16 thought-provoking questions about diversity and inclusion
“Only the one who does not question is safe from making a mistake.” – Albert Einstein
Thought-provoking questions about diversity and inclusion are important to every DEIB conversation. Questions help us define the problem, brainstorm answers, anticipate challenges, envision goals, and more. Research indicates that the majority of workers (80%) want to work for a company that values DEIB. On the other hand, research from Gartner shows that 42% of employees say their colleagues see DEIB efforts as divisive. Asking thought-provoking questions about diversity and inclusion is a way to engage people in authentic DEIB conversations, generate empathy, and establish agreement that a problem exists. From there, answering thought-provoking questions about diversity and inclusion can help guide an organization in creating solutions. Here are 16 questions your organization should be discussing.
Why ask thought-provoking questions about diversity and inclusion?
Self-reflection is a critical part of problem-solving and decision-making. As Greek philosopher Plato said, “The right question is usually more important than the right answer.”
Determining values. Broad, philosophical questions like “what is equity?” can help us determine moral and ethical opinions. Questions about society help delineate where problems and imbalances of power exist.
Driving empathy. Asking questions about individual feelings and experiences regarding DEIB (without forcing marginalized groups to speak to sensitive areas) can open the conversation. It can create connection and empathy. Understanding a group or individual's experience can also help to identify where specific injustices occur for them.
Defining the problem. For leaders and experts, asking thought-provoking questions about diversity and inclusion is all about leadership strategy. These questions help with setting goals, determining policy, understanding progress, and maintaining accountability. Perhaps most important of all, they help leaders define the boundaries of the problem. There is an adage attributed to General Motors’ head of research between 1920 and 1947, Charles Kettering, that says: “A problem well-put is half solved.”
Challenging bias. Asking diversity and inclusion questions is a key way to challenge our biases. Bias doesn’t disappear overnight. Nor can we command people to simply “stop being biased!” Asking questions about diversity and inclusion helps us to identify, understand, and begin the process of eliminating bias.
Diversity and Inclusion discussion questions
Notice all the quotes from philosophers, scientists, and historical business leaders today? Wisdom, self-reflection, and evidence-based data all play an important part in addressing issues of DEIB. Here are some questions to ask that get at the core of what it takes to build inclusive spaces.
1. What is equity?
It’s important to establish a baseline understanding of key concepts in DEIB. Equity is a common and easily recognizable word that is often conflated with equality. But in the world of DEIB in the workplace, as well as social justice in general, it has a very specific meaning.
Equity occurs when each person is allocated the resources and opportunities based on their circumstances to reach an equal outcome. It begins with the acknowledgement that the playing field is not equal and that some people begin the race far behind the start line.
In asking, we get the opportunity to envision what equity looks like within our organizations. Consider your future vision for staff at all levels of the company.
2. What is belonging?
Belonging is another important concept that needs defining in order to achieve it. Belonging is a person’s perception of acceptance within a given group, including a work environment. Fostering belonging means that people of all backgrounds get a seat at the table and feel heard, seen, and recognized for their contributions.
Belonging is critical for friend groups, family, and especially at work. There is a near-universal desire for individuals to feel genuinely welcome to participate, secure in their role, and connected to their colleagues.
3. What happens when someone is excluded from society?
Sometimes concepts like “inclusion” can be hard to grasp, so it’s fruitful to define the opposite: exclusion. With this question, there is no right or wrong answer. The goal of this thought-provoking question about diversity and inclusion is to kick-start a conversation that considers both empathy and actionable steps towards a better future.
4. Isn’t DEIB “reverse discrimination”?
With this question, we’re really addressing the elephant in the room. The concept of “reverse racism” is a powerful way that some try to resist DEIB efforts. Reverse discrimination is a long-standing myth. Discrimination occurs within a power dynamic. Those who hold power in society and the workplace cannot be discriminated against. Unfortunately, equality can look like discrimination to those who are used to unfair privilege.
Still, legal rulings like California’s 1996 ban on affirmative action give this concept some weight.
Realistically, if there was successful “reverse discrimination” in DEIB efforts, demographic data over the last decade would show a drastic decrease in White management, CEOs, and board members. This is not the case. Instead, White people maintain most positions of power at work, in politics, and in society as a whole. Traditional power dynamics are changing, but not drastically.
5. What is challenging about achieving DEIB?
To anticipate barriers to DEIB, understand the challenges and motivations related to these barriers. Come up with solutions that properly address every stakeholder.
6. Have you ever been discriminated against?
With the next few questions, we’re getting to the heart of people’s personal experiences. Talking about your personal experience with discrimination is a way to engage in honest conversation without generalizing or “watering down” reality. This question helps people to feel heard.
7. Where do you feel included? Excluded?
We are already familiar with the key DEIB concept of inclusion. We experience this feeling in our daily lives, even outside of work. Use that tacit knowledge and apply it to DEIB.
8. What does it feel like not to belong?
Generate empathy from everyone for those that experience marginalization. What does it feel like in life and what does it look like at work? Drive personal connections by identifying common ground amongst employees.
Questions for interrogating policy
When deciding on any policy or course of action, it’s important to interrogate the policy before you roll it out. Take a step outside of your own shoes and invite reaction to the policy from a different perspective.
9. Who is missing here?
“Nothing for us without us” is a common slogan in DEIB work. Who you forget in a policy is just as important as who is included. Particularly when it comes to decision-making bodies (committees and leadership) or expert panels. Always ask “who is missing?” to eliminate potential bias in any workplace discussion.
10. How would someone on the periphery view this?
It can be eye-opening to challenge organizational processes through the perspective of someone from an underrepresented group. When we ask “who is missing?”, go one step further to imagine how those missing people would view the resulting decisions made without them.
Imagine an application process that asks for marital status and gives two options: single or married. How might someone in a domestic partnership or long-term dating relationship feel? What about if it’s illegal for them to marry? Perhaps company ID badges have sex and date of birth. Might this be problematic for some groups of people?
Diversity and inclusion panel questions
If you have the opportunity to ask questions of a panel of DEIB experts, these will help you make the most of their insight.
11. Why is DEIB so important right now?
Experts know the history and trends of your industry. They also understand how external factors influence organizational decisions. Listen to their expertise.
12. What are some challenges diverse groups have faced in your organization?
Don’t be afraid to ask about specific groups, too. For example, if you are confronted with the prospect of a faith-based ERG and don’t know how to proceed, likely the expert panel has seen this before.
13. Where is your organization in its DEIB journey?
Something that we all want to know is the industry standard. Unfortunately, a litmus test for DEIB progress doesn’t exist. Experts will have a sense of what the beginning, middle, and end of DEIB looks like for companies of all shapes and sizes. Get an expert opinion from a DEIB consultant.
14. What are some key obstacles that prevent us from achieving DEIB?
Experts are the best guides for avoiding real-world mistakes. Ask questions to avoid common mistakes, obstacles, challenges, and pitfalls.
15. What has influenced your approach to DEIB?
Tease out some resources from the experts. Whether it’s sociologists, marketers, social media gurus, or HR professionals, experts know the best resources for learning.
Diversity and inclusion questions for leaders
Those responsible for or leading DEIB initiatives need to ask the right questions, as well. These next questions can help organizations figure out where their leadership gaps are and what to do about them.
11. How will we know we’ve arrived?
This is a fantastic question for the C-suite and board members to brainstorm. What does a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace where everyone belongs look like? Think big and positive.
12. What do our employees want?
Always remember that leadership starts with stakeholder input. Survey your staff. Ask them what they want and how they feel things are going with company DEIB efforts.
13. What do our customers want?
Inclusion is also about understanding who your customer base is and what they want. What are customer demographics? What areas of DEIB are important to them?
14. Is what we’re doing working?
Every DEIB plan needs goals and progress indicators; otherwise, you're flying blind. Part of these indicators can be subjective measurements like employee perceptions, but they also need to include objective indicators. There are plenty of KPIs to track your success.
15. How transparent should we be?
It’s increasingly common for organizations to publish their diversity data, sometimes in the format of a DEIB statement. We see companies like Google, Apple, and Salesforce putting their numbers out there for everyone to see. But transparency can be scary. How will your company manage that?
16. What do we not know about DEIB in our organization right now?
Find and address your gaps. Are you missing KPIs? Are you publishing your data? Do you have solid demographic and survey information about your staff? Customer base? Suppliers? How about salary gap information? Data should drive our DEIB initiatives.
Asking questions can lead you to a checklist of knowledge. The more information you have, the more successful your DEIB efforts will be.