“Where the hell are you guys? I don’t even see you. You’re, like, invisible.”

These words were spoken to a group of White men during WMFDP | FDP Global’s first-ever Full Diversity Partners Lab led by co-founders Michael Welp and Bill Proudman. A Black man participating in the inaugural event asked the White men in the room where their voices were when speaking out about important social topics like racism and sexism.

Michael recalls feeling sweaty as his pulse raced. As one of the facilitators, he was supposed to be leading the conversations. He was supposed to know what to do. He was supposed to be outspoken and present. 

Instead, Michael felt stuck. 

After three years of leading events for White men by White men, Bill and Michael were suddenly facilitating an event with women and People of Color for the first time. Michael became acutely aware of how much he didn’t know about difference and his own social conditioning—how much he hadn’t confronted within himself. 

“I couldn’t hide anymore. I’d been hiding, and I couldn’t do that anymore.”

From Stuck to Unstuck

Michael’s feeling of being stuck and afraid of mistakes is a common refrain we hear from leaders all the time.

In one poll, more than half of respondents said they worry about making mistakes when discussing diversity and inclusion issues in the workplace. This fear prevents many people from even trying to enter into these crucial conversations. It certainly stops them from trying again when a misstep does happen. And missteps will happen. 

We repeatedly see media backlash and consequences, including job losses and more, surrounding discussions of racism and sexism. 

Employees tiptoe around important topics, and leaders hold their breath, hoping no one creates a “problem.” Leading a team that’s working from a place of fear is challenging and ineffective. It paralyzes all progress. We’re literally stuck.

Part of our stuckness comes from thinking there’s only one right way to engage in diversity, equity and inclusion. There isn’t. It’s fluid—forever changing, dependent on context and continuously evolving.

There is no guidebook, and for corporations and leaders used to standard operating procedures and a “right” way to do business, DE&I can be downright terrifying. 

How do we move away from fear and paralysis and into authentic dialogue?

We take the first step boldly. It might not be perfect, but action has to win over inaction for any change to occur and for diversity, equity and inclusion to grow.

Being Stuck is Where Inclusion Starts.

It’s an important signal, telling you you’re ready to step through the fear and into inclusion, even when it’s scary and frustrating.

Leaders have to be bold and inclusive to honor the humanity of the workplace. Because, business is personal.

Resiliency and Recovering from Mistakes

The fear of making mistakes is one of the scariest aspects of D&I work. It is paralyzing.

After all, if you don’t take a step, you can’t falter, and that feels safe. But inaction is also an action, a decision. It’s one of choosing to stagnate and fall behind. To your team and organization, it can feel like you’ve abdicated your voice and your leadership. 

The recent class action lawsuit against the NFL over its hiring practices sheds light on one facet of this paralysis. In his WSJ opinion piece, Jason L. Riley discusses a fear some NFL owners harbor in hiring Black coaches. They worry that if the coach doesn’t work out and the team needs to fire them, they’ll then be accused of racism. Riley notes that universities faced similar fears after the establishment of Affirmative Action in the 1970s. 

This is how White fragility plays out in the world. There is so much fear that we’d rather remain stuck and inert than risk making a mistake. 

This is also White privilege and systemic racism at work. We have the privilege to remain inactive and hope that someone else picks up the slack, while People of Color have to boldly justify themselves and their abilities all day, every day. They can’t sit in fear of mistakes. Why should White folks? 

How can we move past the paralyzing fear of mistakes, actual or perceived? What does resiliency look like in a corporate setting? How do we handle missteps in front of colleagues, teammates or the media? Can resiliency be communal or must it be on an individual basis?

First and most importantly, expect that you will misstep. You will fail. You will put your foot in your mouth. You will do this as an individual, and you will do this as an organization.

When we are brave enough to step into D&I work, we will falter. For true progress and movement, we’ll make the courageous decisions to step in and stay in, even when it is uncomfortable and scary. These efforts require an individual commitment and a communal one as leaders and their teams do the brave work necessary to drive the needle forward in their organizations.

Resiliency requires vulnerability, inquiry, attentiveness, humility and patience. As leaders, we need to embrace these qualities in ourselves and our employees so that mistakes don’t become obstacles to growth. We don’t have to pretend that we have all the answers—because, we don’t. 

Instead, we ask questions. We say, “I don’t know.” We apologize when we misstep or misspeak and allow others to do the same.

Be brave. Be curious. Be inclusive. Take action.

Get Unstuck Today

It’s one thing to say that stuck is where inclusion begins, and it’s another thing to take the necessary steps to move forward. For leaders and managers in the 55% of people who are scared to talk about diversity at work, one of the best first steps is to grow the skills of courageous conversations. 

What’s the first step you can take today? What step will you take tomorrow? What steps will you empower your team to take?

As Michael says about his experience in that first Full Diversity Partners Lab, he learned that leaders must “be humble and ready to fumble”—a quote from Ericka Hines, JD, Principal and Lead Consultant for Every Level Leadership. We don’t have all the answers. We won’t do everything right. But we can pick ourselves up and start again because that is how we step in and stay in. That is how we lead with boldness across difference into inclusion.

Leaders who are ready to do this brave work for themselves and their teams have support. You can take action in partnership with the WMFDP | FDP Global facilitators through our open enrollment opportunities. And for even more transformative work, connect with our team to learn about our cutting-edge programs, personalized for your organization.