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Icebreaker for diversity workshop


I am currently putting together a one day workshop on diversity for a group of high fliers in the civil service. I really want the day to start with a bang and am looking for a though-provoking, stimulating icebreaker to kick off with. Any suggestions would be very welcome, along with any other thoughts people have.

Thank you and a Happy New Year.
Jennifer James

9 Responses

  1. Diversity
    Hi Jennifer. A while back we delivered half day diversity workshops. Not sure if suggestions are at level you are looking for but here goes.

    The first thing we did was for delegates to discuss what their name meant to them. Some people really value their name and it means a great deal to them. Others attribute little value.

    Another interesting exercise involved getting loads of post it notes and on each writing down an issue of diversity. This could also be ‘why people are discriminated against’ ie tattooed, facial disfigurement, smoker etc. They should then be grouped together and discussed. This activity gets delegates thinking about their own discrimination issues straight away – other than the obvious ones legislated against.

    Hope that is of help

  2. Cultural identity
    Hi Jennifer,

    Something that works for me is to simply ask each participant what they consider their culture to be (without prompting).

    Mostly, white English people have enormous difficulty with this question and cite, at most, nationality and language, although they tend to be unclear about differences in Englishness and Britishness.

    This tends to stand in contrast to Scots, Welsh or Irish participants, or more so, people from minority ethnic groups who usuallly have little difficulty understanding and answering the question. Typically, food, family values, religion, aspirations are cited.

    This sets the scene for immediate discussion, on why this is (or not) a difficult issue and why cultural identity may me more important to some than others (linking to ideas of dominance and hierachy). Further it opens up the very notion of group identity and challenges participants to consider, for example deaf culture and gay and lesbian culture.

    This exercise is useful in very rapidly focussing participants and thinking about their personal position on some of key issues.

  3. Icebreaker
    Commonalities (ideal for workshops such as ‘induction’, ‘team building’, ‘diversity’)
    Ask learners to form teams of 2-6.
    The challenge is for teams to generate as many things they have in common as possible within a 3-minute time limit (ie people couldn’t guess by looking at them). Let teams know that commonalities such as ‘we are all in training today’ will not be counted.
    After 3-minutes, ask each team to say how many commonalities they found. The winning team is the one that find the most.
    Ask the winning team to share their commonalities.
    Change ‘things in common’ to ‘uniqueness’ eg a uniqueness might be if only one person in the team has bungee jumped. If 2 people have done this, it is not a uniqueness.

    Tie this into their workshop eg with an induction workshop, you could tie in by saying “although you feel a little lost in your new environment, you have more in common with the people around you than you may think”, with diversity use the uniqueness and say “even with all our uniqueness we can still work together and share ideas yet still hold on to what makes us ‘us'”.

  4. Diversity Icebreaker
    One I use for similar sessions is to get all delegates to draw pitures on a sheet of flipchart paper to “illustrate” their name (or that of a loved one if everyone knows each other’s name!). The others then have to work out what the name is. I find it really useful for introducing the concept of cultural interpretation. I normally finish it by doing my name in French sign language (the easiest to use). Of course, none of the delegates ever get it – I then put a PP slide up with the whole alphabet and let the delegates sign their own names to the rest of the group.

  5. Diversity
    Jennifer, we are launching a diversity forum in our area of the civil service, and attended a really good workshop with some great icebreakers using pictures. Am happy to send copies / discuss outcomes and issues if you want to get in touch,

  6. A combination ice-breaker/first session
    This isn’t quick but it’s well worth the time it takes.

    Preparation – make up a series of questions, relevant to the subject that will focus minds and spark discussion. There should be the same number of questions as participants. Give each question a number and write it on a strip of paper. Fold each question strip and put it into a ‘hat’. Then, prepare a sheet of flipchart paper for each participant, with their name at the top and a list of numbers equating to the questions down the left hand side. Stick the flipcharts on the walls around the room.

    Exercise – each participant draws a question from the ‘hat’, collects a flipchart pen, then works the room, exchanging names [which takes care of the introductions], asking everyone the question [and answering other participants’ questions], then writing up the answers each participant gives on that person’s flipchart. The group then reads the flipcharts and the facilitator uses the content to generate a discussion that gives a focus to the rest of the course.

    Benefits – people have to move around, which raises energy levels. Also, even though the questions require people to offer information about themselves, it’s not in a self-conscious ‘tell the group something about yourself’ way. And careful choice of questions by the facilitator gives an opportunity to raise important issues and make a huge difference to the way the rest of the course goes. Finally, during the session, the facilitator can be reading what’s going up on the flipcharts, getting a useful insight into each course participant.

    Note – I prepare a flip chart for me too so that participants can ask me their question but I don’t participate in asking the questions [apart from reading what’s going up on the flipcharts I like to focus on keeping people mingling and the process flowing].

  7. Diversity Icebreaker

    Hi Jennifer

    I have the solution:) We use a tool for such outcomes / events entitled ‘Diversity Icebreaker’. Actually developed by a Norwegian, it’s a quick and easy group facilitation tool which energises, and motivates individuals to consider themselves, others and the importance of appreciating and leveraging diversity.

    Please get in touch if you would like more info: [email protected]


  8. Diversity workshop

    Hi Jennifer and All,

    It’s been 6 years since Jennifer posted this question. Interestingly, I am in the exact the same situation right now. I live in Germany and I have been asked to facilitate a 1,5 day diversity management workshop with the employer of civil services. I have never done that. I have just done few trainings and I mainly coach one on one.

    Jennifer, how did your workshop go at that time? Do you have any suggestions for me, too?

    You can also email me your suggestions at [email protected]

    I would very much appreciate your comments.






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