Creating connections key to inclusivity

Stories bring people together and the simple act of telling them creates space for more sharing.  That’s why inclusive leaders need to embrace storytelling as a tool to mobilise people and organisations to create workplaces of belinging.  By Ola Ioane.

When we set out to create an inclusive culture within our organisation or team, we want our people to engage with the experiences of others and feel empathy.

We need to raise awareness of the experiences of marginalised communities and create an understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) concepts that can be complex and challenging.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that helps us create those emotional connections and open hearts and minds to DEI kaupapa.

But often in business we tend to take a western analytical approach to learning, forgetting to tap into the oral culture that is part of our DNA, leaving us at a disadvantage when it comes to storytelling.

If we feel the fear and do it anyway, the benefits are immense, whether you are sharing your own lived experiences, sharing the lived experiences of others as an ally or creating a space where diverse voices feel safe to tell their own stories.

It can also be a great equaliser – when a senior leader in a business shares their personal experiences, it humanises them.

If you have been, or are, part of a non-dominant group in a workplace, whether that’s because of your ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other factor, share examples of exclusion bias that have impacted your experience of work or your career development. Being open about how that made you feel can help others understand. It’s also helpful to talk about where you have drawn support from, what forms of support are effective and what allyship looks like for you.

Divulging your own ignorance and subsequent learnings around creating cultures of belonging requires vulnerability but can also be a commanding way to illustrate concepts. Talk about those times when you, personally, or the organisation got it wrong, which unwittingly contributed to the marginalisation of people.

This provides greater clarity around complex inclusion issues, and creates a space where it’s safe for everyone to acknowledge we have a great deal to learn.

It’s also inspiring to talk about initiatives that have been implemented with positive outcomes for people in your organisation and the wider community, creating an opportunity for the business to role-model inclusivity.

Here are some points to remember as you strive to rediscover the skills you need to create compelling narratives and reignite your creativity to build relationships and connections in your workplace.

•    Determine the purpose of the storytelling. Is it to educate, inspire, or create a sense of belonging? Understanding the purpose can help guide the selection and delivery of the stories.
•    When you bring to life the stories people need to hear, be mindful of your role. You don’t need to be the main character – advocates and allies have a powerful part to play.
•    Consider the audience and their experiences and backgrounds. This can help to ensure that the stories are relatable and meaningful and avoid potential misunderstandings or unintended consequences.
•    Elevate different voices by ensuring stories reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives within the organisation. This can include stories from individuals of different racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as stories from allies and advocates. Be mindful that sharing personal narratives can be taxing. Organisations should consider providing support and resources for those who may need it after talking about their experiences. This may include access to mental health services, employee assistance programmes, or other support resources.
•    Emphasise authenticity and encourage individuals to share their stories in their own words and style. This can help to create a more powerful connection with the audience and foster a sense of trust and understanding. Sharing your own experiences and stories helps others understand the impact of exclusion and the importance of creating inclusive workplaces.
•    Use data to support your storytelling and highlight the impact of exclusion on business outcomes, as well as the benefits of creating inclusive environments. This can help to make a strong case for action and create a sense of urgency.
•    Highlight success stories of organisations that have successfully created workplaces of belonging, and the positive impact that it has had on their employees and business outcomes. The most effective success stories include a shift in perspective from leadership, not just success stories from employees.

Finally, consider the follow-up and action that will be taken after the storytelling. This can include creating opportunities for dialogue and reflection, developing action plans for change, and providing resources and support for individuals who may need it.

The newly launched Workplace Inclusion Professional Accreditation programme provides a framework to recognise the experience, knowledge and skills of DEI professionals across Aotearoa.  

Ola Ioane is the GM of Membership and Community at Diversity Works New Zealand.

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