Diversity awareness trainers often use ice breaker activities to warm up their audiences at the outset of a program. These exercises help co-workers get to know each other, in addition to infusing some laughter and fun. Ice breakers can also pull the audience into diversity subjects that sometimes feel taboo, such as talking about stereotypes and discrimination. One ground rule for using these conversation starters is to ensure everyone feels included. This is critical so that employees are assured that it's all right to offer blunt opinions on an important subject.
An easy method of getting participants to introduce themselves is to ask each employee to write one detail about herself on an index card. This information should be something her peers probably don't know about her, such as a hobby or interesting feature about her background. Each person folds the card and places it in a basket. The facilitator reads each card aloud, as the audience tries to match each detail with the correct person. Another version of this opening activity is to ask each participant to list three points about herself on a card but to have one of those items be inaccurate. Audience members have to guess which detail is the made-up item.
Another ice breaker encourages co-workers to recognize and appreciate the characteristics they have in common, as well as the special qualities that make them different. Each group takes a sheet of flip chart paper and draws a flower that has a center circle, as well as one petal for each team member. In the flower's center, the groups lists some of the commonalities they share. Each participant fills in her petal with descriptions that set her apart from her peers. The facilitator asks her audience to talk about any challenges they felt in talking aloud about similarities and differences in people.
Openness and candor are important cornerstones to organizational efforts to promote a culture of inclusion. The Safe Schools Coalition suggests that diversity trainers use some common misnomers as a way to initiate frank conversations in a diversity awareness class. For example, the class facilitator might describe a scenario in which a male supervisor wants a minority female to participate on a committee, thinking that this role would give her visibility. Instead, that same woman might feel the invitation is mere tokenism if she is the only woman of color in the company. In another set-up, a hiring manager might comment that having a minority candidate fail in a new job could be perceived as a setback for that person’s race, gender or other demographic group. Yet, those same concerns usually are not directed at white employment candidates. The bluntness of this ice breaker activity encourages employees to look at common assumptions through someone else’s vantage point.
Diversity programs sometimes can be as divisive as the social attitudes that they are designed to dismantle. Some demographic groups – such as white males – might feel excluded. Other employees may express worries that groups are being promoted, not individuals. Some workers might wholeheartedly support hiring policies directed toward creating a melting pot environment, while others could believe there's no value in building a diverse culture. A training facilitator can use these topics to inspire open dialogue among employees to gauge whether they see a climate of fairness within their own organization.