She had booked a room for 80 people, but about 120 showed up; apparently many hadn’t thought to RSVP.
That alone might have unnerved some facilitators, but Fiona Grant was used to engaging groups like this one on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and opening with questions that some might find hard to ask.
The participants, members of a trade association, “were primed, so they weren’t too shocked,” says Grant, principal for leadership development for the Silverene Group and a 2020 recipient of Georgetown University’s Certificate in Facilitation. “The question that was most shocking was, ‘Would you feel safe walking through a rural, white town?’”
The participants voted, literally, with their feet, and immediately the room divided in an unsettling but perhaps predictable way.
“The Black people stood on one side of the room,” Grant says, “and 98 percent of the room [the white cohort] was on the other side.”
By the time Grant entered the Facilitation program, the former HR director for Accenture was experienced in leadership coaching and global human resources. But in a field that concerns itself with people’s ambitions, biases, hopes, and fears, there is always more to learn.
“It’s an excellent program. I learned a tremendous amount,” says Grant, who also earned a Certificate in Leadership Coaching from Georgetown in 2017. “And I use the material that we learned absolutely weekly.”
In the end, that overcrowded session with the trade group was a success. Later in the workshop, Grant asked if anyone had felt they could not answer any of the questions honestly, and one woman spoke up.
“You know, I wasn’t sure how to answer one,” she said. “But now I know, by the end of the session, that I could have answered differently. It would have been fine.”
“So there was a lot of trust built up in the session,” Grant says. “That trust may lead to new conversations and possibilities.”