideration when making internal decisions. This equalization is difficult for some in entrenched positions and so you enter phase three, the creation of ambassadors. This is what Reed calls “upscaling,” allowing one or two members of every cohort to become organizational representatives for each group. This ensures communication is streamlined and well-managed, even as each group has its own way to enter the brave space without fear.
Peter Tateishi, CEO of Associated General Contractors of California, sees the problem of communication as something that is holding back the construction industry. Tateishi began his career trying to understand why construction was populated by only a thin subsection of the population as a whole.
“I really started with needing to address a central issue [in construction]… and start looking at the crux of the problem: What is at the core of people not choosing construction?” he asked.
Without creating a public brave space in the workplace, people are more apt to ignoring hateful and even offensive comments and statements, and simply “putting their noses down and getting the work done,” said Tateishi.
Using Data to Inform and Make Lasting Change
Brave spaces don’t appear overnight. In order to find the shortcomings of your workplace culture, it is necessary to conduct exit interviews. Most of the time, exit interviews give a voice to the suppressed, as they finally feel free to share their honest opinions about the company and their personal experience working there.
In order to facilitate this, exit interviews and surveys are necessary. These exit interviews and surveys should be as anonymous as possible and no shame nor repercussions should be implied or even available.
“If your organization doesn’t have exit interviews and you’re not collecting that information, I would challenge you to do so, because what we found out is that when we have incorporated exit interviews people will say, ‘my voice wasn’t heard for years and years and years,’” said Dr. Rogers.
After the data has been collated, the organization must listen to it. Every organization has documents that help lead employees along the path to success. Exit interviews and surveys should be able to actively change those documents in ways that for some might be uncomfortable.
Exit interviews in a vacuum are useless, however. Be sure that you are sharing the data within the organization and, more importantly, create a sustainability model that allows information from various parties to become part of the organization’s guiding documents.
“For example we updated our standard contract language to very explicitly state that not only do we expect anyone on a Turner site to adhere to our anti harassment policy, but we also expect our contractors and their employees to actively promote a harassment free work environment among its officers, its agents, its employees, its subcontractors and its suppliers. So this establishes a baseline of expectations,” said Kristen Smitherman-Voltaire, Community and Citizenship Manager at Turner Construction
The Road to Success
In this era of employee power and the Great Resignation, managers are learning that the status quo no longer works. Reed believes that creating brave spaces and really listening to the orchestra of voices coming from every facet of the business can lead to better retention and true growth.
The panelists agreed that the world and the workplace is a better place when these tools are followed. Instead of preaching tolerance, they said, talk about change.
“If you’re constantly centering a negative feeling, sentiment or emotion in your conversations, you’re eventually going to burn out,” said Dr. Rogers. “What we do to advance racial equity policy is we turn that notion on its head and we center on hope and empowerment. It’s the idea of empowering the individuals in the organization to feel that they can be their authentic self.”
Want to learn more about how you can create a culture of inclusivity, empower your workforce and improve employee retention? Be sure to download the on-demand Foundation for Progress: Facilitating Belonging Through Inclusive Conversations Part 1 & Part 2 series.