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The “E” in DEI Requires Empathy: Making a Case for Radical Empathy

One of the biggest challenges for individuals and companies when trying to connect with different groups – whether those are groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, or a variety of other factors – is a lack of genuine understanding of what the shared experiences of those groups. This is one of the key benefits of a diverse organization. An all-white advertising team born and raised in the Midwest would probably struggle to connect with the immigrant Latinx demographic, for example.

Recognizing the Value of Diversity Requires Inclusion—and Empathy

Including diversity within an organization and being inclusive of that diversity helps an organization as a whole better understand these diverse groups. But to what extent does it help individuals within those organizations understand groups they aren’t actually a part of themselves?

That kind of understanding requires empathy, the ability to mentally and emotionally put oneself in the shoes of another.

Cultivating Empathy: Learning to Understand What We Don’t Know

Even in tight-knit, diverse and inclusive teams, empathy doesn’t necessarily flow naturally, and that’s understandable. It’s hard to genuinely empathize with a person or a group without sharing the same experiences.

Enter radical empathy. Radical empathy, as the name suggests, is taking empathy to the next level. It’s moving beyond simply “trying to understand” how someone is feeling and taking active steps towards achieving that.

A Case in Point

A group of 30 CEOs recently went through a series of exercises while blindfolded and without sharing their titles. The goal, through radical empathy, was to help them understand what it feels like to be visually impaired, not to mention to not be a powerful business executive.

“CEOs described the experience as enlightening,” says Nicole Goodkind in an article for Fortune. “By taking away the power of a title or the power of physicality, they were able to consider ideas without prejudgement, listen carefully, and get to know their peers on a deeper level. Many said they’re integrating similar exercises in their own offices.”

Diversity and inclusion are great tools for laying a foundation for developing organizational empathy. But that doesn’t always trickle down to the level of individual empathy. Strategies like radical empathy can provide the additional push needed to drive meaningful empathy at the individual level.

Recommended Reading

Becoming an Inclusive Leader

Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage


Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has inclusion and strategic consulting that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.

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