Studies show that diversity in the workplace benefits a company. Having employees with different perspectives and backgrounds improves innovation, creativity, and productivity. However, diversity can also create tension. If differences aren’t respected, they become areas of conflict. Facilitators seek to encourage conversations and a deeper understanding of differences in the workplace.
The goal should always be for participants to walk away with more understanding. They should understand others more, feel more understood, and have a sense of their privilege. Activities will need to be adjusted depending on the context of the workplace environment. Facilitators and planners should always consider things like visual needs, physical mobility and dietary restrictions. Everyone should be able to actively participate in an activity. Here are five diversity activity ideas:
What This Day Means To Me
Every month, team managers can come together with their employees and discuss what days over the next month are important to them. This gives employees the chance to explain what religious days/holidays mean to them, sharing personal stories if they would like. This increases cultural understanding among a team. Team managers should then consider giving these employees the days off. To be fair to everyone, holiday policies should be flexible and non-discriminatory.
This meeting should be held before team managers plan other events for the month. It’s less of an “activity” than the other ideas on this list because respecting holidays/important days is essential (not optional) for every company. Coming together as a group to discuss it, however, can be a great opportunity to learn more.
What Respect Means
This diversity activity is simple. Participants should gather in a room and go talk to someone. It’s better if they talk to someone they don’t know well or know less well than others. They should introduce themselves (name, what they do in the company) and then talk about what “respect” means to them. How do they define respect? What are some examples of respect in a workplace setting? Each person should get a chance to speak without interruption.
When everyone is finished talking, the group should come together. The moderator will go around the room, asking everyone about the different examples that came up. Are there similar examples? Or examples that people may not have thought about before? The goal is to get a thorough, well-rounded idea of what respect means to different people. This way, in future interactions, people are more aware of what their coworkers consider to be respectful or not respectful.
The Walk of Privilege
For this activity, a group will meet in a room where they can walk around. Everyone should start a few steps away from the wall. The moderator will then begin saying different general statements. For statements like “People with my sexual identity have always been allowed to get married,” the people who answer “yes” should step forward. With a “negative” statement like, “I had to take out loans for my education,” a person who this applies to steps backward. When all the statements have been read, participants will be in different places in the room. There will be people who have stepped forward most of the time, while others have stepped back more. Some might even be against the wall.
The goal of this activity is to give participants an idea of what privilege looks like. This is a higher-risk activity because people are revealing personal information. It should only be performed if the group trusts each other. Also, keep in mind that this activity requires people to stand and step forward and backward. If someone in a group is unable to do this, the activity should be modified or swapped out for something else.
Sharing food is one of the most powerful ways for people to connect. In an office setting, choose a day where everyone in the group brings in a dish from (or inspired by) their culture. Everyone will have varying levels of cooking and baking skills, so homemade shouldn’t be a requirement. People should also feel free to bring appetizers, main meals, snacks, or desserts. During lunch, people should get a chance to explain their dish and why they chose it.
Since it involves food, moderators need to consider dietary restrictions. If people are on board with a potluck, there should be options for those with food allergies and personal/religious restrictions. Everyone should be aware and respectful of restrictions.
I Am, But I’m Not
This activity is rooted in listening, not discussing. Moderators should make that clear at the beginning. Everyone in the group should get a sheet of paper with two columns. One column should read “I am” while the other one says, “But I am not.” On the “I am” side, people should write in what they identify as. On the right side, they should write the things that don’t apply to them but might be assumed because of the biases and stereotypes. When people are finished writing, they should read out what they’ve written. People may be tempted to chime in and maybe even get defensive, but the moderator should make sure no one is interrupted.
This activity is high-risk. The group should have been through other diversity activities together and trust each other. While some of the stereotypes might be held by people within the group, it’s best to avoid calling out any specific names. An experienced moderator should facilitate.