In a high energy session presented by CAN, BPAWG, BFN and Agile communities of practice, staff from all over campus came together on March 10 to explore best practices for engaging diversity within teams and groups. Here are some key takeaways and best practices that can help each of us as we strive to create a welcoming environment in our units, meetings and teams:
Question your own assumptions about access needs. When we think of disability we tend to think of physically visible and externally recognized disabilities (i.e. wheelchair, blind, etc.) And yet, this is an incomplete view as there are a number of physical, learning and psychological disabilities that are invisible. And here is an additional note to tap into your empathy – when asking yourself what a disability looks or feels like you don’t need to look far; at some point in our life each of us will have the inability to do a certain set of tasks.
Start your meetings with community agreements, have a conversation about what meeting participants want and need to fully participate in the meeting/discussion. Collectively agree and codify the engagement rules needed to create a space where participants can collaborate and do their best thinking together. Place the engagement rules in a visible spot (whiteboard, easel, etc.).
Keep in mind that in intercultural interactions there is a possibility of cultural misunderstandings. Look for ways to eliminate those (i.e., use less jargon and speak slowly and clearly in settings where there are international students; use the term “U.S. American” instead of more exclusive “American” identifiers).
At the beginning of a meeting, give participants the opportunity to share their name and pronoun (e.g. “Hello, my name is Jo and I use the pronouns she, hers, they”). That way facilitators and participants will be able to appropriately address everyone in the meeting. Also, during the RSVP process, ask in advance meeting/event attendees for their pronoun preference and include it on their name tag.
Include in your meeting invitation a note about the nearest gender inclusive restroom. Here is a campus restroom resource map provided by the Gender Equity Resource Center.
Check the pulse throughout the meeting/event. If you’re noticing that a member is not participating, consider their withdrawal an indication that the way the meeting is structured or the language used may not meet their needs. Don’t ignore that and wait to address it after the meeting. Check-in with them right away, make adjustments, and pivot as needed.
Have a co-facilitator. Invite a colleague to hold the space with you. This partnership will strengthen your facilitation and even allow you to step out for a few minutes if needed.
Make sure everyone feels comfortable making mistakes. Walk the talk and acknowledge/share your own mistakes and blunders.
Keep in mind that failure to create a welcoming environment may trigger the sense of threat for those who don’t feel included, and there is a physiological explanation for this. Built into our wiring is a small bundle of neurons, the amygdala, which in the presence of threat gets activated and triggers emotional reactions such as anxiety, anger, fear, etc. As a facilitator, you can pause, notice and recognize the physiological aspect of this. This simple act of naming what is happening may help the group or the individual recover from this faster.
The four panelists who shared their knowledge, insights and expertise:
Lisa Walker: Director, Cross Cultural Student Development
Marisa Boyce: Program Coordinator, Gender & Equity Resource Center
Jason Patent: Chief of Operations/Director, Robertson Center for Intercultural Leadership at International House
Ben Perez: Campus Access Specialist, Disabled Students Program
Moderator: Kelly McNeese, Berkeley Facilitator Network’s – New Member Engagement and Evaluations Lead
Do you have best practices you use to create a welcoming and inclusive environment? Share in the comments below!