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C onversations surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion often lay the foundation by emphasizing a “safe” space. When you read the word “safe,” what do you think? Typically, it means no harm. It is common for individuals to create cocoons around themselves for protection. Many may find these discussions uncomfortable, but there are steps firms can take to make staff feel safe. Cracking the cocoon for DEI conversations

Carol Martsolf, PE, PMP, CPTD, LEED AP

However, “safe” does not mean “comfortable.” In fact, most conversations that pave the way toward healing and building truly inclusive and equitable environments are far from comfortable. Just like the caterpillar growing wings and emerging as a butterfly – it takes time, energy, and support. It may be uncomfortable and even painful to crack through the cocoon that was protecting it, but eventually the butterfly emerges stronger than before. How can we work together to help people have the kinds of conversations that may be uncomfortable, while maintaining a “safe” space: 1. Lay ground rules ahead of time so people know what is expected of them when discussing DEI. These rules can be called “group agreements.” Everyone in the group will know that judgement

is suspended, and everyone should keep an open mind. 2. Create an atmosphere that promotes confidentiality. DEI conversations can often become personal, and people need to know that what they say will be kept only within the group. People will not be transparent and share their true feelings if they think it will be shared later with a wider audience. Build and keep the trust. 3. Foster active listening. Say what? We’re all guilty of doing it – someone is talking and you’re thinking about your response, or what to eat for dinner, or the email you still need to send out. Be present. It’s important to put in a conscious



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