Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Archive for September, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities: Intent vs. Impact in the World of Diversity & Inclusion

By Leah Smiley

I recently read an article about a college in New York that planned to host a diversity event segregated by race. The Office of Diversity planned one event for students of color only, one event for white students only, and the final event for everyone.

I totally understand why the diversity event was segregated—the Office of Diversity wanted to get specific feedback. But, and there’s a BIG but (no pun intended), you can’t do stuff like that. Yes, there are racial problems on campus. And yes, the President wants you to handle it. But no, you can’t explicitly expose the “elephant” in the middle of the room. Some people may disagree with me, but I’ve learned that there are two types of controversy:  planned and unplanned. In this instance, the unplanned negative controversy caused the Office of Diversity to cancel all three events. And it may ultimately cost this Diversity Officer more than those events.

Yet, this situation illustrates the delicate world of diversity. The Diversity Officer intended to change the campus culture, but the intent did not align with the impact.

In another city, Purdue University’s President, Mitch Daniels, decided to attack “the problem” from a different angle. When Mitch Daniels was Governor of Indiana, he launched a massive campaign to bring foreign businesses to Indiana from emerging (or diverse) markets. He was very successful in helping these foreign companies to establish operations in the state—creating new jobs, a new tax base, and new investment opportunities—but the townspeople, where these companies set-up camp, did not want “foreigners” in their locales. What?? Governor Daniels was confused. The unemployment rate was lower in Indiana and the state economy was doing great, but the residents did not want “outsiders” who had different cultures, languages, and management styles.

So after his tenure as Governor, Mitch Daniels became a college President at one of Indiana’s most prestigious schools. He launched a major initiative that allowed students to get financial assistance for participating in a study abroad program. He correctly reasoned that students exposed to different cultures are more likely to be accepting of diversity in the workplace and in their communities. This is intentional, or planned, positive impact.

The difference between the two schools is that the President led in finding a solution to “the problem” in the second story. Additionally, Daniels is a business man. He had a keen awareness of the “elephant” but did not call it an “elephant” so as not to scare folks. This speaks to our approach in the Office of Diversity. Sometimes we can be more effective if we are not defensive or overly-aggressive about “the problem”. At times, we can be equally effective when we are indirect.

An indirect approach to managing diversity in the workplace may lead to better understanding and teamwork in comparison to head-to-head confrontations. Indirect approaches appeal to a common goal and can help you get the results you want. Some folks expect the Diversity Officer to use the race card or to be politically correct. Don’t do it. For example, instead of calling someone a racist, tell the person that his/her conduct was unprofessional. We’re at work, right? Be professional. Or instead of getting into a heated argument with someone about what should or should not be done, build a business case with his/her supervisor. Come to the table with at least three (3) solutions, alternatives, or possibilities. Now you’re getting to the heart of intentional impact. And now you can build consensus for solving the problem without exposing and alienating the “elephant” that some people unknowingly protect.


Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto

Dear Cabin Crew, “Why Do You Have An Attitude?”: Ten Tips For Diversity for In-Flight Crews By Dr. Anita Nahal, CDP

Flying can be stressful in many ways, least of which is to have cabin crew who are abrupt, rude or have an attitude! What kind of diversity sensitization and appreciation workshops* are provided to in-flight staff… such as cabin crew, pilots and copilots…about how to interact with diverse individuals in a flight? I have traveled to over 15 countries and have been on hundreds of flights.  On numerous occasions I have witnessed, and personally experienced, an attitude exemplified through words or gestures, that displayed a lack of diversity understanding and appreciation.

For example in a recent flight, a gentleman was trying to adjust his bag in the overhead bin even though the space was tight.  The female cabin crew said, “put it here, here,” in a rather harsh tone pointing to another bin a few seats away.  To me it appeared that the national origin of the gentleman had something to do with the way she spoke with him.  On another occasion, a female cabin crew when serving coffee to me was pretty curt. Instead of saying politely, “please remove your hand from underneath the cup,” she said, “remove your hand.”  And to me it appeared her words, and attitude, were dictated by who I am.  Now, it is possible that both these examples are not related to the diversity of the passengers in any way and the cabin crew were simply trying to get things done quickly or were tired.  However, since such situations have happened in my presence more often than not, it makes me think that perhaps it has to do with the diversity of the passengers?

It appears that airlines have a number of diversity awareness programs and policies in place. For example, American Airlines was the first Airline to recognize the 2008 Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)* and has 16 Employee Resource Groups.  They have also been vigorously encouraging supplier diversity from women and LGBT businesses. Also, partnering with them are such organizations as, “…the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Human Rights Campaign and Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.…as a result, since the inception of…the Supplier Diversity Program in 1989, American Airlines has spent more than $3.6 billion with certified women and minority-owned businesses.”*

Further, US Airways and the Philadelphia Branch of the NAACP have also partnered to encourage US Airways diversity programs. It’s amazing how many flights are in the air each day and the number of passengers these serve.  Just for one example, US Airways, along with US Airways Shuttle and US Airways Express, operates more than 3,100 flights per day and serves more than 200 communities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central and South America.  The airline employs more than 31,000 aviation professionals worldwide and is a member of the Star Alliance network, which offers its customers more than 21,200 daily flights to 181 countries. Together with its US Airways Express partners, the airline serves approximately 80 million passengers each year and operates hubs in Charlotte, N.C., Philadelphia and Phoenix, and a focus city in Washington, D.C. at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.*

However, from the above it is not clear what kind of diversity awareness and sensitization workshops cabin crew receive.  Simple internet searches also do not tell us anything significant, except that “cultural awareness” is part of the course work for cabin crew. I did, however, find a very nice video on YouTube about the diversity in cabin crew.  It is worth watching and the link is:

It is said that there are over 5,000 airlines in the world flying millions of passengers each day and over a billion each year.  Perhaps the ten tips below might assist cabin crew in relating to, and interacting with, diverse passengers.  It is important to place “yourself” in the equation thus the use of “yourself” “your” or “you” in the tips below instead of saying something generic such as, “consider all passengers as equal.”  I am stressing this because cabin crew differs from airline to airline, and some cabin crew might need greater diversity sensitization than others.


1)      Consider your passengers, regardless of which country they are from, as similar to yourself, not inferior or superior.

2)      Consider your passengers, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age or any other diversity, as similar to yourself not inferior or superior.

3)      Consider those who cannot speak English as someone preferring to speak their own language, not someone who is inferior because they do not speak English.

4)      Consider the elderly and the children as special; you were a child one day and will become old one day.

5)      When someone presses the call button, make your response generically polite, not one dictated by the diversity of the passenger.

6)      When someone is annoying or testing your nerves, whether it be about stuffing luggage in overhead bins, or asking for an extra blanket, or in any other way, make your response generically polite, not one dictated by the diversity of the passenger.

7)      Besides the myriad diversity of the passengers, they also come from various walks of life and professional backgrounds; respect them based upon who or what they might be, not as they appear; you never know who is who.

8)      Regardless of the diversity of the passenger, show your basic manners and professional etiquette.

9)      Regardless of long flights, tired legs and headaches that might come with the profession, consider your primary job as “ensuring flying diversity through politeness.”

10)  Think first and foremost that if you were flying how you would like to be treated?


Please write in to about any experience you had with cabin crew that made you wonder or question if it might have had to do with your, or someone else’s, diversity.


Anita Nahal, PhD., CDP is a Consultant in Organizational Diversity & Higher Education.  She is the Founder & Chairperson of

For cabin crew diversity workshops, please contact Anita Nahal at





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