Diversity and Inclusion work has been raging on for decades and although we have made some progress – certainly overt prejudice, unfair treatment is on the surface unacceptable in most workplaces – it is abundantly clear that there is so much work left to do. I often find myself pondering a lot of why questions. Why is this work so difficult and complex? Why do people believe what they believe? Why is it so hard to open our minds and our hearts to those that are different than us? Why is it so easy for some people to follow small-minded leaders with big hate-filled promises? Why is there so much fear and hatred in the world – hatred so strong you are willing to torture and kill innocent children? And what exactly are we so afraid of?

While anthropologists offer some insight into human behavior, I struggle with the rather bleak feeling that history will inevitably repeat itself and progress is only fleeting and visible when times are good. When we struggle or when we are afraid, it is all too easy to revert back to those feelings of hate and mistrust. Sometimes we take comfort in those feelings. We seek those that share our misguided opinions and we make it acceptable and even worse applaudable. We see this happening in our communities, in our schools and in our workplaces.

So I ask all of you to ponder this. Perhaps we are asking all the wrong questions. Is it possible that all the work we are doing only scratches the surface of what lies beneath? We focus so much on diversity and inclusion, combating disparity and inequity, changing policies and procedures, that we totally missed the point. Maybe we need to make it more acceptable to talk about our feelings. To express our fears and our beliefs no matter how contrary or hateful they may appear to others. Even while I write this I shudder at the thought – honestly some of those feelings are better left unsaid. But really, are they?

If those feelings are there, always lurking, will we ever see true lasting change. Maybe we bite our tongue in the office or in public to avoid punitive actions or losing our jobs. But we harbor feelings of resentment and hatred in our hearts. We express those feelings and make nasty jokes behind closed doors and in the company of friends.  And someday not so far down the road someone in a position of power is going to make it acceptable to have those feelings and to voice those feelings. It may be a boss, a high-profile YouTuber or TV personality, a religious leader or even the head of a country. Suddenly it seems perfectly acceptable to make those closed-door conversations very public and before long it becomes acceptable to take action on those feelings.

While the thought of opening up a can of very ugly worms seems distasteful, it may be just the medicine the doctor ordered. I am not suggesting that we make it okay to fling around hateful rhetoric like morning pleasantries. But I am suggesting that we start asking different kinds of questions. That we disrupt the way we approach D&I work and we ask the questions that make us uncomfortable, challenge long-held assumptions and provoke new thinking that leads to real change.

We created a tool to help guide those conversations in your workplaces.  The tool can be found on the Inclusion Learning Loop – Finding Common Ground: Difficult Conversations Dialogue Guide.

Robin Pedrelli is the co-founder and partner of VisionSpring, Inc. VisionSpring, Inc. is a WBENC certified women owned and operated diversity and inclusion consulting firm offering fully integrated strategy development, workforce planning, training and continuous learning solutions to leverage diversity and inclusion to drive innovation and improved business outcomes.  We provide customized strategic solutions that address the specific needs of each client and blend workforce, workplace, marketplace and community related goals.