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Conversations about diversity don’t stop at hearing about someone’s personal identity. Productive, eye-opening and fascinating conversations can come from talking about the world around us.

Here are three ways and an advanced glossary to get off the starting blocks and have bigger, deeper and bolder conversations about diversity and identity.

📰 Discuss news and current affairs

Think bigger than the world of work. Talking about the outside world can illuminate perspectives inside your organisation’s walls.

Some examples:

  • A country changes legislation relating to gay marriage
  • A celebrity you love has spoken publically about their experience of prejudice
  • A Paralympic sports event has made you think about life with a disability in a new way
  • A company is called out in a PR scandal for ageist practices
  • National newspapers are full of the latest gender pay gap figures

🤝 Try two-way mentoring

In their pocket guide for talking about race, Business in the Community (BITC) bill two-way mentoring as the top suggestion for learning about experiences of race from one another. Essentially, it means a pair goes deep and shares their perspectives, experiences and advice in equal measure.

Practically how might you do this?

  • Set up informal coffee and lunch meetings with colleagues that are different ages/genders/races to you and swap stories about how you each got to where you are, your current challenges and your ambitions for the future.
  • Challenge your team members to make a connection at the company and have four two-way mentoring sessions. You could select the contact for them or let them find the contact themselves.

⚡ Top tip

Executive coach Geraldine Gallacher states that male-female mentoring helps gender diversity providing advice is put into context and tested. The woman must think critically about any advice the man gives and explain how it might work in her case. And vice versa.

For example “I would just ‘be more assertive’ but, for some reason, an assertive woman can be less likeable than an assertive man. Let me practice being assertive and see your reaction?”.

👀 Talk about data & observations of the workplace

Dr. Diane Hamilton, a thought-leader on building culture, says that building empathy into culture begins by being curious about and perceptive of what is happening around you.

What sort of things can you look out for and begin an insightful discussion around?

You might notice:

  • the majority of applicants for your open role are women
  • the results of your annual survey say many more people have a disability in the company than you originally thought
  • the food available in the office building doesn’t cater to Halal diets

😎 Advanced glossary

There are lots of concepts that can help you discuss and understand identity and diversity. Here are some of the trickier ones so you can feel confident engaging with them.

Intersectionality, intersectional

Intersectionality looks at how people can have unique burdens when they are in multiple marginalised social groups. An example? A person might experience an intersectional issue because they are Chinese and female, such as being objectified as “exotic”.

Importantly, intersectional issues create obstacles that are often not understood within conventional ways of thinking about anti-racism or feminism


This describes what is considered the unquestioned norm or a social standard. For example, heteronormativity describes how being straight can be treated as ‘normal’ in some communities.

Otherness, othering

Othering describes how groups with power make other groups seem like outsiders, alien or, simply, “other”. Disney films often other countries when they misrepresent them in an exotic way that exaggerates differences from Western culture. Watch the opening scene of Aladdin on YouTube for an idea!


Privilege is something of value that someone has simply by being a member of a social group. Privilege is usually not visible to the person that has it because it is merely there and is a way of life. An example of white privilege is finding it easy to access hairdressers that specialise in styling their hair all over the country.

Structural or Systemic

A structural view of injustice “identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges… and disadvantages… to endure and adapt over time.”. For example, fewer women studying STEM subjects through higher education is a product of systemic sexism. For most conversations, structural and systemic are interchangeable.

Woke (adjective)

To be woke is to be alert to injustice in society, especially racism. Originating from African American Vernacular English, “woke” was added to the Oxford English dictionary in 2017. And, yes, it is grammatically correct!

🌡️ Poll time

Would you feel comfortable using the words from our advanced glossary in a workplace conversation?

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🗝️ Your key takeaway

Broach new and productive conversations about diversity and identity by talking about current affairs, trying two-way mentoring and voicing what you observe at work. For deep topics, use concepts from our advanced glossary.

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