The Role of Mediation in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

I recently took an advanced mediation training with Ken Cloke, who has a completely different way of understanding the most basic concepts in conflict resolution, including:

  • what conflict is,
  • what mediation is, 
  • what the role of the mediator is, 
  • what the dangers and limits are, 
  • what is really going on below the surface in any conflict, 
  • what has to happen to get to a resolution and be able to move on. 

As a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) practitioner, I have been interested in conflict resolution when social identities, cultural differences, and structural power inequities come to play a role. And as I shared in the past, I have witnessed how conflict avoidance serves the status quo and works against achieving inclusion and belonging. 

But most of us are conditioned to avoid conflict, especially in the workplace and especially on sensitive issues like DEIB strategies. This is one of the reasons (another big one is the lack of serious financial support) the way DEIB is practiced in organizations is sometimes shallow and leaves employees feeling frustrated, disillusioned, and divided. 

Mediation, as taught by Ken Cloke, is an opportunity to transform how we advance DEIB because it requires us to investigate and identify the roots of the issues. There is no avoidance and no checking the box. In addition, at its core, mediation is about understanding the deeper needs of individuals and collaborating to meet them. 

So, let’s start with the basics.

What is Mediation? 

“In essence, mediation is an informal problem-solving conversation facilitated by an experienced third party who is outside the problem. 

It is a voluntary, consensus-based approach that uses tools like:

  • facilitated communication, 
  • emotional processing, 
  • creative problem-solving, 
  • collaborative negotiation, 
  • brainstorming, 
  • impasse resolution, 
  • heart-to-heart communication, and 
  • similar techniques.

The goal is to bring conflicting parties into constructive and creative dialogue.”

What Are The Alternatives to Mediation?

The alternatives to mediation are (1) Violence and (2) Litigation and Arbitration

  1. Violence leads to a win-lose and power-based solution, which means whoever has more power/strength wins.
  2. Litigation or Arbitration leads to a win-lose and right-based solution, right-based meaning that the solution is imposed by the legal system, which in our democracies is a representation of the power of the state.

The difference between mediation and its two alternatives is around power, collaboration, and the world of possible: with violence, litigation, or arbitration, the solution isn’t fully collaborative or fully voluntary, and it requires a loser and a winner.

Mediation, on the other hand, leads to a solution that is fully voluntary and collaborative. It has to really be in the best interests of both parties in order for them to come to an agreement. 

Now, Why a Third Party? 

But most of us, most of the time, have no idea what is actually going on with our bodies, our nervous systems, or our emotions. I have facilitated discussions on equity, intersectionality, or privilege where folks reacted negatively without being able to explain why.  

Hence, the mediator is key.  

Their role is to go beyond and below what is first said and understand what is actually going on in the conflict. What the conflict is really about. What the needs being expressed in the conflict really are. And once identified, build an Empathetic Roadmap, so both parties can work together to create a solution that meets everyone’s needs and a new situation where everyone feels treated fairly and with dignity. 

And isn’t it what we want to achieve in DEIB?