Equality

Essay

Why the Workplace Needs Better Arguments

Businesses today are increasingly expected to advance inclusive diversity and equity beyond their walls.

  • June 10th 2021

Most organizations recognize the need to promote inclusive diversity and equity (IDE) in their workplaces. The moral and financial benefits are clear. Teams with strong gender, ethnic and cultural diversity tend to be more innovative and attuned to customers’ needs, leading to better performance. Inclusive and equitable workplaces help employees feel valued and respected, resulting in better employee retention, engagement, and satisfaction.

Increasingly, businesses are also expected to advance inclusive diversity and equity beyond their own walls. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, adults in the United States identify racism and economic inequality as big problems in today’s society. With business now the most trusted institution globally – and over 70% of Americans trusting their employer to “do what is right” – businesses are being enlisted to address these and other societal issues. In part, that’s because business is seen as both ethical and competent. But it’s also because the workplace is where colleagues spanning the ideological spectrum come together in common purpose.

What’s tricky is that organizations must maintain and hone their common purpose while navigating increasingly complex landscapes. Businesses must reconcile with contentious debates in which their employees and customers are deeply invested – and by which they’re deeply divided – while being clear about who they are and what they stand for.

At Allstate, we stand committed to leading the change for a more just and equitable society. Getting to that commitment required us to first better understand ourselves, our virtues, and what makes us uniquely credible to advance these issues. It meant tackling tough topics head-on – including how we approached IDE at our own company – and inviting our employees to be part of the process. To do that, we hosted honest conversations across our workforce that didn’t hide from conflict, but instead, constructively confronted it.  

Better Arguments makes that kind of conversation possible for any organization by providing a framework for facilitating difficult and complex conversations in the workplace. The Better Arguments Project, a partnership between the Aspen Institute, Facing History and Ourselves, and Allstate, is a national civic initiative created to bridge divides – not by papering over those divides, but by helping people have Better Arguments. A Better Argument relies on five principles: take winning off the table, prioritize relationships and listen passionately, pay attention to context, embrace vulnerability, and make room to transform.

These five principles provide guardrails for conversations on all sorts of complex topics, including those addressing IDE. By leveraging Better Arguments, businesses can ensure their employees have room to safely share their perspectives while being treated with respect and empathy, no matter their views.

That’s important, because while most employees might agree with their organization’s stance on an issue, some won’t understand it. Some might strongly disagree with it. Living into the principles of Better Arguments helps employees share their perspective on what their organization plans to do and why. It creates environments where employees can feel safe to participate without fear of repercussion. Time and time again, we’ve seen what happens when the Better Argument principles are put into action. They allow people to emerge from their conversations with each other having gained deeper insights and stronger solutions to problems. They foster cultures where employees are encouraged to exchange ideas and connect more deeply with each other. They give organizations a strategic advantage over those that discourage open dialogue. They build stronger communities.

At Allstate, we’ve incorporated many of the principles of Better Arguments into our corporate culture. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer, we brought our workforce together to talk about it. All of it. They were tough conversations, but they were possible because we structured them around the same principles that underpin Better Arguments. The result was illuminating and reaffirming.

That exercise made us certain the right thing for our company was to publicly stand up and speak out in moments where we’re distinctively positioned to advance issues of inclusive diversity and equity. We got to that point by first focusing within. Now, we feel we can make a bigger difference beyond our own walls. We can better meet the public’s expectation that we’ll be a force for good in society.

And we’ll continue to get better as a company by being inclusive and inviting our employees to be part of the process.

Any organization can do the same. It begins with arguing better.

Written by:
Cheryl Harris, Senior Vice President, Sourcing and Procurement Solutions at Allstate
Christy Harris, Senior Vice President, Human Resources at Allstate
Tara Leweling, Vice President, Corporate Brand at Allstate

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