For some time, I’ve been looking for one “source” that curates modern takes on HR Tech, perspectives from the people who build it, and its impact on enterprise — something that’s tailor-made by professionals for decision-makers.
I never found it — so I decided to build it.
Every week, I’ll be sharing fresh insights on tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.
This week, we’re joined by guest author Monica Fisher.
Hello all! My name is Monica Fisher. I’m the Managing Principal for SEI Boston and I’ve been at SEI for over 13 years. Since our culture was one of the main reasons I joined the team at SEI, this is an aspect of our model I am most passionate about protecting and nurturing.
Of all the things I love about working at SEI, our work in strengthening our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion commitments is something I’m incredibly proud of. As an MP, I’ve had a chance to help make more powerful changes and bring teams closer together. At SEI, an ongoing element of our work culture is something we call Courageous Conversations. While many companies shy away from discussing divisive topics and events, we approach them head-on as a team. It may sound crazy, but I’ve seen the way it has transformed our company culture for the better, and I want to take this chance to share our method with you.
Why: The Many Dimensions of Inclusivity
It’s not uncommon for people to approach the topic of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion heavily focused on the first two elements — and it’s not an unreasonable mistake. Diversity is, in many ways, visible. We can picture a diverse workforce or, at the very least, identify one that is not. Equity is about ensuring every member of a diverse workforce has the same opportunities and privileges. Gauging equity can often be captured and benchmarked by data. Inclusion, however, is much more nuanced, less tangible, and fluid.
There is a space for culture, race, and ethnicity in the inclusivity pillar of DE&I. But I want to focus on something we’ve prioritized as a company: having difficult conversations. Political and ideological divides are more present than ever. In this new world of work, where bringing your full self to work is not just encouraged but somewhat unavoidable, disagreement is inevitable. As are the benefits of taking the time to benefit from the different perspectives of the diverse workforce we are working so hard to hire.
When: The Right Time for Inclusive Conversation
There is only one proper answer to this: when it’s happening. We cannot put current events on ice nor ignore how they affect us or our experience at work. Timeliness isn’t just more impactful — it’s a sign of authenticity. Far too many companies stay silent for too long after major events because they fear saying the “wrong thing.” In reality, you don’t have to say anything to send the wrong message.
How: Fostering Inclusivity
There are three key guidelines for fostering productive and enlightening courageous conversations:
- Get into it: You have to go all-in on difficult conversations. Hesitancy conveys uncertainty, quickly eroding employee trust and making them less comfortable speaking freely. We began holding Courageous Conversations during the pandemic when political divides were driving people further apart than ever before as a way to bring our team together in a virtual environment. We discussed vaccine hesitancy and lockdowns, speaking honestly about personal choices and how we wanted the new normal to look. When the Uvalde school shooting took place, we had the gun rights conversation, where all opinions on the right to bear arms were present and, most importantly, respected. The overturning of Roe led to a discussion about the right to choose and autonomy. If we did it, so can you. So don’t be shy.
- Calibrate your goal: Difficult topics aren’t always controversial. I recently addressed infertility and menopause within the company, something many women feel embarrassed to talk about, and many men are completely unfamiliar with. Instead of a formal conversation, which I bet would have felt a lot like a middle school biology class, we decided to share background information in advance of the conversation. This included educational resources, provided context about how common these experiences are, and set the stage for any discussion people may want to have. Several women felt comfortable enough to share personal experiences — but most (including our male colleagues) were grateful we gave the topic the space it deserved.
- Give people space for themselves: SEI was in the middle of an all-hands meeting when protesters breached the capital on January sixth. Inclusivity doesn’t always require conversation. Many of us left the call, if not to process the event, then simply to bear witness to it. Inclusivity sometimes requires that people be given space to process their own needs before coming together as a group.
Of course, while you’re implementing these strategies, it’s important to keep in mind that you can’t — and shouldn’t — force people to participate. All employees reserve the right to opt out of company culture initiatives. Respecting this decision is something you can do now to preserve their trust should they choose to be more involved in the future.
The most important message I want to impart is this: inclusive conversations only work when culture is strong. Without the social and political capital that comes from developed, trusting relationships, it’s incredibly difficult to separate people from their opinions, which is more likely to cause conflict than it is to overcome it. So if you want to work towards your own Courageous Conversations, I’d recommend subscribing to Exit Interview for advice from the champion of culture himself, Patrick Donegan.