In Part I, I talked about the fact that there are some who are too preoccupied with race in the workplace—impacting customer service, student service, constituent service and every other aspect of how your business operates. Case in point:
- In New York, a young man was arrested after using a debit card to buy a $350 belt at Barney’s. The sales clerk tipped off the store’s security, who questioned the college student along the lines of “how could you afford to buy such an expensive belt”? Even after showing his receipt, the black student was arrested by New York City police.
- Earlier this year, Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker stopped by a New York Deli to buy yogurt before going to work. But the quick trip took a humiliating turn when an employee accused Whitaker of stealing and patted him down in front of other customers and employees.
Now, there are some folks who try to justify this sort of overzealous employee behavior. But the reality is that these employees tried to justify their biased beliefs. They wanted to prove that the customers stole merchandise or committed some other wrong doing. But is that their purpose in the workplace?
On another note, my son is very smart but he has special needs. Additionally, my husband once taught special needs children, so we are very familiar with this student population. Hence, when my daughter started First Grade this year, her teacher kept sending home these negative behavior reports. When I went to the school for the parent-teacher conference, the teacher began the meeting by telling me that she wanted to get my daughter “tested”. When I brought up the fact that my daughter reported being reprimanded for minor infractions—without warning—the teacher began stuttering. Then she displayed my daughter’s grades: 100%, 100%, 96%, 92%, etc. I didn’t debate with her; I simply went to the principal’s office the next morning. For goodness sake, how many honor roll students are behavior problems in the classroom? For those who said “a lot”, don’t be cynical– the reality is that this teacher felt like she had to prove that something was wrong with my child. She did not understand her very powerful role and purpose in the classroom.
So then, what is our purpose? I will assert that our purpose is to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we interact. This difference can be made through the organizations with which we work. Too often, many employers hire people who serve no obvious purpose, other than getting a paycheck. Additionally, hiring managers aren’t trained to seek employees with experience AND purpose. Some are looking to give jobs to friends and family members who are out of work. Others are looking to hire people that look like them. While many are simply making decisions based on a subjective determination of who is “qualified” or “unqualified”.
Purpose is what drives revenue, efficiency and engagement. More importantly, it also energizes your mission and vision because it makes people’s lives better, easier, and more fulfilling. When you make a conscious decision to hire those who serve a purpose, your organization will have fewer lawsuits, less discrimination, and more loyal customers/students/constituents. Keeping in mind that purpose is not evident in what one says but it does manifest itself in what one does. Accordingly, you must look for examples of interdependence, inclusion and innovation.
Racism, discrimination, bias, etc., may always be around. You can’t change people. But you can change your organization’s outcomes when you align people with your purpose.
By Leah Smiley, CDE, President of the Society for Diversity