Accelerating DEI in the workplace? You will need emotional intelligence skills

What counts as professional skills is changing and teams are faced with rising expectations. Here’s how emotional intelligence can help.

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Workplaces and organizations are in a lot of different places right now in their diversity, equity, and inclusion journey. Being proactive about DEI and embracing change is the right thing to do. And there can be tangible performance benefits as well. 

But it’s hard work to deliver sustainable change in this area because it requires new ways of being with each other in the workplace. There are going to be challenges. There are going to be complex emotions that are both inspiring and difficult. 

If you’re engaged in new or ongoing DEI programs, here’s four emotional intelligence competencies that will be critical for your success. 

1. Reality Testing

One goal of DEI work is to develop a more accurate shared understanding of bias in the workplace. Seeing the reality about the lack of equity, the lack of diversity, or the lack of inclusion is no small endeavour, especially without exposure to these experiences firsthand. There are many psychological and social barriers that prevent us from facing the truth that our teams may not be as safe, or inclusive, as we might have thought – our privilege is one significant factor.

Reality Testing is about testing our own perceptions of reality. Dig deep to understand your own unconscious and conscious biases, and have the courage to look at the impacts of these beliefs. Ask others to do the same. Look for evidence to modify your beliefs. Talk to people about their experiences, and believe them. Review your policies, protocols and practices and discuss what true inclusion, equity and diversity would mean for others and for your organization. 

2. Emotional Self-Awareness and Expression

The end goal is a greater shared sense of belonging and cultural safety for everyone in the organization.

This can require a cultural change in the workplace, which may be destabilizing in the short term. The process can be challenging and may evoke many emotions for leaders and employees. It will be critical for everyone to stay aware of their emotions and express them in ways that lead to constructive dialogue.

Normalizing any defensiveness or discomfort as you all learn together will lead to greater transparency and trust. Leaders who effectively communicate their emotions will create trust and safety in their workplaces.

Beginning from a place of humility, openness and willingness to learn may be the most important approach to genuinely addressing privilege, inequity and exclusion in workplaces. 

3. Empathy

A key aspect of empathy is understanding that your actions have an impact on others. Having privilege can prevent us from seeing this impact. To fully embrace DEI is to really care about the differential impacts that workplace policies, practices and culture have on individuals and groups. The imperative for those with more privilege is to guard against protecting the status quo at the expense of others.

From a diversity, equity and inclusion lens, are we interested in how everyone in the organization is doing? Do policies benefit some employees more than others? Who are we considering when processes are changed or resources reallocated? Do we consider that when we make decisions, some employees will be affected more than others? This is the skill of Empathy – tuning in to others. Attending to the needs and interests of all employees means everyone feels safe, and this will influence their willingness to trust you with their truth. 

4. Social Responsibility 

Social responsibility is the emotional intelligence skill of contributing to justice, the greater good, and being of service. This requires a willingness to set aside personal interests to achieve broader social benefits. And there are so many social benefits in DEI work. To achieve these sustainable changes will require long-term commitments. This is not a project: this is cultural, social and workplace change, and it is required to correct harmful imbalances and better reflect who we want to be as a society. 

Emotions, and our ability to use our emotions constructively to forward the action on diversity, equity and inclusion, will be critical for successful, sustainable change. Advancing DEI goals is the right thing to do – and it will bring a host of benefits including attraction of talent, engagement and retention of employees and leaders, and a safe and innovative workplace where employees feel they belong.

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Coaching with emotional intelligence

EQ Coaching is the best way we’ve found for individuals to disrupt their lifetime of habits, behaviours, and beliefs. EQ Coaching is the best way we’ve found for people to do serious emotional intelligence skills development. 

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