Embracing Open Conversations to Foster Empathy and Equity

How to foster a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce

As we strive to create unity, the bias and inequality that exists within our communities and the impact this has on our society remains in the forefront of our minds. Kforce, like many companies, continues to seek out ways to support our employees and enhance existing initiatives while working to foster a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce.

But implementing a new diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategy requires hard work, including candid and honest reflection, open dialogue and acknowledgement of the many aspects required to undertake the long-term cultural change DE&I represents for organizations.

“DE&I is a very complex and involved topic because it’s about humanity,” says Don Harvey, Kforce’s SVP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “There are so many facets of us as human beings, so how do we get diversity, equity and inclusion going all together?”

Harvey, as well as many Human Resources (HR) and DE&I experts, recommend starting by opening up those potentially tough conversations within the workplace.

Why are open conversations around DE&I important in the workplace?

Conversations about race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity, once considered too controversial to talk about openly in the workplace, have become more prevalent within our work environments, according to a recent Kforce survey.

Employers who embrace these conversations openly and honestly with their employees can benefit from the momentum created that, in turn, supports larger-scale DE&I efforts.

A recent Gartner study found organizations that implemented a comprehensive DE&I strategy saw increasing business value and results from their efforts to link diversity and inclusion to their business strategy.

Harvey attributes this value to a “diversity of thought” that can grow from an organization’s DE&I efforts. When employees begin acknowledging and sharing their different perspectives, backgrounds and personalities, they learn to look at business problems differently, too, and can collaborate on more creative solutions.

Aside from being the right thing to do, having these open conversations with your workforce is the first step toward implementing a long-term DE&I strategy with related internal and external business impact.

Learn more about Kforce's Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives in our 2020 impact report

How to start a conversation around DE&I

1. Confirm executive support

“DE&I does not survive without Executive support,” according to Harvey, who says Kforce’s evolving diversity, equity and inclusion strategy has grown exponentially because of our executive team’s promotion and development.

For those in companies that do not see executive support, Harvey recommends “raising the conversation up to their executive team or managers to gain an understanding of where the organization’s leaders see a DE&I strategy related to other business priorities.”

2. Consider a third-party partner

Maybe your company’s DE&I strategy isn’t as outlined as you would like after confirming executive support, or maybe you are unsure of what goals to start working toward—that’s okay. For these instances, Harvey recommends partnering with a third-party firm within the DE&I space, giving your company external insight to develop a more comprehensive internal strategy.

3. Leverage multiple tools and channels for employee feedback

One good way to understand the health of a company and its people is to distribute anonymous surveys or open diversity panels to all employees, suggests Harvey—who described the results of Kforce’s most recent survey as enlightening.

Sending out surveys and holding routine panels can give companies “a sense of how people feel, if they are struggling with any inclusion issues, if they are feeling any biases—unconscious or conscious—as well as let them know their voice is being heard,” says Harvey.

4. Approach with your heart in the right place

Openly discussing topics like racism, bias and inequality in the workplace is new for many. Some may feel tense, uncomfortable or anxious when sharing or listening to others’ opinions or feelings. We may worry about saying the wrong thing or inadvertently offending someone.

Harvey feels employers should do their best to invite people to be honest and share their feelings. “Be there for your employees and coworkers, even though you might not feel that comfortable knowing how to have some of these discussions.”

And most importantly? “Recognize you are in a learning phase yourself and that your heart is in the right place,” he says.

5. Focus on the most important thing

As mentioned above, DE&I is a complex and involved topic. Starting conversations about how to make a company more diverse, equitable and inclusive is the first step in a much larger plan to put the developed strategy into action.

“We work off of what we call our MIT, which stands for ‘Most Important Thing,’” says Harvey, “What is our goal around tackling bias? What is the goal around career mentorship?”

Kforce believes that partnering with senior leadership to identify three to five commitments the company can work toward informed by employee feedback is a great place to start when defining your organization’s MIT and starting to outline a comprehensive DE&I strategy.

Some MIT goals could include: developing or expanding employee resource groups, enhancing hiring processes to ensure more diverse candidate pools, engaging employees in robust workforce listening sessions, seeking out recommendations from employee resource groups, or developing a series of DE&I learning modules to level-set behavioral expectations for all leaders and employees.

6. Be prepared to answer the hard questions

When engaging in conversations about DE&I in your company, prepare to be presented with some tough questions. You may be asked what took the company so long to address issues of injustice, asked for details of a mentorship program yet to be developed, or met with skepticism about the sincerity of your company’s intentions due to DE&I being in the forefront of many companies’ goals right now.

Harvey and other Kforce leaders have found that answering these questions to the best of one’s abilities while re-establishing the company’s commitment to ongoing DE&I strategy evolution. In other words, simply providing an honest “we are still working that out,” or “we don’t know, yet” response will go a long way to establishing trust and open communication, says Harvey.

7. Don’t expect DE&I goals to be accomplished right away

As much as we want to see immediate changes to the bias and inequality impacting our workplaces, homes and communities, experience has shown changes from these efforts are often gradual and should be ongoing. Organizational changes will also require wide-spread dedication from those in executive leadership and support throughout the organization to change the culture to reflect commitment and action toward DE&I goals.

But Harvey knows Kforce, along with many other companies investing into more comprehensive and positive DE&I programs, are already dedicated to fostering change together.

“Everything that’s important takes time. It takes effort. It takes a foundation to build on, and that does not come simply, but at the end of the day—it is strong.”


Don Harvey

SVP of DE&I at Kforce

Don Harvey has a 30+ year history leading, mentoring and driving positive change and outcomes throughout his impressive career. He currently leads the development and implementation of DE&I initiatives to further foster equity and inclusion both inside Kforce and with our partners. Harvey has been with Kforce for over 16 years and prior to leading our DE&I efforts, led some of the firm’s top markets as SVP and Market President of Sales and Recruiting Strategy.

Want more insight from Don Harvey? Then see his advice on How to Become a Master of Your Craft, or connect with him on LinkedIn.