Diversity awareness often stunted

06/25/2013 5:57 PM

06/25/2013 5:57 PM

On a recent business trip, I was asked by a perky young server what brought me to town.

When I told her that I was speaking to a local company on workplace diversity, she was puzzled, saying she didn’t know what that was.

My response was that it was making sure that people in a workplace got along to get their jobs done well, despite their differences, especially if those differences were based on things such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or the other ways people can experience the world very differently.

She quickly responded that lots of different people worked in her hotel, and because they all had fun, she was sure that wasn’t an issue for anyone.

When I suggested she might try asking some of her co-workers who were different from her whether they were experiencing anything besides “fun,” her perkiness cracked and she quickly responded that she wouldn’t want to do that.

Yep. Something tells me that for a split second there, her brain quickly calculated that, at least for some of her co-workers, fun wasn’t the only experience going on.

That exchange was an example of the denial that entire organizations go through, even the ones that believe they are making workplace diversity and inclusion a priority.

That young woman — as many high-ranking officials in organizations do — chose to look at her workplace through the viewpoint that gave her the most comfort.

Many companies, for example, pat themselves on their corporate backs by looking just at the number of racial minorities and women in their workplace and calling it a day if they have any, especially if at least one of them has an impressive title on the organizational chart.

But they don’t look at how other demographic groups are represented throughout their organization. Or they don’t look at turnover and retention. Or they don’t ask the hard questions about whether their employees perceive their workplace as fair and inclusive. Or they don’t examine whether policies disproportionately and unfairly affect some employees. And they really don’t inquire whether double or even triple standards exist, even when those fluctuating standards are widely discussed among pockets of employees.

No, most high-level managers at an organization are much like the server I bumped into — not purposefully or spitefully imposing discriminatory thoughts, experiences or decisions on others, but not really open to seeing whether others have a different viewpoint.

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