Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Archive for June, 2012

Teaching Students About Diversity

by Leah Smiley

As schools are seeing more students of color in the classroom, they must begin to think critically about educational reform and ensuring that all students achieve greatness, regardless of their individual differences. It is my proposition that educational reform, then, includes offering curriculum and instruction with:

1. Accurate examples of diverse contributions to U.S. History

2. Opportunities for students to learn more about inspirational diverse role models

3. Positive reinforcement pertaining to experiences with individuals who are different

So why do teachers claim to instruct students in this area of diversity using examples of slavery, rap music, and sports? I’ll tell you why– because they don’t know any better. They watch too much TV; read too many online blogs about people of color robbing, stealing and doing drugs; and they listen to other teachers who have biases. This results in teachers “stereotyping” the black experience.

That’s right, I said it: stereotyping. Stereotyping is so much easier than doing a little work to distinguish facts from fiction. As an example, in 2011 there were a few hundred blacks that became successful rappers or athletes– just a few hundred. On the contrary, according to the Small Business Administration, as of 2011, there are over 2 million black owned businesses. In a population of 40 million plus, isn’t it more likely that a black person would be a business owner, than a rapper or athlete?

Additionally, the unemployment rate for blacks is 11% (according to the Department of Labor)– which of course is much higher than other groups, but that leaves the question: what about the other 89% of people?

African Americans are commonly linked to welfare, public assistance and poverty. But the reality is that roughly 25% of the population lives below poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This figure could be caused by a number of factors including, unemployment; underemployment (where you have a job, but don’t make enough to support your family); and bad choices resulting in prison records from illegal activities. But that still means that 75% of the population is not in poverty. Here are some other facts:

– Washington, DC, which is affectionately called Chocolate City because there are so many black folks, has the highest personal income per capita in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

-Queens County, New York is the only county with a population of 65,000 or more where African Americans have a higher median household income than White Americans. Nevertheless, there are dozens of cities and suburbs around the country with affluent and highly educated blacks, such as Atlanta, GA; Prince Georges County, MD; Willingboro, NJ; and more.

I bring these facts up because it is necessary to educate our students about these issues so that they are not under the assumption that what they read online and see on TV is true. Instead, teachers should instruct students to question images that are in the media or that they learned from their parents. Not only does this build a critical skill that is invaluable in the business world, but it helps them to view individuals who are diverse as individuals.

Furthermore, if teachers do a little more research, they may find out that their self-fulfilling prophecy (or notion that diverse parents don’t care about education), is also a stereotypical myth. Perhaps if YOU changed your mind, you would get better results in the area of parental participation– and you just may get some help in teaching students about diversity.

Why Obama’s New Immigration Policy is a Win-Win for All Americans

By Leah Smiley

Today President Obama announced that his administration will stop deporting younger immigrants. Undocumented immigrants who come to the United States under the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years can apply for the Dream Act (often called DREAMers), to stay in the United States without fear of deportation, so long as they are under the age of 30. They also must be either an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or armed forces, or a student who has graduated from high school or obtained a GED. Immigrants will not be eligible if they “post a threat to national security or public safety,” including having been convicted of a felony, a “significant” misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors.

This policy change is not only a win for the Latino community, which is the largest source of undocumented immigrants, but it is also a huge victory for all Americans. Here’s why:

  • Immigrants Create Jobs

Immigrants can start businesses that will drive tax revenue and job creation for local residents.  The U.S. Census Bureau and Minority Business Development Agency report that the number of Hispanic-owned firms increased by nearly 44 percent between 2002 and 2007 from 1.6 million businesses to 2.3 million. Employment at Hispanic-owned firms also grew by 26 percent from 1.5 million to 1.9 million workers, a growth rate significantly higher than that of non-minority-owned firms.

While folks are looking at the number of jobs leaving the country, why not look at the number of jobs coming into the U.S. through immigrant and Latino-owned businesses. This type of data builds the case for young, talented individuals to come into the U.S. and help us rebuild our economy and local communities.

  • Immigrants Are a Vibrant Source of Migrant Workers

The United Nations defines a migrant worker broadly as “any people working outside of their home country”. Nations around the world, including the U.S., have used migrant workers to augment labor shortages in seasonal industries, such as agriculture; supply cheap labor to small and family-owned businesses; and stimulate local economic development.

When the Federal government cracks down on businesses that employ a percentage of illegal immigrants, guess what? American citizens lose their jobs too when these companies close. Again, Obama’s new policy will create opportunities for everyone—not just the immigrants, but also the businesses that employ these individuals, the company’s suppliers, and the American workers who support these entities.

  • The U.S. Can Save Money on Enforcement

In every group, there are good and bad elements. I think we need to distinguish between the two when we discuss immigration. Not all immigrants are bad for the U.S. They are NOT all on food stamps, increasing healthcare and education costs, and committing crimes. There are many hard working immigrants, who are committed to creating a better life for themselves and their families.  These individual’s dreams are in line with the vision that America’s founders had for this country.

Therefore, instead of spending thousands of dollars deporting low-risk immigrants who are contributing to employers, communities, and their families, the U.S. must focus on individuals that pose a threat to national security and those who have criminal intents. This is where enforcement dollars would create the most value.

  • The U.S. Can Plan for the Future

Let’s face it—our population is not getting any younger. We have a crisis because Baby Boomers and Veterans have been living longer and in order to maintain their standard of living, they have been working longer too. These aging workers are competing with Millennials and Generation I for jobs. But guess what, sooner or later, the Baby Boomers and Veterans will leave the workforce—not maybe, not should, but WILL.  And this will create a labor shortage like never before.

Additionally, as some Baby Boomers and Veterans retire for good, we will need legal workers who are contributing to the tax base to support social welfare, via Medicare and Social Security. It’s easy to say, “let’s get rid of these programs”, until you have a parent that retires and you have to support them, or you retire yourself. Likewise, healthcare is expensive and Medicare plays a vital role in helping seniors pay for age-related health issues. We need these programs, but we also need more taxpayer contributions.

Our focus on short-term employment challenges is nothing compared to the great, inevitable future that is in store for America. Let’s get behind the President and support a policy that has long-term potential impact and benefits for all Americans.

A Strategy of Diversity

By Leah Smiley

Strategic management is an ongoing process that provides overall direction to an enterprise and enables an organization to achieve its long-term goals. It consists of a range of activities from business planning and decision making, to business unit integration and policy, to communications and evaluation.


Peter Drucker was an influential pioneer and one of my favorite strategic management theorists. He made many important contributions to strategic management, but two are particularly notable. First, Mr. Drucker stressed the importance of objectives. An organization without clear objectives is like a ship without a rudder. Second, Mr. Drucker foresaw the importance of what would soon be called “intellectual capital”.  He predicted the rise of what he called the “knowledge worker” and explained the consequences of this for management. He said that knowledge work is non-hierarchical. Work would be carried out in teams with the person most knowledgeable in the task at hand being the temporary leader.


Now, in order for these groups to be successful, innovation, valuing differences in conflict, communication, and team building are all extremely useful. The value of these diversity skills cannot be overestimated, especially in an organization’s efforts to fulfill or exceed its goals. Additionally, in respect to gaining market share (or increasing donations, or enrolling more students), having a business strategy that incorporates diversity allows an organization to take full advantage of global opportunities. This strategy will integrate diversity into all organizational functions including HR, marketing, corporate contributions, procurement, legal, technology, and customer service to name a few.


Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but I can never emphasize enough how important it is to have a formal, written diversity plan.  We plan for retirement, we plan for vacation, we plan for our children’s education—but when it comes to an issue as important as diversity, we take the approach that doing a few programs in accordance to a schedule, constitutes our plan.  There are no measurable tasks, no expected outcomes, and no efforts to align our activities to organizational goals.


In a former life, I used to be a management consultant and prepared business plans for small business owners.  Years later, I can see how those formal plans that I prepared made the difference between success and failure. And that’s what a diversity plan will mean for you as well.  As one wise person once said, “the person who fails to plan, plans to fail.”  But I say, “don’t fail, do everything within your power to be the best you can possibly be.  Create a strategic diversity plan.”

Don’t Let a Hanging Noose “Surprise” You

By Leah Smiley

Every employer hopes it doesn’t happen to them– but workplace nooses are on the rise. Not only is it a workplace distraction– decreasing productivity, fostering division, and breeding fear– but it is also a public relations black eye for your corporate image and your diversity efforts.

Harassment, retaliation for discrimination complaints, and resistance to diversity training, are just some of the reasons why hangman’s nooses have been on the rise.

Within the last 30-days alone, nooses have been founded at the Siemens Plant in New Jersey and the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama, a subsidiary of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). This is the 5th noose found at or near a TVA facility. Some people have insinuated that blacks are hanging the nooses themselves in order to sue their employers. But the mere history of nooses, indicates that blacks are targeted as victims and not perpetrators. Between 1882 and 1920, a black person was lynched every two or three days in the U.S. Hence, blaming a black employee for the symbol of racial hatred and unrest is not advised.

Nooses are intended to be offensive, intimidating, and even funny to some. They are used as a reminder to people of color that if you step out of line, you will face certain punishment, even death. We have seen a decrease in nooses since the 1960’s, but since 2001, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it has filed 30 cases in federal court alleging workplace harassment involving nooses.

The first thing to understand is that finding a noose is NOT an isolated incident. If the employer does not investigate or take swift and appropriate action, the likelihood of finding another noose increases exponentially. This also increases your liability in a discrimination and/or harassment claim.

Second, finding a noose is not limited to workers in the South, or to plants and locker rooms. There are dozens of documented cases where nooses were found in office settings, and cities with lots of diversity. For example, in December 2011, a New York city parks employee hung a black doll at the desk of a co-worker at the Bronx headquarters. A month later, the worker, who hung the noose as a joke, was arrested and suspended without pay. Nevertheless, the affected employee is suing the City.

A noose alone usually isn’t sufficient evidence of employment discrimination; it needs to be accompanied by other racially biased practices to be considered “hate speech” or a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While North Carolina, New York, Louisiana and California passed laws explicitly banning the public display of nooses over the last couple years, these laws also stipulate that there must be an “intent to intimidate.” Additionally, the plaintiff has to demonstrate that the employer didn’t do enough to respond to the problem.

The first line of defense is your offense. Be more proactive in ensuring that workers understand why they are employees in the first place: to help achieve organizational goals. That is the reason for diversity and why each highly qualified person is needed at your place of business. Individual personal views must take a back seat to the common, shared vision. All are valued, and all are necessary. This inclusive approach is not only motivational, but it is also effective in eliminating the perception of bias, unfairness, and inequity.

Nevertheless, if all else fails, employers should launch an immediate investigation into the hanging noose. If an offender is found, whether a supervisor or employee, you must take punitive actions. For example, suspension without pay, demotion, and/or termination will send a strong message that this type of “resistance” or “retaliation” against workers of color will not be tolerated.

You should also redistribute your clearly written policies pertaining to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The policy should include specific examples of unlawful behavior, specify your confidential complaint procedure, guarantee no retaliation, and describe sanctions for offenders.

Finally, you should follow-up to ensure that no further adverse actions are being imposed on the affected groups. For example, if a favorite supervisor was suspended, are other workers taking out their anger and frustration on the victim(s)? If so, you may want to provide training or counseling.

Don’t let a noose “surprise” you. Learn as much as you can about the attitudes and perceptions of your employees– not just in the headquarters, but also in the field offices. A cultural climate audit is a great place to start.

Additionally, you can also take classes, listen to webinars, participate in conferences, and read as much as you can about current diversity challenges and best practices. After all, being “surprised” is not a good excuse for a hanging noose in the workplace.

The 2013 Diversity Certification Exam Schedule is Now Available

The Institute for Diversity Certification, a subsidiary of the Society for Diversity, just posted its testing schedule for the 2013 exam year. Log onto for details or attend a FREE webinar for more information about diversity certification and how it can benefit your career:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
1:30PM – 2:30PM (EST)
“Career Path Choices with Diversity Certification”
FREE – Register at

You can still get certified now if you apply for the September or November 2012 exam windows. The deadline for the September 2012 exam window is July 6th. Apply at

WEBINAR, 6/20: “Reducing the Appearance of Reverse Discrimination & Double Standards”

Do employee perceptions align with the reality of your diversity and inclusion efforts? How do you know that the majority groups don’t view your efforts as reverse discrimination or double standards?

Find out how to distinguish between perceptions of discrimination, reverse discrimination and double standards at a webinar on:

“Reducing the Appearance of Reverse Discrimination & Double Standards”
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
1:00PM – 2:00PM (EST)

Register at

At what point is “the system” unfair?

From college admissions to “equal pay for equal work”, when does fairness become an issue that must be addressed and changed? Aren’t there recognizable signs that indicate “inequity”? And if so, what are they?

I read an article about Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ son getting admitted to UCLA on a full football scholarship. Instead of joy that a young, black football star can aspire for greatness with a 3.75 GPA and gain admittance to a Division I school, there were a lot of cynical reader comments. Many said that he should give the scholarship back because his dad is rich, while others said that he shouldn’t have been admitted to UCLA because he was displacing white students with higher GPA’s. My thought was, “it’s OK for the media to lambast the low achievements of black students, particularly males, but when these individuals make significant accomplishments… something has to be wrong.”

On both sides of the debate is this nagging issue of fairness. However, it is not just in college admissions, but in the workplace also where women and moms are regularly stereotyped, passed up for promotions, and paid less. If you are a male and your wife’s salary was the only income, wouldn’t you want her paid equally for her work? Nonetheless, let’s not assume that men are the only people making compensation decisions…

Further, let’s research all of the kids from wealthy families who gained admittance to college or received scholarships based on their family’s connections. Guess what– there’s a lot of them. Not only did they displace a student with a higher GPA but they also didn’t give the scholarship money back.

(I’m being facetious here…) since working women and moms have such a lack of workplace savvy and commitment, let’s also research all of the female entrepreneurs who started businesses and managed a family—ultimately, making hundreds of millions of dollars.

These are just two examples of many. And maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I think the restraints and stereotypes that we impose on others are a little self-serving—especially if we see unfairness, ignore/justify it, and then make others feel guilty for using the same privileges that some people have benefited from for years. This also makes me believe that some of us acknowledge that “the system” is unfair only when it affects our own personal interests.

Here’s the solution: when we see unfairness (in education, criminal justice, housing, the media, our places of work, our campuses, etc.) we need to speak up. We all know what unfairness looks like; let’s not wait until it affects us before we decide to take action. Nevertheless, I caution you at the same time: be fair.

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