Start the diversity and inclusion conversation at your company

July 11, 2019

The original article is published on the Microsoft Tech Community Yammer Blog.

Many organizations have dedicated diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs or initiatives in place, or it is something that is on the roadmap. For those yet to get started, or for those we want to take their D&I program to the next step, Yammer offers your employees a voice and a channel to express their concerns and ask questions.

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Rise to the challenge

This may seem frightening at first, but it’s important to recognize the challenges and anxieties employees face trying to express such concerns in a professional environment. This is your opportunity to help define and shape your culture of employee engagement, and help be an ally to your peers facing challenges in the workplace. And while some of these conversations may be hard to talk about, the benefits of having open and transparent discussions builds trust that outweighs the risks.

Be an ‘inclusionist'

Help be an advocate for D&I and demonstrate inclusive behaviors. Find employees who are willing to share and have honest conversations that propel the culture of your organization forward. While some might have reservations about steering the ship into unchartered waters, the reality is that your employees are probably thinking many of these things or discussing them anyway, so dedicating efforts to inclusivity becomes an opportunity for you to be part of the conversation and contribute to change. 

Take for example for transgender people, choosing which gendered bathroom to use can be uncomfortable and unsafe. The San Francisco Microsoft Office recently welcomed the creation of a gender neutral bathroom. At this location, the team shared better ways to support and celebrate transgender and non-binary colleagues – and snack on special edition “Potty Party” cupcakes. They hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) and shared experiences with employees so everyone could learn, ask questions, and share their viewpoint.

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Get started

We’ve heard a number of our customers say they need a virtual space to help with employee causes and move conversations forward. Here’s a few ways to get started:  

  1. Create the space – make a group. Some organizations already have diversity and inclusion groups in place and need an ongoing space to connect between meetings, conferences, and events. If you don’t have a dedicated diversity and inclusion group, this is a great place to start. Find interested employees and empower them to own and contribute to the Yammer group. Start with a broad focus, and then narrow it down to focus on specific initiatives as needed.
    1. Sample Groups: Women @ <company>, Pride at <Company>, Parent Tribe, multicultural celebration @ <company>, etc.
  2. Listen. Every community needs the opportunity to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes action is required, whereas sometimes just listening and empathy is enough. Having leaders who are intentional about their support and participation within Yammer groups will speak volumes. Empathy goes a long way, regardless if problems are solved immediately. Naturally, responses, comments and likes can impact this, but also using GIFs, images and asking questions helps build the trust of the employees who are participating in and around the conversations and helps them build confidence to share their experiences. 
  3. Be intentional. Start conversations related to your desired D&I behaviors. For example, at Microsoft we talk about “demonstrating courage“. Asks for examples of where people have done so. Ask people what they think it looks like, or share examples where the company or employee behavior fell short. These are ways to really make those stated behaviors and cultural values come to life.

    Leader D and I.JPGMurali Sitaram is the General Manager of the Yammer and O365/Outlook Groups Eng/Product teams

  4. Host events. If the groups meet in person, take pictures to share them in the Yammer group. Provide updates in real time during an event, and/or create a live event in Yammer to broadcast your next meeting while providing a forum for question and answer for worldwide employees. shoehorn
  5. Promote and share from day one! Stress the variety and importance of D&I initiatives during new hire orientations, newsletters or other channels where employees get information. Create a hashtag for conversations that exemplify positive inclusive behaviors. Share inspiring conversations across to other groups to help build awareness so that others can join and share their experiences.

And one final recommendation. FACE THE MUSIC. Don’t let questions or concerns go unaddressed. Say something. Saying nothing still says something.

While the organization may not be in a place to respond or react at that very moment, acknowledgment can go a long way.

Here’s a few responses we’ve seen customers use when there isn’t a right answer.

  • We’ll look into concern this and follow up once leadership has decided the proper direction.
  • Thanks for your feedback/for bringing this to our attention, we’ll investigate it.
  • This is something we’re discussing but don’t have any more info to share currently.
  • We’re always striving to improve “X”, and we’ll consider this information as we continue explore our options and strategy.
  • There is no one-size fits all solution here. We look at these issues on a case by case basis. Please reach out to our team directly.
  • We’re still aligning on our strategy here. We’ll provide an update once we have more information to share.

What about your organization? What types of groups or conversations about diversity and inclusion have been shared in your Yammer networks? Do you have specific groups for these types of conversations? Is this something that your organization is currently doing or looking to do in the future? Tell us in the comments!

Discuss this article in the Microsoft Technical Community.