One day labor relations consultant Jason Greer received a call from a manager, asking if he’d lead a diversity training session at his company. When Greer asked why, the manager offered two reasons: “I love the way you communicate,” he said. “And you’re the only black guy that I really know.”
This radical candor actually endeared the manager to Greer, and it set the tone for the approach Greer uses in his diversity training. In addition to his work in labor relations, he’s known nationwide for his diversity training programs. Greer joins us this week for a deep dive on how we can improve diversity training and the importance of committing to the difficult conversations.
Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.
The Challenges of Diversity Training
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been to a diversity training session. They’re not typically something you excitedly circle on your calendar.
But why is that? We all aspire to a more inclusive, diverse workplace. But there’s something about these sessions that can make us uncomfortable, Greer says: We’re not honest with ourselves.
In theory, he says, we’re all treated equally in an organization. We’re judged based on our merits and productivity, regardless of our background. But when we leave, we often associate with people who have backgrounds and ethnic origins that are similar to our own. “People are going home, and they’re going into environments that … look very much like them,” Greer says. “It can be difficult to bridge cultures.”
Diversity training brings this gap out into the open, in a way that for many people can be uncomfortable. “People just don’t want to be honest,” Greer says. They’re scared that expressing their feelings on a matter will ostracize them.
It’s a Catch-22. We have a platform to express opinions openly, but we’re scared that we’ll get in trouble for expressing those feelings openly.
So what can we do?
How to Start the Hard Conversations
Greer’s start in diversity training came from his colleague’s candor. So it’s not surprising that he endorses the same spirit at his trainings.
To get things rolling during a session, he begins with a series of questions that are designed to break the ice around diversity training.
First, he asks how many attendees have been to diversity training. Most hands will go up. Then he asks how many enjoyed the trainings they attended. Hands start to go down. Finally, he asks what they didn’t like about diversity training.
It’s an exercise that sets an expectation for frankness. “It’s just a matter of creating an environment where we can share,” Greer says.
Of course, that doesn’t mean things will go smoothly. But Greer emphasizes that that’s part of the process. “It’s OK to to get angry with each other — as long as we’re doing it constructively,” he says.
Remember How Far We’ve Come
For all the talk about how much we need to do in regard to diversity and inclusion, Greer says the U.S. has come an incredibly long way. He knows this better than anyone — all because of a powerful moment in his life.
In 1991 Greer was 17. His family moved to Dubuque, Iowa, as part of a program to attract minority families to the city. The plan was not as universally well-received as one would hope. “People didn’t like it,” Greer says. “The Klan organized a rally against our family. They burned crosses.”
Greer says that when he tells the story to his children, they can’t even imagine something like that happening. “That in itself is progress,” he says.
Ultimately, Greer says he hopes the conversation regarding diversity and inclusion one day becomes something in the past — because we’ve made even more progress. But in order to get there we can’t just commit to training sessions. We have to commit to the bumps in the road, and dedicate ourselves to smoothing them over. That means being aware of what Greer calls the “internal story of what’s playing in our brain when we encounter other people.”
“When you learn to master that story, you will find that you will actually be more open to other people,” he says. “But at first it starts with you.”
Resources Mentioned in This Episode