Watercooler: sandwiches for… diversity?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Watercooler is the section of the blog in which we share with you real-life horror stories from the frontlines of race in the workplace. :) This week, we have a story from Jeanette:

My company is really very diverse - it’s based in Japan, but global, and so there are a lot of people with different backgrounds at work. This isn’t really all that common in a small town in SC, but here we are. I’ve worked here almost two years, and my group, though small includes my Arabic [Muslim] boss, a black woman, black man, me: black and white, and two white guys and a white woman.

A few months ago, I learned that we have a “diversity committee” on site. How did I learn this? Every employee received a coupon to go to a local restaurant that serves … sandwiches. Basically, not very exciting American food. Along with the coupon came a paragraph explaining that this was courtesy of the “diversity committee” and that we would see more in the coming months. I don’t have that much against American food…I just couldn’t figure out how the coupons to an American restaurant were related to diversity.

After going to lunch there with some of my coworkers, I learned that the proprietor of the establishment is homosexual. And it struck me that this was an extremely tacky way to encourage diversity.. Considering several of my colleagues refused to go to the restaurant simply because of that reason.

Anyway, our diversity board’s latest offering is a multicultural cookbook [which every employee has been invited to contribute to] to be unveiled at the multi-culti food fair taking place next Friday. Why do I take issue with this? Because it just so happens to be Ramadan. My boss is fasting until sunset as is the custom - and she has done this for all six years she’s been with the company. There are people she sees [and talks to] on a regular basis [who know that she is a practicing Muslim] who are on the diversity committee. And yet, this is how things go down.

I went to my HR rep [Stacy] and told her I had an issue to discuss. I mentioned that I am not aware of how many Muslims are employed here, but I know of at least one. And that I found it incongruent to hold a “celebration of diversity food festival” during Ramadan. She told me that she knew of a few other Muslims on site, and that it certainly wasn’t appropriate to have planned the “festival” during Ramadan. She said that she would mention it to the diversity board.

Two days later, an email was sent to the entire site with a subject line reading “Cultural Food Festival Cancelled”. In the body of the email there was a reiteration of the subject line and a note that the festival would be rescheduled for a later date to be announced. That same day, signs that had been posted heralding the festival were marked with a large red ‘X’ and the word ‘Cancelled’ scribbled across them. This was exactly what I did NOT want, when I went to HR in the first place. I spoke with Stacy and she told me that the person who had marked through the posters was apparently [according to them] acting on orders. Thankfully, Stacy subsequently removed the posters from the walls.

For several days, I heard conversations discussing what the reasons might have been for canceling the festival. Some did mention the fact that it was during Ramadan. My boss actually went to Stacy and asked if it was any of us [her people] that said something, because she had told us that it was no big deal. It seemed to me that the actions taken to postpone the “festival” seemed to be borne out of some kind of resentment. How hard would it have been to entitle an email, “Festival Rescheduled”? Was it really necessary to attack the posters with what really looked like anger?

But I can’t say I’m surprised - this is where I live. Meanwhile, the festival has yet to be rescheduled.

Please email team@raceintheworkplace.com if you’d like to send in a story, put “watercooler” in the subject line, and let us know what name we should use for you. Pseudonyms and first names are totally fine. You can read more Watercooler stories here.

Recommended Reading

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Erica Mauter

So You Have a Diversity Program — Has It Mattered? - Advertising Age
“I cannot speak on behalf of the [16 advertising agencies asked by the New York Commission on Human Rights to increase diversity], nor can I summarize the impact the Commission’s activities have had on their bottom lines, recruiting and retention strategies or client/agency relationships. But I can discuss, in general, the trends I have seen as they relate to diversity awareness within the advertising industry over the last year. Some provide hope and potential for a bright future, and others have provided nothing but a small band-aid for a large open wound.”

reference requests when you can’t give a good one - Ask a Manager
“[C]onsider honesty. Frankly, as someone who has to check references myself, I’m grateful when I encounter the rare reference willing to be candid about weaknesses. After all, reference checking (and the whole hiring process, for that matter) is all about finding out if the candidate and the job are a good match. If they’re not a good match and it’s not uncovered until it’s too late, the company will be stuck with a poor performer and the employee will be stuck struggling in a job and maybe even losing it down the road.”

D.C. Cir.: EEOC Questionnaire Satisfies Statute of Limitations - Workplace Prof Blog
“[T]he D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that the filling out of an EEOC Questionnaire, rather than a formal charge of discrimination, can satisfy the claimant’s obligation to meet the 180/300 day statute of limitation under Title VII.”

You Better Think… - The Black Factor
The first in a three-part series on things to consider when reporting instances of discrimination. [2] [3] “When it comes to dealing with racism in the workplace, those 3 words should be at the forefront of every victim’s mind, except when you are combatting racism, you better think about what you’re trying to accomplish (revealing racist words or actions, convincing members of authority to investigate a serious race-based issue, etc.).”

Do you jiibe? You should! - Chief Happiness Officer
The CHO reviews Jiibe. “[T]he website asks you a series of questions, and you tell it how things are at your current company and how you’d ideally like them to be. At the end you get a description of your ideal corporate culture and a list of the companies that match it best - based not on how those companies define themselves but on how other jiibe users rated their workplaces. I really liked the questions in the survey, which ask about day-to-day situations in a company. This means that they poll what values a company actually has - as opposed to the values they say they have.”

Transgender Employment Discrimination by Katie Koch, Richard Bales - Social Science Research Network
From the abstract: “The proposed approach has four advantages. First, it would create consistency among the federal, state, and local governments concerning the meaning of “sex” and the protection extended to transgender employees. Second, it would extend coverage to the entire transgender community rather than the piecemeal protection currently in effect. Third, it would provide protection to transgender employees immediately. Fourth, courts would easily be able to fit transgender discrimination into an existing legal framework.” (via Workplace Prof Blog)

Realist vs. idealist - Leadership Turn
Miki Saxon on comfort zones and the inclination to hire PLM (”people like me”). “The long-term cost to companies is high. This is especially true when there’s a change in management, since the new person’s PLM rarely matches her predecessor’s. When the choice is between the best applicant and PLM, PLM usually wins out, slowly lowering the quality of talent. PLM homogenizes the staff; reducing diversity of both thinking and thought (methodology and result) and it’s that diversity that supplies strength, creativity and innovation.”

Recommended Reading is a weekly feature where we link to some of our favorite workplace-related blog posts and articles. If you would like to suggest a link to Erica, please email tips@raceintheworkplace.com

Recommended Reading

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Erica

Employee Relations Part 1 - Evil HR Lady
Of a three part series. [2] [3] The scenario: A high-performing manager walks into your office and tells you she wants to put a formal warning in a new, high-performing employee’s file. The employee called out for two days with sick children and didn’t keep in contact with the office. The question: How do you handle the manager?

Part I: One Woman’s Story of Racism & Sexism on Wall Street - DiversityInc
“Kimberley Copeland, a talented, bright, young black woman, was dazzled when she received a job offer on the revenue-generating side of one of Wall Street’s most prestigious investment banks. But her excitement soon turned to humiliation and anger as she was subjected to racist and sexist intimidation and harassment.” Parts 2 and 3 are subscription only, but you get lots more for free if you subscribe to the podcast.

Are you an unconscious bigot? - Leadership Turn
“How could someone who had recruited, hired, built, and retained a multi-ethnic group composed of both gay and straight, and including a variety of religions, be a bigot? How could that diverse a team be bigoted? And how in the world would it be noticeable to an outsider (me)?”

Workplace Bullying Survey: 37% of American Workers are Targets - Bob Sutton’s Work Matters
Bob Sutton discusses what he finds striking in a Workplace Bullying Institute survey. Men bully more than women and women are targeted more than men. A lot of targets leave their jobs as a result. A whole lot of bullies are bosses targeting their employees.

Thanks for the Interview, But… - BusinessWeek
“Here’s how to take yourself out of the running for a job that you don’t feel is right for you. It’s not presumptuous—it’s considerate.”

Globalization, Equality and Nondiscrimination: An Interdisciplinary Perspective from the U.S. On Diversity Programming by Susan Bisom-Rapp - Social Science Research Network
From the abstract: “From an American perspective, the activities in Europe, especially its nascent workplace diversity movement, are notable, and provide an opportunity to assess the U.S. experience. This essay thus describes efforts in Europe to combat discrimination at the organizational level, and considers the situation in the U.S., where organizations themselves have to an extent determined the terms of legal compliance with antidiscrimination law through the adoption of programs and policies just starting to appear in Europe. In light of recent U.S. studies on diversity program efficacy, the essay concludes with some cautionary words about the lessons Europeans might draw from the U.S.” (via Workplace Prof Blog)

Keywords of the Rich & Famous - FastCompany.com
“You can be the single most talented integrated-logistics manager but if you don’t have those words in your résumé you will get skipped over.”

auto body shop settles harrassment suit - angry asian man
“According to the suit against Monterey Collision Frame and Auto Body, a technician of Chinese and Italian ancestry was subjected to repeated racial and sexual harassment while he worked at the shop, ‘including mimicking martial arts movements and mockingly calling him ‘Bruce Lee.””

Offering up her experiences - JS Online
“[Zenja Glass’] latest self-published book discloses ‘unfair hiring practices’ she has observed during her 16 years in corporate staffing. Race and ethnicity are Reason 3 in ‘25 Reasons Why They Won’t Hire You!’” (Get the book. It’s $12.50.)

Recommended Reading is a weekly feature where we link to some of our favorite workplace-related blog posts and articles. If you would like to suggest a link to Erica, please email tips@raceintheworkplace.com

Recommended Reading

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Erica

Which Federal Agencies Fail at Diversity? EEOC Tells All - DiversityInc
“Federal law requires ‘each agency shall maintain a continuing affirmative program to promote equal opportunity and to identify and eliminate discriminatory practices and policies,’ reports the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but according to the agency’s latest report, that doesn’t appear to be happening. People of color represented a third of the federal work force in 2006, which is on par with U.S. demographics…. Their representation at the management level, however, tells another story.”

Get Ready for Update Your Resume Week - The Monster Blog
I suspect this is a “Hallmark Holiday” of sorts, but it never hurts to have your resume updated.

Racial Harassment - The Black Factor
“[T]he EEOC says: There are two requirements for race-based conduct to trigger potential liability for unlawful harassment: (1) the conduct must be unwelcome; and (2) the conduct must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment in the mind of the victim and from the perspective of a reasonable person in the victim’s position. At this point, the harassing conduct ‘offends Title VII’s broad rule of workplace equality.’”

Firefighters File Sexual Harassment Claims Over Being Forced to Attend Gay Pride Parade - Workplace Prof Blog
“As far as whether the lawsuit has a chance, there are a number of problems, ranging from the fact that the one incident might not be considered severe or pervasive enough to the issue of whether a reasonable person would have found the conduct created a hostile work environment.”

Fall preview: Giving Notice by Freada Kapor Klein - 800-CEO-READ Blog
Brief overview of Giving Notice: Why the Best and the Brightest Leave the Workplace and HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM STAY. It includes some statistics from the press release on the factors different groups (e.g., people of color, gays and lesbians, caucasian women, caucasian men) state could have made them stay in jobs they had left.

Corporate America: The New Gay Activists - The Huffington Post
“Charting a course unplanned but nevertheless successful, Corporate America is shaping up to be the most persuasive gay activists of the decade. How are they doing it? With a simple three-step formula: credibility + education + action.”

Recommended Reading is a weekly feature where we link to some of our favorite workplace-related blog posts and articles. If you would like to suggest a link to Erica, please email tips@raceintheworkplace.com

Recommended Reading

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Erica

U of T student to get apology for email - TheStar.com
“A University of Toronto honours student applying for a job at Queen’s Park will receive an apology from the government after he was referred to as a ‘ghetto dude’ in an email from a part-time contract employee in the cabinet office. Evon Reid, who is black, was waiting to hear about his application for a job with the Ontario government as a media analyst when he received the email Friday.”

Does university prestige matter in hiring? - Work in Progress
“Experts” are split fairly evenly. The name may get you the foot in the door, but once you’re on that first job, it doesn’t matter anymore.

M.B.A. Field Trips - Portfolio.com
Somewhat related to the previous item, the new new thing in M.B.A. programs is travel abroad or “global experience” requirements. But so far only the top M.B.A. programs have this requirement.

Kramer: Employment Discrimination Harms Families - Workplace Prof Blog
Richard Bales sums it up: “The ‘family harms’ Kramer describes include ‘disruption harm’ (when an employee’s experience at work disrupts her ability to interact with her family, such as when an employee is too stressed or distracted to play with her children or interact with her spouse) and ‘exclusion harm’ (when an employee’s work experience is so damaging that it leads him to exclude his family from work, such as when an employee refuses to bring his children to work or to work-related social functions for fear of exposing the children to discrimination). These family harms are over & above the economic harms to the family caused by employment discrimination.”

New Study Reports Gender Sterotyping Leaves Women in Leadership in a “Double-Bind Dilemma” - DCI Consulting’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Blog
“The study, The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t, was released July 17 by Catalyst, the non-profit organization working to advance opportunities for women and business. Catalyst reports the findings strongly suggest that gender stereotypes lead organizations to routinely underestimate and underutilize women’s leadership talent.”

Acknowledging Something Queer on a Resume - Queercents
Queercents is a personal finance blog geared towards the LGBT community. John discusses the topic of how to describe his Queercents writing gig on his resume and the response he’s gotten on it in interviews.

A Monthly “Problem” for Women? - WSJ.com’s The Juggle
Sara Schaefer Muñoz sums up this New York Times Op-Ed on Lybrel, a new birth control pill which eliminates women’s periods: “While the article points out that about 8% of women do have debilitating periods, the author argues it is in the pharma industry’s interest to hype menstruation as a disease that needs curing. She also speculates on the societal reasons for concerns about women’s periods: ‘Someone cynical might suggest that research highlighting menstruation’s distressing consequences bubbles to the surface every time the public feels anxious over women’s expanding roles. (Say, the possibility that there might be a menopausal woman in the White House.)’” I was personally disappointed by the comments by women discussing whether or not their periods are really that bad, but there are some good ones on the bigger issue of whether or not this is an issue in the first place and the messages big pharma is sending to and about women.

Gely and Bierman on Employee Blogging and Legal Reform - Workplace Prof Blog
Paul Secunda excerpts the abstract: “This Article examines the increasing ’social isolation’ of American workers and the role the Internet, particularly employee ‘blogging,’ can potentially play in ameliorating this situation. It builds on a path-breaking June 2006 empirical study in the American Sociological Review documenting said social isolation, and on Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam’s classic theoretical work developing a similar theme. The Article argues that off-duty blogging by employees can play an important role in helping reverse this decline in social isolation, but that current legal structures impede this goal. This Article then proposes various reforms to address this situation.”

Recommended Reading is a weekly feature where we link to some of our favorite workplace-related blog posts and articles. If you would like to suggest a link to Erica, please email tips@raceintheworkplace.com

Recommended Reading

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Erica

RACIAL INEQUALITY IN THE E.U.: Facts are essential - The National Law Journal
It’s the “European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.” The E.U. Equality Ministers want to kick off this effort to combat discrimination by collecting lots of data. The French are not pleased because they have a national “color-blind” policy of not collecting such data. Workplace Prof Blog sums it up: “[Author David Oppenheimer] argues that collecting facts and data about ethnic groups is essential to overcoming the myth that we live in a color-blind world. David concludes that, ‘Measuring the extent of racial inequality hasn’t eliminated the problem in the United States, nor will it in Europe. But it does make it harder to ignore.’”

Pre-employment Testing: Between a Rock and a Very Hard Place - Workers Comp Insider
A Los Angeles Fire Department employee was recently awarded $3.75 million in damages because the LAFD ordered him to fudge the screening process and favor women in pre-employment screening activities in order to increase the number of women fire fighters. “[W]hatever tools and standards employers use to screen applicants, they must strive for transparency. Establish reasonable criteria and apply them uniformly. If the criteria have a disproportionate impact on one segment of applicants, re-examine the criteria carefully.”

A Way to Keep Domestic Partner Benefits - Inside Higher Ed
“Michigan’s public colleges and universities were barred by a state appeals court in February from offering health and other benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of employees. So Michigan State University is trying another tack: extending benefits to people it labels ‘other eligible individuals.’” Nice to see a large employer take swift action on behalf of its employees. (via Workplace Blog)

Legislation Expected to Overturn Ledbetter Ruling - OFCCP Blog
You’ll recall that the Supreme Court’s Ledbetter decision was regarding a pay discrimination lawsuit. Numerous senators and representatvies have expressed intent to propose legislation that will specify that every paycheck received at a pay rate deemed to be the result of discrimination is a repeat instance of discrimination. Way to treat the symptoms and not the problem! And with unnecessary legislation, no less! Whether the paycheck itself is an act of discrimination is not the issue. My beef is still with the 180 day limit an employee has in which to make their case.

Recommended Reading is a weekly feature where we link to some of our favorite workplace-related blog posts and articles. If you would like to suggest a link to Erica, please email tips@raceintheworkplace.com

Diversity training doesn’t work. Here’s why.

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

“Diversity training.”

What comes to your mind when you read those words?

a) Listening to boring speakers who use meaningless buzzwords like “cultural competence” and “tolerance.”

b) Participating in awkward workshop exercises. Privilege walk, anyone?

c) Learning painfully obvious things, like “racism is bad.” As if you didn’t already know that.

d) All of the above.

It’s no wonder diversity fatigue is sweeping across America.

The truth is, I believe that most diversity training doesn’t work.

Why not?

Because so many diversity trainers focus on all the wrong things, like:

  • Training people to hide their racism
    Yes, you read that correctly. Many diversity trainers don’t push people to challenge their own racist beliefs. Instead, the seminars teach people to be more aware of the non-verbal cues (the fancy word is “microinequities”) they send out that may tip others off to their racism. The philosophy is: hide your racism in order to create a more harmonious workplace.
  • Celebrating diversity
    It’s much easier to engage in feel-good, uncritical celebrations of diversity and multiculturalism than it is to tackle the complex issues surrounding race and racism. But focusing on “celebrating diversity” only encourages people to turn a blind eye to racism, and promotes the myth that we live in a happy-go-lucky, color-blind world.
  • Making people of color teach white people about racism
    Let’s face it: Most diversity trainers aim their messages at white people and treat the people of color in the room as teaching aides. There’s an unspoken assumption that only white folks need to learn about race and racism, and that everyone else should share their stories and experiences in order to help their white colleagues achieve anti-racist nirvana. This approach alienates people of color and makes white people feel angry and resentful. Racism is not just a white problem — we live in a racist society and all of us have absorbed these racist messages, whether we are conscious of them or not.

People are tired of tiptoeing around issues of race. They are tired of safe cultural tourism. They are tired of companies who know how to say the right things but can’t back up their words with action.

It’s time to go beyond diversity buzzwords and oppression olympics.

I’m putting forth a new framework for discussing race and racism. Will you join me?

Note: If you liked this post, please digg it so more people can discover it.

Carnival of the Capitalists is right here!

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

I’m excited to host the Carnival of the Capitalists this week, a blog carnival on the wide ranging topics of business and economics, hosted weekly at a different blog. For those of you visiting this blog for the first time, Race in the Workplace explores how race and racism influence our working lives. It’s one of three blogs I publish through my anti-racism training company, New Demographic. I also host a weekly podcast called Addicted to Race.

Off the Books: the Underground Economy of the Urban Poor
Blog: The Picket Line
“Instead of finding a free economy operating under the government radar, in Venkatesh’s book we largely find instead an unfree economy under the thumb of a smaller, cruder, less-consistent version of the same extortion racket as what you find on a slightly larger scale in City Hall, and then again if you zoom out to the State Capitol, again if you zoom out to the nation as a whole, and in the imaginations of the World Federalists and Trekkies and Theists you can just keep cranking the zoom from there if you care to, each level symbiotic on the ones surrounding it.”

Lord Browne and the “pink plateau”
Blog: Sox First
“The Guardian calls it the “pink plateau”. “It’s the glass ceiling that makes gay men and lesbians virtually invisible in the boardrooms of global multinationals. Homophobia may be withering in offices and on the shopfloor but among Britain’s business elite the closet remains firmly shut. At the global oil majors, routinely negotiating deals in countries not known for their tolerance of homosexuality, being openly gay is simply not an option.”

Rational Business-Think: Myth or Rumor?
Blog: Trust Matters
“Yet if someone makes a business decision “straight from the gut,” we sneer at it because it’s not “rational.” (Unless Jack Welch writes a book with that title, in which case it becomes a best-seller. Rational?). Decisions are not better for being “rational” in the narrow way we have come to use it. A lot of what passes for “rational” is just “rationalization.” We need a business vocabulary for the coming relationship-driven world that encompasses a whole lot more in the word “rational” than what we have let it dribble down to.”

What Objection?
Blog: The Freestyle Entrepreneur
“That ten-year-old boy taught me a life-lesson about successful selling and not taking the first objection as the final one. As a matter of fact, he acted as if he hadn’t heard it. He didn’t take it personally and, with that one five-word question, asked for the ’sale’ again. How about you Mr. or Ms. Small-Business Owner? Are you too quick to give into the first negative response from your prospect or do you see it as an opportunity to clarify your position?”

Direct Mail Marketing Tips (1 of 2)
Blog: Small Business Buzz
“Letters are the most effective way to personalize your advertising enough that the consumer at least looks at what you have to offer. Postcards get glances before they hit the wastebasket, and catalogs usually just get set aside for a time to thumb through that may never come along. Advertising letters are the happy medium that may mean increased success.”

The Art of the Upsell
Blog: Queercents
“As consumers, I suspect we’re just used to it. Upselling permeates every aspect of consumption. From the now-defunct McDonald’s offer of “Would you like to Supersize that?” to the Best Buy worker pushing the extended warranty as she’s ringing up that Plasma television.”

Top management dis’s the importance of managerial and supervisory skills
Blog: Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog
“According to the Wall Street Journal, supervisory skills get a tiny fraction of the training budget, even though there are lots of supervisors and even though the transition from individual contributor to supervisor is one of the toughest in business or life.”

Short terminism: how shareholders destroy value
Blog: Aloys Hosman
“The investors nowadays are increasingly (and heavily) leveraged vehicles themselves. And leverage introduces risks. Without reducing the leverage, this risk can only be managed by diversification of the portfolio and by keeping the various investments in the portfolio as liquid as possible. In order to keep their portfolios liquid, their investment horizon is only a few years long. The payback from the ownership consequently needs to be delivered within those few years.”

Pricing Thoughts
Blog: Geek Practitioners Blog
“Pricing is a multidimensional aspect of marketing and the broader customer experience. It may be tougher to attract customers initially at the higher price for quality work, but you’re not the only one for whom that is better.”