As we look at a year almost over, we usually look at the forks in the road to determine what different routes we could have taken.
When looking at national events, and thinking about diversity lessons to learn, there usually are many significant opportunities. A few observations and suggestions based on how 2014 presented itself.
1) Jokes and judgments by company emails that contradict what you say publicly as a company or as a leader are not cool. When the Sony emails came to light because of hacking, there was much conversation about the unfairness of evaluating people and opinions based on private emails. People seem to forget that company emails are the property of the company — not the individual employee. So, at any given moment, what you say about your fellow co-workers or customers can come to light. Therefore, if you think it will be taken out of context or, worse, accurately taken in context and found to be bigoted or extraordinarily insensitive, don’t immortalize the sentiment.
2) In a related vein, be aware of the quickness with which social media can create tricky conversations in your workplace with immediacy. The entire Bill Cosby scandal involving resurrected and new accusations of his drugging and raping women was triggered with lightening speed. One comic makes a joke about old allegations and a tape of the routine goes viral. Before you know it, people aren’t just talking about the allegations against Cosby, but debating the definition of rape, arguing about the timing of accusations, the age old controversy regarding how victims are treated, and on and on. What can be learned from the Cosby scandal is that not all social media buzzing needs to be brought into the workplace. Safer conversations can be had at work.
3) It’s hard to say what lessons can be learned from the news stories regarding Ferguson, Mo., or the protests against police brutality because the lessons are still being learned. I think the only safe observation is that race still is one of this country’s major blindspots and many “accidents” happen because objects in America’s mirror are closer than they appear.
4) Gay marriage reached a tipping point in 2014 with 35 states making it legal. In the workplace, that certainly changes the language of how employees recognize, identify and discuss family. It also shapes the creation and application of formal and informal polices regarding how family issues are treated in the workplace.
5) And then there is Ebola. An entire diversity column could be written on Ebola and the ways Americans viewed it and reacted to it. But the biggest lesson that comes from it is that a little research goes a long way. In an age where looking up information and acquiring facts is just a mouse click away, there is rarely a reason to engage in mass hysteria over half truths and assumptions. In much of the workplace, gossip is mixed in with the coffee grounds, creating its share of panic and workplace-sized epidemics to flare out of control. People can act as if they don’t gossip, but many actions or opinions founded on unverified, casual information are usually a form of gossip. When in doubt, check it out. If it’s none of your business to ask, try to make it not your business to pass on to others.
The best part of a new year is that there will be many opportunities to learn from the news of 2014.
Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at Facebook.com/diversitydiva.