How to Start the Inclusion and Diversity Conversation in your Practice

By Gerard Johnson, M.S. July 06, 2021

You looked at the landscape of your organization and you have come to the realization that there is work that needs to be done to make your office a truly diverse and inclusive environment. You have seen the studies showing how diversity and inclusion stimulate innovation and productivity while creating a world-class culture that can outperform the competition.   After long hours and tough discussions, you have nailed down the framework of your diversity and inclusion program. You have established what diversity and inclusion will mean in your practice. You have enforceable guidelines and firm timelines for each step along the way. So, now how do you start the conversation?

25 Office Party Games to Kick Off MeetingsInclusion is where everything begins on this journey of improvement. There is no point in putting a strategy in place to improve hiring diversity if the environment people are hired into is non-inclusive. New hires will just leave and ward off other talented people from diverse backgrounds. Inclusion creates the opportunity for diversity and growth. The first step toward creating an inclusive environment is to define what that means to you and your staff

The introduction of empathy makes it easier to introduce the more complicated idea of inclusion.  Start the conversation about creating a work environment where team members are actively and consciously empathic to one another. The success of any company is having a team who feels seen, heard, and understood no matter their background, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation by their company. It is easy to put yourself in the shoes of someone that looks like you, talks like you, or comes from a similar background. It can be a bit harder when you don’t share the same experiences. However, studies  have shown behaviors like empathy are learned and can be taught and improved with lasting effects.

Below is a short game that’s a perfect icebreaker to start the conversation about empathy, inclusivity, and diversity in your practice.

Do you hear what I hear?

Step One: 5 –10 minutes

(Select groups of 2 to 3 people. It’s best to do this ahead of time; pick team members who work in close proximity or team members who are least acquainted with one another)

3 minutes: Each person finds one of their favorite songs (the earworm that won't go away) and pull up the song on their phone (YouTube, Tidal, and Spotify)

2 minutes: Now each person writes down 3 feelings or thoughts that come to mind from this song. These thoughts or feelings aren't revealed to the rest of the group.

Step Two: 5 minutes each

Each person in the group plays their song through the first chorus or 1:30 mins of their song.

The other group member(s) writes 3 feelings they think the song is reflective of the other team member.  

Step Three: 10 minutes

Each person reveals their answer to each other and discusses with the group.

Did you each agree on the feels and thoughts of the song? Why or why not?

Did the title of the song match your feelings on the song? Could you read a song by its title?   

Larger Purpose:  

Finding empathy for someone, especially from different backgrounds, is like trying to gauge how someone else feels about a song just by reading the title. Everyone perceives things filtered through their own beliefs, experiences, and values.  The old adage "you can't judge a book by its cover" really holds true. When you listened to your teammate's song choices, you probably imparted your own feelings and experiences into the songs. This is why your reading of a song was different from your teammates'. In the same way, you have to actively step in your coworkers’ shoes to empathize with them and their experiences. 

We need to be mindful of how our actions affect those around us. Studies show that in pain management centers,  a lack of empathy towards black patients could affect their pain treatment resulting in black patients receiving less pain medication and treatment than white patients.

We need to make sure that we actively empathize with patients, regardless of their religious, racial, or cultural backgrounds, and provide patient-centered care.

When I provided instructions to guess what the other person was feeling, you had to put your feelings aside about the song and had to actively empathize with the other person. You were challenged to imagine what the other person felt when they were listening to the song. How often do you actively put your feelings aside to empathize with another person?  When you hear something you do not agree with, do you actively try to empathize? Empathy is a skill just as much as it is a behavior or feeling. We can get better at it. However, like any skill, if we don’t actively practice, we can lose that skill and develop bad habits. 

Together We Can Make Optometry More Diverse, Equitable & Inclusive - Review  of Optometric BusinessAn inclusive workplace is one that fosters diversity by being a welcoming community for people of all backgrounds. The easiest way to recruit talent of diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and skillsets is through word of mouth.

Perhaps you've taken a step back to reflect on the diversity of your team and weren't happy with it. Maybe you've actively tried to recruit to increase the diversity of your workforce. If you haven't been successful in creating an empathetic and inclusive environment, it could be why you falter in creating a diverse staff. Ultimately, when you create an inclusive environment, you'll find African America, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern, and other talent actively viewing your practice as a viable career option and wanting to join your team.

Gerard Johnson, M.S.

Gerard is a writer, trainer, and leader who has worked in healthcare since 2003. He has managed and trained teams in Optometry, Ophthalmology, and Family Medicine. Gerard currently works as a practice manager for a family practice in Atlanta, GA.

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