To do deep work around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), it is important for staff to be able to talk about issues that may feel uncomfortable or scary. Issues of racism, for example, can be polarizing. But organizations who want to lead with DEI values need to be able to create an environment that promotes thoughtful facilitation of these difficult conversations.
Because this type of work can be daunting, relying on already-existing activities can be a very helpful way to ease into DEI. The Social Justice Toolbox (SJTB) is a resource guide for “free, curated, ready-to-rock social justice activities and facilitation guides designed to help you make the most of your diversity workshops and social justice trainings.” This post summarizes two activities that may help your organization begin this important work.
Comfort Zone, Learning Edge, and Danger Zone
Before diving into intense discussions that may result in some unhealthy dynamics, it can be useful to understand how we react when challenged by certain topics. “Comfort Zone, Learning Edge, and Danger Zone” does just that!
The goals of this activity are to:
- Introduce people to the concepts of comfort zones, learning edges, and danger zones;
- Identify each person’s own learning edges, comfort zones, and danger zones;
- Demonstrate that everyone has differing levels of comfort on various topics; and
- Understand that growth occurs outside our comfort zones.
A room will be set up with three concentric circles large enough to fit your staff. You can use rope or tape to set these up on the floor. The center circle is the "comfort zone," the second one is the "learning edge," and the outermost circle is the "danger zone."
After explaining what each of these terms mean, a facilitator will read a variety of pre-written statements. These may, for example, be about interactions with law enforcement or correcting people who use the wrong preferred gender pronoun for a colleague. Participants then move into the area that best reflects their level of comfort with these subjects. Everyone will then reflect for a few moments on why they are in their respective areas. After the activity is completed, it is important for staff to debrief with one another and to share what they learned about themselves.
“Identity Signs” help people to see how different identities may be experienced for different individuals, heightening awareness and empathy.
The goals of this activity are:
- To give participants a brave space to share their experiences and identities in a personal way, and for others to learn from these stories;
- To learn how people experience identities on a day-to-day basis; and
- To learn how colleagues may experience the pain of discrimination.
For this activity, a room should be set up with different categories of identities written on post-it notes and placed on the walls. These can include (but are not limited to): race, ethnicity, religion, education level, ability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, age, class, and size. The facilitator will read a series of questions related to identity, and participants will move to the identity type that best reflects their answer.
Examples of questions might be: Which identity do you think most about? Which identity do you think least about? What identity do you feel most judged for? After each question is read and people have moved to the post-it identity of their choosing, there will be an opportunity for people to share why they selected that identity. Following the activity, folks will debrief and reflect on what they learned about themselves and others.
3 DEI-related icebreaker questions to build trust
While it is important to set aside time and energy to facilitate and undergo activities like the ones detailed above, it can also help to incorporate DEI-related icebreaker questions before staff meetings. Here are a few that can help you share your stories and build trust with one another:
- Share a story behind your name. Questions you can ask include:
- Who gave you your name? Why?
- What is the origin of your name?
- How do you feel about your name?
- Share an example of a place where you felt a strong sense of belonging. What was it about that environment that made you feel included and seen?
- Can you share an example of a time when an ally supported you through something challenging at work or in life?
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Yejin Lee is a nonprofit professional and career coach based in New York City. She is most passionate about supporting nonprofits in operationalizing a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) framework, and assisting individuals in thoughtfully identifying and strategically pursuing professional goals. Yejin also loves cooking, eating, annotating TV shows, and hanging out with her husband and sassy shiba inu.