Bystander Intervention Protocol

We all can improve our ability to be an advocate and ally for diversity and inclusion at work. At The Impact Seat, we offer bystander intervention training as part of our manager and champion programs to advance this agenda.

We can learn to identify and understand our individual roles in systems, practices, and behavior that promote and impede inclusion - for example- in how job interviews are conducted, meetings are run, or promotions considered. In our experience, many people want to do the right thing, but lack the know-how to deliver.

This is particularly true in those uncomfortable moments when someone else, in front of us, does or says something that we know is inappropriate from an inclusion perspective. It's those moments when you wonder, "Did that just happen? Did they really say (or do) that?" Too often we're caught off-guard at such times; we're not ready with an adequate response. The moment passes and we question, "What should I have done?" We're left no better equipped to respond effectively next time.

Knowing what to do in these sticky situations at work where you likely share a continuing future with the other people in the interaction requires a thoughtful and measured response. There isn't a "one size fits all" answer except that preparing a mental model of productive responses as an interactive bystander will better equip you to move forward.

In general, to be effective, an active diversity and inclusion bystander needs to park their personal, and perhaps emotional response in favor of managing the situation in which they find themselves. Effective responders don't assume the role of judge, hero, or rescuer but rather questioner, mediator, and supporter. Taking action as a bystander shows leadership, can decrease the costs experienced by the person denigrated while reinforcing cultural norms, legal prescriptions, and organizational rules related to respect and inclusion.

There are a number of protocol strategies for active bystanders that address different scenarios. Sometimes a simple, "What was that you said?" packs enough punch for the speaker to realize their misstep. Other times, a report to the company's legal authority is required. Having a model handy to diagnose and act can move an organization forward at critical moments.


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