Diversity & Inclusion Activities To Do With Your Team
Instead of starting with the intent to “have an activity about D&I,” thoughtful leaders and diversity champions should begin with the end in mind. Set the goal of activities to be both increased interpersonal understanding and increased awareness of invisible things like privilege, not either / or, in order to get the most from your time with the fewest possible side effects.
This article features a handful of activities you can do with your team, broken up into two categories (click on them to jump to that section)
Activities for increasing interpersonal understanding and inclusion
A key outcome of an inclusive workforce is a place where any employee can do their best work. The uphill battle to create this workplace utopia may seem daunting, but the seeds are sewn at the most micro levels of interpersonal understanding.
My Fullest Name
Get this activity started by getting a group together - no more than 5 or 6 people. In the group, go around and share the story of your name. Answer the following questions and tell the story behind it:
Who gave you your name? Why that name?
Do you know the ethnic origin of your name?
Do you have any nicknames? If so, how did you get them?
What is your preferred name?
The goal of this activity is to share histories, cultural stories, and cultivate interpersonal understanding. It’s a non-confrontational way to show difference that requires no “us vs them” dynamics. There’s also an opportunity for people to ask questions and make conversation after everyone in the group has the chance to talk about their Fullest Name.
I Am... But I Am Not
Another group D&I activity, the I Am... But I Am Not activity is an opportunity for individuals to own their identities and confront stereotypes they face. Similar to the My Fullest Name activity, this one is empowering to the individual without creating in-out group dynamics.
Each person in a group (5-6 people), gets a piece of paper with two columns on it. On the left side, “I Am...”. On the right side, “...But I Am Not”.
The purpose is to fill out anything you identify with on the left side, but acknowledge and dispel any insults, stereotypes, or untrue perceptions people face or feel impacts them. Each person should then present who they are and explain who they are not to the group.
A note: this activity requires a lot of trust and patience in the group. There will be many people who bring up tense stereotypes, perhaps views held towards them by someone else in the group. The key here is to present the information purely as an individual owning their identity. Don’t pick fights. Don’t name names.
As a moderator, remind people this is a listening exercise, not a conversational exercise.
The Person I Least Want To Be
The most difficult and potentially raw of the D&I activities in this article, this exercise forces people to make choices about which privilege versus which level of oppression they believe is the worst to have.
Get the exercise started by explaining the identities - privileges and oppressive issues - were picked at random. As moderator, do your best to edit the personalities so there is no circumstance that exactly represents someone in the room.
On the walls of your meeting room, post various identities with a privilege and someone who faces oppression. Examples include:
A single mom student on a full scholarship
Wheelchair bound individual with a very high-salary job
A gay immigrant from an accepting family in a new country because of a successful work transfer
There should be a minimum of three people doing the activity for every post, but no more than five people per post you put up. This group is most ideal with 4-6 posts (a group of 12-20).
Individuals taking part in the activity pick the “person” they least want to be, congregating by that post on the wall. Once everyone has chosen the person they least want to be, start in-group discussions about why the individuals chose the people they did. After, ask if someone from each group would be willing to summarize the core reasons they all chose the person they did.
This exercise helps to cultivate understanding by asking people - who may or may not embody the privileges and issues in the posts - how they understand individual privilege and oppression compared to other factors. Ideally, the conversation enlightens people to some of their own biases and empowers them to challenge how they view different privileges and issues.
Activities to increase awareness of privilege and discrimination
Many activities, such as the Privilege Walk, aim to increase awareness of privilege by having groups most often associated with privilege experience what it’s like to lose their privilege. Such activities can be impactful but draw controversy because they put participants in a position where they are either forced to experience trauma for the sake of education or they see legitimate issues in their lives used as educational bait.
To overcome these issues, look to activities that give participants a chance to come to their own realizations without being made to feel less than.
Privilege For Sale
The vast majority of people balance privileges and problems because of who they are. Context makes this different as well for each person, so there may be situations where you have privilege and others where you don’t. Privilege For Sale brings those issues to light.
Break up participants into groups of 3 or 4. Each person is then given a list of “privileges” to buy - each one costs $100. There are 30 privilege statements (see the link, last page, for the full list).
After introducing the exercise, give out “money” to each group in increments of $100. Be sure to give one group only $100 and don’t give more than $800 to any one group. Giving too much money to one group makes the exercise overly long as people make choices. Make sure all groups have differing amounts of money. If you have more than 8 groups, you can double up on some values.
Give everyone 5 minutes to “buy” the privileges they want most. Then talk about which ones people chose and why - being sure to pay attention to the folks who had the least money to see how they coped with choosing only one or two privileges.
This activity is helpful because it doesn’t matter what privileges the participants have in real life, which is the anchor of the Privilege Walk. Instead, education is made to feel very real but not personal, reducing anxiety for people with limited privilege and fighting off resentment for people with privilege.
Play Privilege Monopoly
If you’ve got a group that’s fond of board games, pull out Monopoly (any version). Except in this case, arbitrarily assign privileges and discrimination to players.
One person gets double pay each time they reach GO
One person is given a set of three properties off the bat
One person does not have to pay luxury tax
Start one player in jail so they lose their first three turns
On person gets only half pay each time they reach GO
One person has to pay double luxury tax
You can also try your own privileges and discriminations.
The goal of this activity is to, in a vacuum, show how easy it is to get ahead when you have vast financial resources - and demonstrate how difficult it is to get ahead when privilege isn’t on your side. Monopoly in particular is a good game because it shows how privilege operates in a system. It’s not just that your income is half what it should be - it’s that some people have double income (meaning 4x your income) and some of the properties are already off the market and given for free to someone you may end up paying rent to.
Paper Basket Exercise
The Paper Basket Exercise is a micro way to show how systemic issues affect individuals and how inclusive principles help more people win.
This activity is best with 5-10 people.
To run this activity:
Start with a basket in the middle of the room or against a wall
Give everyone a scrunched up paper ball
Spread people out randomly, regardless of physicality or potential skillset, having some very close to the basket and some far away (keep everyone within 10 feet of the basket but at all different angles)
Explain that getting all the paper balls in the basket is the goal of the game. It’s not an individual game, but a team sport. The only problem - no one is allowed to help anyone else
Everyone has one shot to throw the paper ball in the basket without moving from their spot
Count how many balls get in the basket, noting who succeeded and who didn’t
People can move out of the way after they take their shot if they are standing right in front of the basket so they don’t block others others. Or, choose to play where people aren’t allowed to move in order to show how privilege for one can manifest itself as a negative thing for others.
After the activity, ask people how they felt. See if some people felt fine or if some people felt they needed more tries or wanted to be closer to the basket. See if anyone thought they were too close and wanted to move farther away for a better challenge.
Remind people - the goal is to get all the balls in the basket. This is a team of individual contributors working towards a common goals.
Then give everyone 2 minutes to “coach” anyone who failed the first time with ideas, tips, and tricks for them to get the ball in the basket from where they stand - no moving yet!
Keep everyone in the same positions, but let them try again after talking through their issues and getting coaching from the team. Then re-count how many balls get in, noting who succeeded and who didn’t.
Ask again how people felt - did the coaching help?
Take anyone who failed both times and offer them the chance to move closer to the basket. If they accept, move them no more than half-way closer from where they were (eg if they were 10 feet away, move them to 5 feet away).
Let everyone try again. Hopefully, you got most or all of the balls in the basket.
Part 1 of this activity shows how privilege works. Some people simply don’t have the same resources as others, and that affects their workplace performance.
Part 2 shows how a team of individual contributors can still support and help each other. There’s a common team goal, so everyone succeeds when everyone is more able to complete their task.
Part 3 shows how inclusive actions help the team do more. When someone needed an accommodation, they were (hopefully) more successful. Note that this didn’t take away from anyone else’s ability to be successful - and the team overall got more done with simple tweaks for individuals who needed them.
Additional activities and resources
Activities should focus on humanity, not facts in a vacuum.
Our brains are wired to make shortcuts for easy understanding and many cultures teach individuals to take sole credit for their successes. Making the invisible notion of privilege visible is not about making people feel bad but about giving them ways to see different perspectives.
Diversity and inclusion follows the same principles. There’s no use in making people feel bad about their privileges in life - that usually ends poorly. Instead, offer opportunities to showcase how team efforts make outcomes better for everyone.
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