Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Archive for November, 2014

A Holiday Note to the ‘P.C.’ Police: Be Civil

By Leah Smiley

 

pc police 2It’s that time of year again, when Diversity and Inclusion efforts receive a bad rep because of a few over-zealous, politically correct individuals.

As we approach the holidays, the P.C. (Politically Correct) police become more vigilant than ever. Once, I sent out an e-mail blast that said, “Merry Christmas” and I received messages for days on end saying, “You’re not a REAL diversity professional”.

According to Wikipedia, “freedom of religion [in America] is a constitutionally guaranteed right provided in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is also closely associated with separation of church and state, a concept advocated by Colonial founders such as Roger Williams, William Penn and later founding fathers such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.”

In the workplace, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides for ‘religious freedom’ through anti-discrimination laws. According to EEOC, “Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.” This protection includes atheists, agnostics and non-religious folks.

Most developed nations have workplace protections for people based on religion. In emerging markets, however, religious diversity is causing all sorts of conflicts. According to DoSomething.org, “Nearly 50 percent of countries increased their religious discrimination between 2009 and 2010, and only 32 percent saw decreases. On average, countries that have government restrictions on religion have higher rates of social hostility. Social hostilities of religious discrimination include armed conflict, harassment of women over dress code, mob violence, hate crimes, violence or violent threats, terrorist violence, and more.”

Consider this partial listing of recent events:

  • Somali extremists killed 28 non-Muslims in Northern Kenya.
  • Two attackers armed with knives, axes and a gun stormed a synagogue in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, killing four worshipers and wounding several others.
  • In the Philippines, a nurse and teacher bled to death after extremists threw a hand grenade into a Church of Christ.
  • In Bangladesh, a prominent university professor was murdered, several years after he led a push to ban students wearing full-face veils. The professor followed the folk sect Baul, popular in parts of western Bangladesh, whose members call themselves followers of humanism rather than a particular religion.
  • According to The Freethought Report released in December 2013, Atheists face death in 13 countries. Even in places like Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Malta and Poland, blasphemy laws allow for jail sentences up to three years on charges of offending a religion or believers.

This very brief list certainly provides an overview of the world’s religious state of affairs. For global organizations and governments, this level of religious (or non-religious) intolerance presents a risk for workers and their families, tourists and business travelers, conventioneers, customers, and more. In other words, there are much bigger fish to fry than whether or not someone says, “Happy Kwanzaa.”

Therefore, if you are P.C., try to relax this holiday season. If someone says, “Happy Hanukkah” because you look Jewish and you have a Jewish-sounding name, try not to go ballistic. Perhaps, you can say “Happy Hanukkah to you too!” But if your “freedom” does not allow you to celebrate Hanukkah, perhaps you can simply say, “Happy Holidays” without going into a diatribe about how some Jews are Jewish by ethnicity only. Likewise, if a store clerk says, “Merry Christmas”, don’t go on a rant about banning the store because you’re not a Christian. Take a deep breath, smile, and keep moving.

When we think about all that is going on around the world, and the fact that people are dying for what they believe (or don’t believe), the least we can do is show some civility when someone seeks to spread a little holiday cheer. The Platinum Rule for Diversity is to treat others as they want to be treated. Yet, religious and secular fanaticism (e.g., unreasonable zeal, mean-spiritedness, or other extreme behavior) threatens everyone else’s freedom.

Political correctness is not an apparent token that you are the king or queen of diversity and inclusion because sometimes, P.C. is offensive. Thus, instead of being politically correct this year, try to be civil. In the words of Jim Leach, former U.S. Congressman and academic, “Civility is not about dousing strongly held views. It’s about making sure that people are willing to respect other perspectives.”

P.S.  You can send me all of the P.C. notes you want, Happy Thanksgiving anyway!

~~~~~~~~~

Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto www.societyfordiversity.org.

How Data Can Change Traditional Approaches to Diversity & Inclusion

data2Lately, I have been fascinated with the ABC-TV hit, “How to Get Away with Murder”. Interestingly enough, I simultaneously read the Twitter comments while watching the show. Afterwards, I check Wikipedia to learn the ratings data (i.e., how many people watched the show) in the prior week.

What does this have to do with diversity and inclusion? Alot. Instead of simply stating that there are not enough television shows featuring diverse individuals, a stronger business case for diversity in television programming would center around Nielsen ratings and Twitter use—which USA Today also reports on a regular basis. One could also make the case based on the quantity and quality of advertisers.

Pertaining to the workplace, I recently read the October 2014 U.S. Department of Labor Unemployment Report, which stated that the unemployment rate for whites declined to 4.8 percent; while blacks were at 10.9 percent; Hispanics, 6.8 percent; and Asians, 5.0 percent. The question is, ‘with all of this so-called diversity and inclusion in the workplace, why is the unemployment rate so high for blacks?

In June 2014, Forbes ran article entitled, “White High School Drop-Outs Are As Likely To Land Jobs As Black College Students” by Susan Adams. The author asserts that there are “numerous theories to explain the employment gap between the races and a list of proposed solutions. Persistent racial discrimination in hiring is one obvious cause. The high incarceration rate among African-Americans is another reason, says the report, citing a 2014 Brookings study showing that there is nearly a 70% chance that an African-American male without a high school diploma will be in prison by his mid-30s; having a criminal record makes it much tougher to find a job.”

The federal government has its own theories. The Bureau of Labor Statistics contends that the unemployment rate for blacks has always been higher than whites. In other words, this is status quo—no need for alarm. Another government report states that blacks simply “look for the right job longer”. Yet the title of Susan Adams’ article is particularly troubling as it implies that even highly educated blacks are likely to be the last to find jobs—especially if folks are more willing to hire a white high school drop-out before they hire a black college student.

But other data suggests that the disparity is different depending on where one lives. For instance, the Midwest sees a much wider gap between black and white unemployment than other regions — especially the West. In some states (Vermont, South Dakota, Utah, etc.), the black population is so small that the comparison doesn’t shed much light. But in states with substantial black populations, there has been only one year in one state in which the unemployment rate for blacks was lower than that for whites: 2007 in Massachusetts. That year, the average unemployment rate for blacks in the state was 4.3 percent. For whites, it was 4.7.

What is interesting about 2007 in Massachusetts is that the crime rate, in large cities like Boston, dropped significantly. Property crime, for example, consistently occurred above the national average in prior years. But starting in 2008, it began to fall so dramatically that now it is consistently below the national average, according to City-Data.com. Additionally, the Boston Globe reported that “some 84.7 percent of students who entered Boston high schools in fall 2008 graduated in 2012, an increase of 4.8 percentage points from six years earlier.” Note that the graduation rate was higher than the U.S. Department of Education’s 2012 national average of 80%, an all-time high.

My point is that many people complain about high crime, the lack of education, and more, that plague inner cities in America. Yet, one of the best indicators as to whether things will be different is the monthly unemployment report. If unemployment, for example, is particularly disparate, it will likely be reflected in other areas of society. But instead of saying, “the unemployment rate for blacks is much higher than any other group”, the business case for ensuring equal employment opportunity lies in improving the quality of life, reducing crime, and creating an educational system that works for all individuals, as well as for their future employers. Not surprisingly, much of this data points to the notion of interdependence within the diversity and inclusion space where employers, educators and community leaders, as well as government officials must connect their efforts.

At the end of the day, whether you are in the U.S. or in another country, the proliferation of data should enable you to build a stronger business case—easily comparing data points, providing deeper insights, and establishing connections to business objectives. Hence, moving beyond merely stating how many diverse people work, or don’t work, with an organization, toward utilizing more meaningful data to effect change.

By Leah Smiley

~~~~~~~~~~

Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto http://www.societyfordiversity.org.

 

A Lesson for Chief Diversity Officers: Unabridged Liberty or Tyranny?

By Leah Smiley

028

Working in the Office of Diversity requires individuals to walk a fine line. On one hand, you can’t call everything racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic, etc. Likewise, you can’t let some situations go unaddressed.

Last week, one of my neighbors had a Halloween party and the music was bumping all night. When my husband and I woke up in the morning, there was a straw man and a straw woman hanging on a tree– each with a rope around their necks. My first thought was, “What will my kids think?” Often, they learn things before I have a chance to tell them. For instance, my 5-year old recently learned how to call 911 at school. One day, I heard him say, “Hi 9-1-1.” I quickly grabbed the phone, only to hear it ringing. I instinctively hung up but the operator called me back and dispatched a police officer to my house. For that reason, I briefly thought about my kids learning about America’s sordid past in school and was immediately concerned that after seeing the straw men, they would become fearful that someone would hang them too.

My second thought was, “I am going to act like I didn’t see it. I’ll just be rude when I see them again because I don’t want a burning cross in my yard next.” But my conscience wouldn’t let me repress my feelings. The next thing I knew, I was on their doorstep. When the door opened, I asked, “Can I talk to you for a minute? Did we do anything to offend you? I came out here this morning and thought, ‘our neighbors must hate us’ and I just wanted to make sure that we don’t have any conflict between us.” I didn’t mention race or history; I addressed it from the perspective that neighbors should make an effort to have a cordial or friendly relationship. The neighbor explained that it was all out of fun, and it was harmless. We chatted for a minute and then I left. But when I came home that day, the straw men were gone.

At first, my husband did not want me to go to the neighbor’s house. But afterwards, he realized that the other Black family or the Indian family or any of the White families could have been offended too.

Now, some people can say, “It’s their home; they can do what they want.” And this is correct. But guess what, we all have “liberty” and one’s freedom under the law should not be used as an opportunity to make others feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Thomas Jefferson said it like this, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

Thomas Jefferson used the word “tyrant” because it implies that one who says, “I can do whatever I want” is one who can be cruel, oppressive, unrestrained, and even unprofessional to others. This type of behavior is inappropriate in the workplace, schools, and the community because it is archaic in a modern-day world that values technology, innovation and advancement. Relationship, through communication and understanding, gives people real freedom—not offending folks because you have the ‘liberty’ to do so.

President Obama was in a precarious situation as well. As the first (visibly) mixed race President, he was subject to a lot of cruel and unprofessional insults by his political colleagues, the news media, the American public, and even international leaders. While everything wasn’t racism, race was a factor in many situations. Although he did not respond to these attacks, believe me when I tell you, it bothered him. Yet, positioned as one of the most powerful men in the world, his inability to purposefully address the elephant in the room caused others to view him as a weak and incompetent leader. This empowered his critics to gain more momentum and confirmation that their attacks were spot on.

This is what makes a Diversity Officer’s work different from any other job in the organization. As I said earlier, the Office of Diversity has to walk a fine line—in addition to attaining measurable outcomes. If you address issues from a radical agenda (e.g., that’s racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic, etc.), you may be regarded as a “troublemaker”, “whiner”, or “complainer”. That’s worse than getting branded as a ‘racist’. On the other hand, if you don’t address the issues, you may be considered “incompetent”, “unqualified” or “unnecessary”. At the same time, you will jeopardize inclusion, equity, engagement, and fairness for all. In fact, when we consider the diversity in America’s Capitol over the last few years, the elected officials couldn’t get anything done. Now that there is more homogeneity in political affiliation, it will be interesting to see if they will send a strong message about diversity and productivity.

Nevertheless, regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill, it’s best to choose your battles wisely and address the negativity quickly from the perspective of relationship, professionalism, opportunity, excellence, and common purpose. Even if Congress restricts women, LGBT groups, different religions, various nationalities, and others, diversity is not the law of the land. It is a concept that is good for business; and therefore, it is not going away.

In the words of President Harry S. Truman, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” Thus, how well an organization does through diversity and inclusion is up to the diversity officer and his/her relationships with others. Keep in mind, our work is a global phenomenon with a competitive advantage—ensuring that the most committed organizations leverage unlimited possibilities now, as well as in the future.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for Diversity and Inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto http://www.societyfordiversity.org.

Tag Cloud