Convening Conversations About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Illustration of a diverse group of people talking

True understanding, true progress begins with a dialogue. And, true dialogue can occur only when participants respectfully listen.

In polarizing times, when nearly any topic can be fraught with friction, the important conversations necessary for progress can be even harder to convene and conduct. To help facilitate that vital dialogue, a group of Babson College faculty and staff members took a major step in making those meaningful conversations more common and more productive.

Eight College representatives recently attended a daylong training session on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The training, facilitated by Essential Partners, focused on designing and facilitating dialogues across divides.

“We talked about where we are in the world right now, so we talked quite a bit about polarization,” said Anjali Bal, associate professor of marketing. “They showed how these conversations are becoming more taxing and challenging because of that polarization. These were some first steps in terms of how we can start to have those conversations.”

Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sadie Burton-Goss planned and led the training initiative after reviewing comparable programs for more than a year. The initiative is a critical component of the College’s strategic plan, under President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD, to support One Babson as a collaborative, inclusive community.

The recent Babson training also took on a more expansive approach to include the Babson, Olin and Wellesley (BOW) partnership. “While the focus is on increasing Babson’s capacity to facilitate DE&I dialogues,” Burton-Goss said, “the larger vision required that we include our DE&I leaders from Olin and Wellesley colleges in the process, as well.”

Encouraging Dialogue

Convening the dialogue in a safe and productive way should be the facilitator’s primary objective. It’s an important point that resonated with the attendees.

“I thought it was interesting to learn about a different way of holding space for different points of view for folks to be able to share safely, meaningfully, bravely, and having conversations about identity, inclusion, diversity, and equity,” said Patrick Hale, director of Multicultural and Identity Programs at Babson.

“The point of the dialogue really is to facilitate listening in a way that actually encourages folks to sit and digest another person’s point of view, and then eventually they have an opportunity to engage and ask questions.”

Asking questions actually is a critical component for the facilitator. Hale says the training explored ways to frame questions that allow people to be reflective and think about themselves and their own experiences. And, it prompted him to think about applying those lessons to the conversation he has with students.

One of the things that’s so crucial to even fostering dialogue around diversity, equity, and inclusion is creating opportunities for folks to engage in deep reflective self-awareness.”
Patrick Hale, director of Multicultural and Identity Programs at Babson

“One of the things that’s so crucial to even fostering dialogue around diversity, equity, and inclusion is creating opportunities for folks to engage in deep reflective self-awareness,” Hale said. “I think that’s a really critical part to truly understanding diversity, equity, inclusion is that critical self-awareness.”

Kankana Mukherjee, associate professor of economics who also serves on Babson’s Dean of College, Faculty Committee for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Development (or DoC Inclusive Excellence Committee, for short), agreed: “The question that you set up for a dialogue should be something that leads to the higher values of people, so that it allows the entire conversation to take place in a more reflective, meaningful way.”

Opening Possibilities

In trying to bridge divides, a facilitator’s first objective shouldn’t be to reconcile differences but simply allow various points of view to be heard.

“As academicians, we are always trying to solve problems,” Mukherjee said. “This was about, don’t try to solve problems.”

“It’s not to solve a problem; it’s not meant to come to a resolution,” Hale said. “It’s really meant to create awareness, and I think that by simply doing that, I think we are opening our students to possibilities.”

Bal explained the goal of these difficult conversations is to open minds not necessarily change them. If someone’s view of a topic can shift from 100% to even 99%, she said, that’s progress.

“One of the things that we talked about was the ability to hear another person’s point of view, even if our minds aren’t changed,” Bal said. “We have to remember that any sort of movement is movement. If we don’t acknowledge small movement, then we just stay on two different sides, and it’s all black and white, and we don’t hear each other.”

“I think the College is showing huge commitment to this. Babson with its entrepreneurial mindset is just ready to take this on. I think people are energized about this.”
Kankana Mukherjee, associate professor of economics

Conversations Across Campus

The BOW training was another key step on the College’s journey to advancing its objectives to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion for everyone in the community. And, it is an important piece to Babson’s model to “train the trainers.”

The other participants from Babson included: Tina Opie, associate professor of management and chair of the DoC Inclusive Excellence Committee; Jeannette Angles, risk manager for the College; James Pollard, chief of police and director of Public Safety; and Elizabeth Schirick, director of learning and development.

Their work also is helping to inform other training and conversations across the campus. Staff managers currently are attending two-part training sessions, and faculty and all employees also will be going through similar training. And, students this semester are encouraged to complete an online diversity, equity, and inclusion training through EVERFI, a program that will be required for all incoming students.

“I think the College is showing huge commitment to this,” Mukherjee said. “Babson with its entrepreneurial mindset is just ready to take this on. I think people are energized about this, and I feel grateful to be part of this moment of change.”

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