Diversity and Inclusion: What’s Voice Got To Do With It?

I recently offered a Full Voice presentation for a group of diversity and inclusion managers at a large financial institution.

Expressions like, “we need every voice at the table” or “everyone must have a voice in this organization” inevitably arise in conversations about inclusion.  These comments are usually metaphorical in nature, but I do see the critical role our literal voices play in creating vibrant connections across differences.

Even when there is a sincere desire to create an atmosphere where all people feel free to offer their perspectives, it can be difficult to do.  Here are a few reasons why:

•  Silence is a strong habit.  People who are used to being silent may find it difficult to speak up.  One invitation may not be enough.

•  Oppression, discrimination, and bullying can make being seen and heard feel downright dangerous to those who have experienced it.

•  Many cultures place a high value on conformity and blending in.  What can be an asset in one of those cultures can look like a deficit in dominant Western culture where extroversion and individuality is valued.

•  People from under-represented groups are often reluctant to call attention to their differences in a group.

•  People who speak a second language in their everyday life are sometimes self-conscious about their accents or vocabularies.

•  Those who are used to taking up the airwaves sometimes find it difficult to stop talking and start listening.  They inadvertently fill every available space.

•  Timing and pacing vary widely among cultures.  People who are used to fast-paced conversations may not wait long enough for a slower speaker to jump in.

Four things you can do to connect with people across difference:

1.  Learn about the cultures of others, especially how they speak, listen, move, and connect.

2. Discover and master the diversity of sounds your voice contains.  You’ll have many more choices when you are communicating across differences.

3.  Listen deeply to the sounds, rhythms, and subtleties within the voices of people you meet.  Develop a keen ear for how people speak, not just what they say.

4.  And most importantly, notice how the way you are speaking and listening is affecting your connection with the other person.  Connection is the conduit through which all communication travels.

What have your discovered about how voice affects inclusion and diversity?

About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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