Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are vital components of an effective workplace and are necessary for any business’s success.
When implemented correctly, these pillars can lead to increased productivity, improved customer service, and a more robust bottom line (McKinsey and Company report – Delivering through Diversity).
Here are some tips for implementing DEI in the call center environment.
- Educate Employees on DEI. The first step towards creating an inclusive and equitable call center environment is to educate employees on their importance. This will help them to understand the value of DEI and how they can contribute to a thriving working environment.
- Hire a Diverse Workforce. It is crucial to hire a workforce that reflects the diversity of the customer base. It allows employees to better identify with customers and ensures that all customers are treated equally, and their unique perspectives are valued.
- Create an Inclusive Environment. Created by implementing policies and procedures that encourage employees to be open and honest with one another, to speak up when they notice inequities in the workplace, and to recognize and celebrate the contributions of each employee.
- Create a Supportive Working Environment. Provide equal opportunities for all employees, appropriate resources for employees to use for their development and growth and create a safe and supportive environment where employees can feel comfortable discussing workplace challenges.
- Promote Open Communication. Ensure any issues or problems that may arise can be addressed constructively and effectively.
Since I’m a call center trainer, and if you would like to incorporate DEI training into your onboarding training or train exiting agents, here are a few talking points to include in your presentation slide deck or discussion.
Search Within Ourselves and Our Environment
Taking the time to reflect on our biases, values, beliefs, experiences, and privileges helps us gain insight into how our actions affect our environment and those around us. It is essential to engage in self-reflection to understand better our place in the world and the implications of our decisions.
You can create an exercise where trainees write down the names of either their close friends or role models. Let the trainee determine what differences they have between the person listed and themselves according to age group, race, religion, and marital status, to name a few.
This exercise allows the trainee to search within themselves for their level of diversity and experiences. You could also have the class take the test provided by the Implicit Project, and again this is for their introspection.
Taking the time to reflect on our biases, values, beliefs, experiences, and privileges helps us gain insight into how our actions affect our environment and those around us.
Learn More About Ourselves and Others
DEI training should allow us to understand better the complexities of different races, genders, abilities, and orientations. For example, understanding how different genders identify and express themselves can help us develop better respect for one another. Similarly, understanding different abilities and orientations can help us become more open-minded and understand others.
Additionally, DEI training should allow us to become more aware of different cultures, religions, and languages. For instance, learning about other religions can help us understand and respect different beliefs and practices.
Similarly, learning more about different cultures can help us to appreciate the unique values, customs, and lifestyles that exist across the globe. By learning more about these and other facets of the human experience, we can become better equipped to appreciate and accept diversity.
Moreover, DEI training should allow us to understand ourselves and our backgrounds better. By learning more about our identities, backgrounds, and experiences, we can better appreciate and understand the perspectives of others. This, in turn, can help us foster a more inclusive and tolerant society.
Step Outside Our Bubble
Being able to step outside of our own experiences allows us to consider how our actions and words may affect those around us, even if we don’t always agree with them.
It can also help us to recognize the broader societal implications of our actions, such as how our decisions may impact different people of different backgrounds.
Additionally, understanding the perspectives of others can help us to identify our own biases and be more conscious of how our experiences may limit our ability to be inclusive and equitable.
The first step in understanding and appreciating the perspectives of others is to be open and honest about our own experiences and perspectives.
We should be willing to share our experiences, even if they differ from those of others. We should also be open to learning and understanding different perspectives, even if they may be challenging to accept. This can be done through dialog and discussion, as well as by reading books, articles, and other resources that provide different perspectives.
One way to practice stepping outside our own experiences is to engage in exercises that allow us to explore different perspectives. One such activity is to create a “perspective map” – a visual representation of different perspectives on a particular issue or topic. The exercise can help us identify our biases and how others may view the same situation differently.
A crucial part of DEI training is understanding and appreciating the perspectives of others. Learning how to step outside our own experiences and think about how others may view the same situation differently is essential.
Another way to practice stepping outside our experiences is to engage in role-playing activities. This can help us better understand how others perceive a situation differently by putting ourselves in their shoes. Role-playing activities can also allow us to recognize our biases and challenge them.
Survey the Playing Field
It’s essential to evaluate the effectiveness of current DEI policies and practices.
- Are existing policies and procedures encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace, or are they creating obstacles and roadblocks preventing staff from achieving their full potential?
- Are there any gaps in the existing DEI policies that could be causing certain groups to feel excluded or underrepresented?
DEI training should include an evaluation of the overall culture at the call center.
- Are staff members feeling respected and appreciated despite their differences in culture, race, gender, orientation, or beliefs?
- Are there any instances where staff members may feel discriminated against or treated unfairly?
In addition to evaluating our environment, ask trainees to review their behaviors and attitudes toward others.
- Are we treating everyone with respect and dignity?
- Are we actively trying to be inclusive in our words and actions?
DEI: A Personal Account
My first job in the U.S., after arriving from India in 2007, and rocking a nice island tan, was working at Kmart. After two or three hours of sitting in a room and watching a few videos, I was on the floor helping customers and stacking shelves with cheese and dairy.
Since I was new to the store and the country, I tried to talk to colleagues and department leaders but constantly received the cold shoulder.
A month passed, and I felt like a fish out of water. Then one day, while helping the produce manager, she turned around and told me that she was scared to talk to me because she thought I would put a bomb under her car. Based on the color of my skin and hair and my accent, I was labeled a terrorist. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t sure how to respond other than with the sound of silence.
The next day, folks at the store started opening up to me, joking around, inviting me to join their discussion groups, and asking me if I would like to help them with tasks.
I work at the local NafNaf restaurant near my home on the weekends, which has been quite an eye-opening experience.
The work can be physically demanding compared to my desk job at the call center. And the culture in retail and restaurants doesn’t encourage employees to help each other out, such as cleaning up a spill for someone else, washing someone else’s dishes, or jumping on the line to help customers.
At the Kmart the produce manager’s attitude toward me changed when I began helping her with her duties; I was never told to do so but just did. She greatly influenced the store, and I believe she changed the employee’s attitudes.
It’s easy to think that discrimination only happens in person, but unfortunately, it can also occur in a call center setting. Whether it’s because of race, gender, religion, or any other factor, some callers and agents alike tend to discriminate against specific individuals.
This kind of discrimination can have a very negative impact on the customer service experience: and on the reputation of the contact center. Not only will it make the customer uncomfortable, but it can also lead to a bad customer experience.
I recall an agent on my team asking me to take over the call, I asked the agent why, and she responded that she couldn’t understand what the caller was saying.
I then asked the agent if the caller spoke a different language, and she replied, “no.” She then asked if she could disconnect the call. I wondered if the caller was using inappropriate language, and she said no again. I was confused but wanted to help the agent, so I picked up my phone and dialed her extension to listen to the conversation.
The caller spoke in English but didn’t have an American accent. The agent paid more attention to the caller’s accent and not what he was saying.
I told the agent that I would walk her through the call, asked her to be patient, and then politely requested the caller to slow down so she could help him.
Next, I asked her to pay attention to the words, and finally, if she didn’t understand something, paraphrase or summarize the request and ask clarifying questions.
If I didn’t step in, two things would have been lost: one, the opportunity to help the caller, and two, a teaching moment to enable the agent to improve the future conversation.
Did you know that accent discrimination falls under language-related discrimination in the U.S., protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
You may be wondering how does accent discrimination fall under language-related discrimination. Language is more than just how we speak - it is a part of our identity and makes us unique.
For immigrants like me, changing our accents to fit in can be a challenging decision to make. We change the pronunciation of words and give up the stories of our roots and backgrounds that our accents carry.
Excluding people and mocking them because of their accents reflects the prejudices and biases that exist in our society, which dictate that certain accents are not acceptable in certain places. It is time to break down these walls and embrace the beauty of language diversity.
Be Accountable for Our Actions
Asking trainees to follow through with our DEI commitments is vital. Are we holding ourselves accountable and actively engaging in practices and policies that promote diversity and inclusion?
This training aims to equip our agents with an understanding of inequality and its implications, causes, and how it can be addressed.
We can train our agents to be mindful of DEI. Still, we all know that the customers calling in may say some horrific things just out of spite.
Are we holding ourselves accountable and actively engaging in practices and policies that promote diversity and inclusion?
I recall an event when one of my agents felt the wrath of a disgruntled caller. The call started like a typical call. The agent asked for the caller’s details and then authenticated the call. The caller wanted to know about a medical claim denial.
The agent informed the caller about the reason for the denial and how to fix it, and the caller burst out with racial slurs, one after the other.
When the caller took a pause, the agent calmly told the caller that due to the inappropriate language, she would be disconnecting the call, provided the call center’s hours of operation, and then disconnected.
Our call center has a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior, but I wanted to follow up with the agent. She said that she understood that the caller didn’t like the response and then chose to react inappropriately. The agent decided not to take it personally, but she was not prepared to be insulted for doing her job and doing it right.
The agent said she remembered, “Stop and Think.” She also had it as a sticky note on her monitor. She said that it reminds her that we can’t choose the situation we’re in, but we can choose how we react to it and determine if we respond in the same manner, would it make the situation better or worse?
I found that note quite moving and decided to pin it up at every agent’s desk when we were in the office, as I believed that other agents could benefit from her wisdom. Several agents took that poster home when we moved to a remote work environment.
Provide Sensitivity Training
Effective communication is key to providing callers with the best customer service experience. Sensitivity training for agents can help ensure that callers with disabilities are treated with respect and understanding.
This training can provide agents with the tools and knowledge to better handle calls from people with disabilities, helping to create a better customer service experience for agents and callers.
I remember a few years ago when the workforce management (WFM) supervisor reached out to me and asked why Hoosier Care Connect (HCC) calls take so long for agents to complete. HCC is an Indiana Medicaid program for individuals aged 65 years and older, visually impaired or with other disabilities, and who are also not eligible for Medicare.
I told the supervisor that calls from this line would take a while to complete because agents need to be patient with the callers.
Agents need to slow down and ask callers if they need assistance to help them get the most out of the interactions. Like going slower or using specific phrases such as “go ahead” to allow the interpreter to speak. Or letting the agent know that it’s their turn to talk because they are using a teletypewriter (TTY) line or American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.
The WFM supervisor was reaching out to me because when I joined the company, I was given the 500-page Statement of Works (SOW) for the HCC program and asked to develop training within a month or so.
My experience taking calls with a similar managed care program helped me develop training for the program.
As part of the training for HCC, I added a separate presentation that was more interactive on sensitivity training. I was never asked to do it, but I knew it would benefit the agents taking calls on this phone line. Training that I wished was part of my orientation training when I took calls at my previous call center position, but which I learned from the school of hard knocks.
I incorporated the sensitivity training because I recall agents in my previous call center position feeling uncomfortable. I noticed they weren’t sure how to proceed with a call where the caller was using a relay service. They would resort to raising their voice on an ASL interpreter call or spelling out their words on a TTY line, none of which was required.
After agents completed the training, they had different outlooks because they understood the challenges that people with disabilities face. It helped them interact with customers respectfully by avoiding offensive language and asking the callers for help when they weren’t sure what words were appropriate, to name a few.
As a business leader today, you likely understand the importance of having a diverse workforce. A diverse workforce allows for a greater range of perspectives and ideas, which can benefit your business and your customers.
However, understanding the importance of diversity and implementing it into your business can be very different.
A diverse workforce can be crucial to running a thriving call center. One of the best ways to hire a diverse workforce for your call center is to reach out to diverse networks and organizations. This can include business associations, educational institutions, and other organizations focusing on diversity and inclusion.
By connecting with these networks and organizations, you can learn more about the different groups of individuals that are qualified for your job openings. Additionally, you can use these networks and organizations to find job candidates with the necessary skills and qualifications for your call center positions.
When looking for a diverse workforce for your call center, focus on specific skills and qualifications. This can include knowledge of various languages, familiarity with different cultures and customs, and good customer service skills.
To avoid biases creeping in, consider substituting the candidate’s name with a serial number. Also, remove instances where the name of the school or university is mentioned, but include sufficient information to indicate that the candidate is working on a degree or completed education.
A diverse workforce allows for a greater range of perspectives and ideas...
Finally, remember to ensure that all your job postings are listed in a way that is inclusive and non-discriminatory. This includes avoiding language that could be interpreted as insensitive or discriminatory.
When we had an open house at a previous call center position, a colleague asked me for my opinion on whether a candidate would be a good fit. He said they met the educational and professional criteria, but he had doubts because the candidate was pregnant.
I explained that if the candidate hadn’t mentioned their pregnancy, it was wrong to make assumptions and that they should move to the background check process.
I also pointed out that if the candidate is pregnant, we must understand their need for time off for delivery and doctor appointments. If these requests are made in a timely manner, with sufficient advance notice, then they can be approved.
We all have our individual biases and prejudices. Still, it is essential to remember that during the hiring process, we should strive to remove these tendencies and ensure that we make decisions based solely on the individual’s qualifications and suitability for the role. By doing so, we can ensure that the most qualified and suitable person is chosen for the job, regardless of personal biases or prejudices.
Creating a workplace that is inclusive and equitable starts with the leader. Leaders can make a positive difference in their organization by connecting with their agents on an emotional level. Through this connection, agents can trust their leader and feel a sense of belonging.
We must understand that agents have unique needs, feelings, and experiences. We can create an environment that fosters equality and inclusion by taking the time to get to know each agent and understand their needs. Doing this can help create a safe space where agents can openly express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or retribution.
Education is key to removing inequalities and promoting positive change, and I believe it is an essential part of a successful DEI plan rollout.
Furthermore, we must ensure that any differences in opinion are respected and discussed openly and respectfully. We should also be open to suggestions and ideas from our agents and take the time to listen to their concerns and thoughts.
Leaders should also strive to ensure that their agents are treated fairly and equitably. This includes providing equitable pay, benefits, and other rewards. Leaders should be aware of and address any instances of discrimination or unfairness in the workplace.
I’ve only scratched the surface regarding implementing a successful DEI plan rollout within your center, but I hope these points can help you drive meaningful and lasting change for the people you serve.
Education is key to removing inequalities and promoting positive change, and I believe it is an essential part of a successful DEI plan rollout. By taking these steps, you can create an inclusive and equitable environment that will benefit everyone at your center.
Avoiding Conscious Recruiting Bias
DEI hiring is important because it contributes to developing a more just and equitable workplace.
Businesses that prioritize DEI in the hiring process are more likely to have an employee base that reflects the diversity of their clientele and the areas in which they conduct business. As a result, there may be an increase in employee creativity and productivity and better connections with clients and other stakeholders.
However, there are numerous ways for businesses to inadvertently or consciously create bias when recruiting. For instance, organizations could have unconscious biases that cause them to favor some candidates over others. They might also have policies or procedures that disproportionately exclude particular racial or ethnic groups.
Companies can take several actions to avoid making these errors. One crucial step is to thoroughly examine their current recruiting policies to find any instances where they might be unintentionally discriminatory. This may entail checking that all job postings, interview questions, and other materials are inclusive and unbiased.
The creation of a diversified recruiting team is a further crucial step. This can include individuals of various sexes, races, ages, sexual orientations, and other characteristics. This group can contribute to making sure that all applicants receive a fair and equal hiring process.
Companies can also foster an inclusive culture within their company. The CEO and leadership group must support this from the top down. This includes creating employee resource groups, training on DEI, flexible policies, and accommodations for all to ensure that everyone in the organization feels valued and respected.
Finally, businesses can assess and monitor their hiring of DEI candidates. It can involve gathering information about the demographics of their staff and defining long-term objectives for increasing diversity. This information can be used to determine which measures are effective and which are not.
Overall, DEI hiring is important because it can lead to a more equitable and just workplace. By avoiding discrimination and creating an inclusive culture, companies can ensure that they are hiring the best candidates for the job, regardless of their background.
--Simon Dealy, CEO, HIRE Technologies