Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Posts tagged ‘discrimination’

What Can Indiana Fix?

By Leah Smiley

indianaFirst, let me preface this conversation by stating unequivocally:  religion, politics, and business (in a capitalistic economy) DO NOT mix well.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has caused such an uproar in the last couple of weeks that it’s hard to believe that nearly two dozen other states have the same law. Apparently in Indiana, the bill’s intent of protecting businesses does not align with its impact of hurting companies that do business in the state of Indiana. Even the Society for Diversity got “the message”. In response to a recent membership promotion advertising a partnership with The Derwin Smiley Show and the Indianapolis 500, one person said:

“I would ask you to revisit this contest considering what is happening in Indy right now. I don’t think it is in the best interest of any person or groups of people who work on diversity matters to be supporting anything in Indiana.”

My staff freaked out! Meanwhile, Indiana’s Governor seems to be unfazed by all of the negative attention the bill is receiving in his state.

Governor Mike Pence recently wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal doubling down on his position. He asserted that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is “Ensuring Religious Freedom in Indiana” because it is a law that was intended to preempt the Affordable Care Act from forcing businesses to act against their religious beliefs in the provision of healthcare or insurance.

Yet, something about this RFRA law seems unnecessary, even exorbitant, in the quest for religious “freedom”. Even in the other states where the law has been successfully enacted, there is the stench of religious intolerance– the same kind that has driven millions of believers away from various monotheistic faiths. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, “The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.”

I live in Indiana, and the Society for Diversity is headquartered in Indiana.The Society for Diversity’s position on the law is that no organization in the United States should be allowed to legally discriminate against any person for any reason. After all, if you are going to be in business for the long-term, you must serve more people than your competitors– and you have to serve them better than your competitors. This is the competitive advantage of diversity. Additionally, if we are going to bring “religion” into the conversation, what ever happened to doing what is right?

Currently, business leaders are organizing a statewide effort to fix the law. As this process plays out, I would like to know what would you suggest?


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

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 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


A Dilemma for Women

By Leah Smiley


I love Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. I think she embodies power, prestige, and position. She has challenged common reasoning in the IT industry in everything from the role of women to the dress code to work-at-home policies. She has also been a powerful force in the recognition of young female executives.

Yet, the recent photo shoot with Vogue Magazine presents a conundrum. As I scrolled down to look at reader comments in an article about the photo shoot, many people questioned her decision-making abilities. What’s different from previous criticisms is that this particular photo shoot seemed to take a notch out of her belt by focusing on her beauty vs. her brains.

As more organizations look to women to serve in more non-traditional positions, such as CEO’s, board members, and other executive roles, women are forced to walk that fine line. While one’s appearance can make or break one’s workplace potential, the focus must continue to be on diverse intellectual contributions, innovation, inclusion, and high performance.

This presents a dilemma for women, as pervasive stereotypes function as a glass ceiling and some gender roles are preserved in stone. How can we change this dilemma for women?

(1) We need more Marissa Mayer’s to serve as CEO’s and board members. Therefore, fascination with female executives will not be left on the shoulders of one smart lady, but spread among the many talented women in business today. Mary-Frances Winters, CEO of the Winters Group, has been doing a series on sponsorship for multicultural women over the last few weeks. This is a great place to start.

(2) We must continue to promote women’s rights and interests. For example, if a male executive loved automobiles and was featured  in Car and Driver Magazine, it would not be very newsworthy. But a female executive who loves fashion headlining in Vogue Magazine? This is unheard of!!! Again, we’re touching on issues of equality and diversity. The more education that we provide in this area, the less shocking it will become. It will also be more acceptable for females to be themselves– even in leadership positions.



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

No Other Options

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


There were two groundbreaking decisions made this week. In one, the Justice Department determined that it will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General, noted “shameful” racial disparities in sentencing, budgetary strains of overpopulated prisons and draconian policies for incarceration, among the reasons for his decision.

In New York, a judge ruled that the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional. The tactic allows police to search anyone regardless of whether they believe a crime has been committed. The federal judge asserted that the policy unfairly targets Blacks and Hispanics, who endure 80% of the searches. New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, vowed to appeal the ruling because the judge is biased against police and ignores the “real-world realities of crime”.

Sometimes I wonder, “Why do I work in diversity and inclusion?” This must be one of the most difficult professions in the world—for a variety of reasons. Yet, as I read the news stories about these legal decisions, I remember that my children are black—my son is 4 and my daughter is 6. If I don’t do everything in my power to impact this world for the good, they may become victims of the legal system, educational imbalances, employment discrimination, biased housing patterns, health disparities, and economic inequities.  And then, they will be blamed for failing to live up to the American Dream.

Like most parents, I believe that my son and daughter are very intelligent. But my daughter has a “personality” with her intelligence. I’ll give you an example. One day, I took my kids outside to play. They looked across the street and saw two children, around the same age, riding a motorized bike. My daughter (who was 5 at the time) said, “Oooh.” I told her, “Do not ask to ride their bike.”  She said “OK”. I repeated it again. She said, “Alright mom!” I cleaned out the car while my kids played. After I finished, I saw my daughter talking to the kids across the street. Next thing I knew, she was riding her scooter really fast, doing circles around the kids. Within minutes, the kids got up and let my daughter ride the motorized bike. When she was finished, I called her over and said, “What just happened”? She replied, “Mommy, I didn’t ask to ride the bike. I told them that we should race and if I win, I ride the bike.” She won. I could not say anything; all I could think of is her running circles around those little kids. A teacher once told me, “We’re not supposed to say what children will be when they grow up, but your daughter is definitely going to be an Executive somewhere.”

Imagine losing out on that kind of talent in the workplace because you are looking at the color of a person’s skin. Yet, good intentions don’t always have the best outcomes. We can think about having that kind of diverse talent in our places of business, but seem to fall short in this area of inclusion. That is why there has to be some kind of business logic behind this machine called “diversity and inclusion” so that good intentions match or exceed the outcomes of diversifying college campuses, workplaces, nonprofits and governments.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the mandate for his children in an electrifying speech on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Every time I think about his vision, I can’t say that I apologize for being passionate about diversity and inclusion. As far as I am concerned, I have skin in the game too– so making a difference is not optional for me. I was destined to impact the world for my children and for the lives of millions of diverse individuals– as well as for those organizations that will run better as a result.

By Leah Smiley



Leah Smiley formed the Society for Diversity while pregnant with her son. Today, Mrs. Smiley is President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information, log onto

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.

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

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