Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Posts tagged ‘leadership’

How Real Leaders Handle Inappropriate Conduct

By Leah Smiley

firedUnivision reaches 94 million households in the United States. It is the largest Spanish language broadcaster in the U.S., and the fifth largest television network. According to CNN, “Rodner Figueroa, an Emmy Award-winning host and presenter, was fired by the Spanish-language network for remarks he made on-air. In a broadcast on Wednesday, Figueroa said, “Michelle Obama looks like she’s part of the cast of ‘Planet of the Apes.'” He made the comments as a photo of the first lady was shown on screen.

Figueroa was fired on Thursday.

Free Speech proponents assert, “He can say what he wants.” But I will illustrate my response with a brief personal story. For my father’s 60th birthday, my siblings and I hosted a party at The Mansion in Voorhees, NJ. During the event, my siblings reminisced about who received the most spankings while we were growing up– and then everyone looked at me. What I remember most, is not the spankings, but the lectures that accompanied the discipline. It almost made me want to say, “hurry up and get it over with man!” But my father insisted on telling me that “everyone makes mistakes, and that is OK. But for every mistake you make in life, there are consequences.” Sheesh, I hated that word “consequences”.

Some will say, Figueroa was Latino, he wasn’t racist. The courts have ruled that even if a Cuban repeatedly called a Puerto Rican an illegal immigrant (when he or she is not) or a black person called another black person the “N” word in the workplace, your organization could get sued for discrimination. So that means that ethnicity does not preclude one from experiencing consequences for unprofessional and inappropriate conduct.

Keep in mind, there are times when you should NOT terminate an employee. For example,

This is just a partial listing of real U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) cases. But then there are other times when, for the sake of morale and the organization’s reputation, you should take swift and definitive action. Don’t:

  • Ask the person to resign
  • Make the person profusely apologize
  • Wait for the public to demand someone’s head

Fire ’em.

Some will say, “show compassion in an environment where customers are unforgiving”. OK, here’s the bellwether for compassion: will you be terminated in that person’s stead? That’s how you know if you really have compassion, because you believe in what that person did so much that you are willing to take the fall.

If not, fire ’em.

It’s common sense. Grown folks should be intelligent enough to distinguish between professional and unprofessional conduct AT WORK. They should also be considerate of the people that support or buy from your organization (e.g., the Obama Administration has advertised with Univision). And they should be able to determine what is funny versus what will cause a political firestorm or a public relations nightmare.

Common sense will also tell you that management will not allow inappropriate behavior.

The best terminations etch a sketch in workers minds about inappropriate conduct in the workplace. So as not to create an environment of fear, you want to fire the offender swiftly and then communicate with your staff about the termination. Allow them to ask questions, or express concerns. Make sure you reference a specific employment policy so everyone understands that this is not personal. Finally, reaffirm your commitment to an inclusive organizational culture that values ALL workers and great contributions. This is what separates leaders from figureheads.

Unless you are a politician or lobbyist, your personal political beliefs are not relevant at work. Furthermore, discriminatory behavior is never acceptable. At some point, leaders have to take a stand– discerning that allowing unprofessional behavior in the workplace inevitably snowballs into an avalanche of problems.


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

Bad Leadership Validates Unfounded Fear

By Leah Smiley

boogeyman4cvThe other night, my 5-year old son came into my room in a state of panic. He said, “My tooth is wiggly”. As he came closer, I noticed that he had tears in his eyes and a look on his face that said, I’m about to burst into tears. I asked, “What’s wrong?” He said, “I don’t want to lose my tooth.” At first, I thought it was because the tooth fairy forgot to leave a dollar the last time I—oops, ‘he’—got the tooth from under the pillow. But then he said, “It may not grow back.” I soon realized this was easier than I thought. I told him to look in the mirror at the other teeth that grew back. He thoroughly inspected his mouth and began to smile because he realized that his fear was unfounded.

Workplace diversity is a lot like my 5-year old. There are many “fears” when it comes to dealing with difference and change. Some of the top fears include:

• Addressing errant behavior.
People always tell me, “you should go to Missouri or you should help the folks in New York”. But my nonchalant response is, “I like to work with proactive employers.” What does that mean? It means in many of these cases, someone in leadership knew that there were some problems. Nevertheless, they turned a blind eye or slapped the offenders on the wrists until the snowflake became an avalanche.

Here’s the reality: corruption, racism, and negative attitudes are viruses. If you ever had a kid in daycare, you know what I mean—the best childcare providers frequently clean and sanitize the entire building because those little snotty nosed, germ-bots will eventually infect everyone.

• Saying or doing the wrong thing.
The Wall Street Journal recently printed an article entitled, “Women at Work: A Guide for Men” by Joanne Lipman. Here are a few of the reader’s comments:

“What, no mention of the women who, as a result of the prevailing preoccupation with ‘equality’, have been promoted far beyond their level of competence and who retain their positions far longer than is healthy for the company? They hold those positions, and are sometimes promoted into those positions, at the expense of better men. I found the article to be sexist, and unreasonable in the sense that good leadership comes from people who know their business and know how to make the right decisions, not necessarily from good ‘collaborators’. ”

“The reason feminists will always fail to achieve workplace “equality” is because they exhort (and expect) women to be something they aren’t: men.”

“So, of course, now men are supposed to make extra efforts to help even more women displace men in the workplace…??? No thank you. Women: You asked for access and opportunity, then learn the rules, go out and earn it like many of us “privileged” men had to do….Stop whining. If not, do me a favor, run to the kitchen and make me a sandwich honey…”

One person went so far as to say that he doesn’t even invest in companies that are run by women. Online, everyone is bold; but in the workplace, some people do not like to interact with different groups in fear of getting punished for saying or doing the wrong thing.

These sentiments are not limited to a discussion about women, they also apply to articles about blacks in the workplace, or marketing to Latinos and Asians, or including gays and different religious groups. Some news organizations have actually eliminated their comments sections because the reader feedback was so brutal.

But guess what? These folks are in your workplaces. If you think for one minute that diversity and inclusion is not necessary, think again. Your organization’s ability to compete and sustain growth is jeopardized due to ineffective teamwork, lack of communication, unresolved conflicts, and discrimination. The Bible says it best, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”

• Going against the grain.
Many organizations imagine embracing innovation, creativity, and leadership. But the reality is that conformity is valued way more than going against the grain will ever be. A good example of this is can be found in the black community. Young black kids learn early that their peers are not accepting of students who do well in school, speak properly or demonstrate respect. When I was growing up, I remember the same kind of peer pressure—to underperform in order to fit in. Luckily, my dad wasn’t having it. Since I can remember, he frequently told us, “It’s OK to be different. Don’t try to fit in.”

In the workplace, very few executives encourage, or reward, non-conformity. But this mindset also does not reward risk-taking. People are so concerned what others will think, that although they may not feel the same way as everyone else, they will go along to get along—perhaps smiling, or remaining silent, or even adding a few ‘agreeable’ words. But deep down inside, there is a simmering resentment because they feel forced or like they have to conform. Accordingly, they suppress good ideas, feedback or other risks in fear of being different. It’s not hard then, to understand why diversity and inclusion are so difficult for the organization to advance.

Think of going against the grain in this manner: imagine if Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Winston Churchill, or John F. Kennedy were conformists. Barry Goldwater, former U.S. Senator and Presidential nominee, once said, “Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.”

At the end of the day, fear is not demonstrative of good leadership for all of these reasons and more. It causes organizations to react slowly, stifles true inventiveness, and suppresses the greatness that lies within. Once you get rid of fear, diversity and inclusion are among the many things that will become easier and better in your organization. As leaders, it is up to us to invalidate those unfounded fears and advance towards greatness.


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

The Mandate for Courage



Sometimes, it’s easy for us to feel like we are harping on the same old issues in the workplace. Accordingly, we may become apprehensive about discussing certain diversity and inclusion topics, like race, gender and sexual orientation (i.e., the hot button issues). We also don’t want to be labeled as a “troublemaker” or “whiner”.

Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind that we were hired to help our organizations get it right. Looking toward the future, think about how much it will cost your organization IF certain diversity and inclusion issues are not addressed.  Lawsuits, turnover, wasted productivity, lost market share, etc., will amount to a fortune. Also, think about how you will be perceived IF you are the person of color who is afraid to talk about the most complex issue in your organization:  race. Or if you are the woman in leadership who is fearful of discussing gender equity. Or if you are gay, and you are doubtful about the benefits of gay pride in your place of business. I could go on, but you get the point.

The field of diversity and inclusion has a mandate for courage. Merriam-Webster’s defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty“. Possessing courage does not imply the absence of fear– it just means that you move forward in spite of it. The key to advancement in this field is to take your fear, feelings, and faithlessness out of the equation. Have a little confidence that your efforts will result in something good.

Courage:  it’s a mandate and an expectation for you.

By Leah Smiley

Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, a global professional association for Diversity and Inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto

Olympic Diversity

By Enrique Ruiz, CDE, CM, MBA, PgMP  ~

Organizations want to hire the best of the best. Individuals that not only have talent but an inner drive to do more, achieve more. They are the leaders of tomorrow who have an enviable self-motivation that inspires the team and models excellence. If these individuals are given a firm foundation and the leeway to pursue greater feats… they will take it. They are not satisfied with the status quo, nor the routine. These individuals are the leaders we aspire to have in our organization whom we can entrust to lead us into new realms of possibility.

Inner drive cannot be purchased and tacked on like an accessory on our vehicles. Self-discipline is an intangible attribute that represents the best of the human spirit. But who acquires this inner drive, and why? Why would anyone endure countless hours of gruelling pain, sacrifice, training and learning to become the best? Yes, Olympic athletes compete along with many other top performers in the world arena to become the best but – first and foremost – they compete with themselves. Every race and every match is an opportunity to hone their skill and beat their own time.

Are these Olympic athletes the gifted ones among us or are they the ones who have the strongest motivation to be the best? Invariably, it is the latter. Many years ago I was influenced by a book called the “Heart of a Champion” by Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards who says “it’s the will to win no matter the odds.” I was amazed to learn that the athletes I admired were the skinny, scrawny, weak ones that were often a source of ridicule. Scott Hamilton who is an Olympic Gold medalist has overcome cancer and brain tumors; Jackie Joyner-Kersey, ranked as one of the greatest women athletes in the world competing in the heptathlon, came from “the other side of the tracks” in destitute poverty.

Many may think that it is money that drives these athletes to compete, or maybe it is the appeal of sponsorships and government assistance to keep them afloat but these perks are few and far between for most. A July 2012 CNN Money article entitled “Olympians Face Financial Hardship” notes that only 50% of American track and field athletes who are ranked in the top ten in the nation in their event earn more than $15,000 a year in income from the sport while most fare much worse. The US Olympic Committee’s $170 million annual budget, which covers ALL sports, can only afford to offer health insurance and stipends to a limited number of competitors. Yet many of our competitors get up at wee hours of the morning to train before the day begins and they juggle studies, part-time work, personal injuries and family matters to pursue their dreams.

These athletes will perform their best and represent their country in the best way they can. A marathon runner in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics named John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania was injured in the race yet refused to quit. As he crossed the finish line limping and on bloody and bandaged legs, and the stadium lights were being turned off for the night, he answered a reporters quizzical question why he did not quit earlier knowing he was in last place…”My country did not send me to the Olympics to start the race… they sent me here to finish it” was his reply. In 1976 the Japanese athlete Shun Fujimoto helped his team win the Gold in Gymnastics when he lunged his body into the air for his final dismount on the rings knowing he would have to plant a vertical landing on a broken kneecap which he had sustained a few days earlier in the competition.

Watching the Olympics is inspiring.

The Olympics embody phenomenal human diversity with minds that are trained to visualize the future. Athletes can envision their every step, their every stroke, their every shot – in slow motion – watching their own success unfold. Will they be better today than they were yesterday? Will they be good enough to be proclaimed the best in the world on this day? This is the spirit our organizations need to foster. It is a competitive spirit that strives for greatness.

We witness generational diversity in its best form from the young gymnasts to our mature countrymen in such events as the bobsled or Olympic shooting competitions. Will Michael Phelps add to the 8 gold medals he earned in Beijing 4 years ago and become the world’s most decorated Olympian of all time? Our women and men come from all corners of the world and in all shapes, colors and sizes giving us vivid examples of what race, ethnicity, faith and culture can deliver. They come from different socio-economic backgrounds, they have different educational backgrounds and aspirations, they have their own trials and tribulations to carry and they have their own disabilities, visible and invisible, to work through. Our accents and heritage differ but our commitment to be the best, and perform our best, does not waiver. Olympic athletes represent inclusive diversity at its best. Let’s model their interactions, and their spirit, in our organizations today and see where we can go next.

Although an exact mile is not run in the Olympics, the seemingly impossible was achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister when he broke the 4 minute mile in a record setting time of 3:59.4. This feat captured the world’s attention and is still a centerpiece for conversation, especially when multiple individuals since then have continued to break the record in their quest to do more, achieve more; the current record holder is Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco at 3:43.13 (a speed of roughly 15 miles per hour).

“Those who can see through the visible can achieve the impossible”

Listen to the sports commentators as they tell the personal stories of select athletes and observe how they have practiced articulating the names of each individual with precision conveying that unspoken element of respect for whom these individuals are at their core. Let’s cheer and root for the African-American, Latino, Asian, American-Indian, European, Middle-Easterner et al who have made America their home, are pursuing personal excellence and record-breaking feats… and more importantly, those who have volunteered to represent us all in the world arena carrying our flag. Thank you!



By Enrique Ruiz, CDE, CM, MBA, PgMP

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