Monday, February 18, 2013

Diversity Is More Than A Talking Point

HR spends a lot of time (or at least should spend a lot of time) discussing diversity. This happens in part because we're supposed to, in part because it makes good business sense...but mostly HR should be talking about diversity because it is the right thing to do.

But sometimes doing the right thing is difficult.

Losing Friends
Many years ago friends would come over for an evening to visit. Our time together was usually fun...except when the husband would make a subtle racist comment here or there.

Damn. Why did he have to do that? It was an awkward position to find myself in because his wife was a long time friend of my wife; and, one of my absolute hottest hot buttons is racism. (I give my parents full credit for raising me in a way that finds racism absolutely reprehensible, and I thank them for it.)
Put Up or Shut Up
What came next was impossible to avoid. He opened his mouth, the racist comments came out, and I called him on it. It was obvious this was the beginning of the end of that "friendship." That's okay, because to be quite candid, people who are racist, harbor racist feelings, or choose to believe people are better or worse based on the color of their skin are not friends of mine. Nor will they ever be.

HR Needs to Call People Out
One of the privileges and joys of my work is that I can effectively use my authority to get rid of the blatantly racist people who work where I do. Yes, we are entitled to our opinions in this country; but once that "opinion" infringes on the rights of another employee it is HR's responsibility to do the right thing.

How About You
What do you do when confronted with racism in the workplace? Do you speak up and hold the bigots accountable? Or, is it easier to fall back into that nervous laughter that is so often heard when the narrow-minded souls among us believe they are being funny.

I'd love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

photo credit


  1. Great post, fully endorse your action. I would only add the same approach for lots of other "isms" and "phobias" to express support for the full range of diversity, and to establish an environment where everyone can achieve their full potential. Sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and on the list goes.

    Tim Collins

    1. Many thanks Tim. I've written about other groups as well, but felt I should focus on this issue today.

      I greatly appreciate your support!

  2. This is a great post, Jay. I am so glad that you have shed light on this.

    My experience has a lot more of the nervous laughter in it than the hard push towards eliminating all of it in the workplace.

    I have no tolerance for racism. I've seen it experienced it and when it happens I escalate it quickly so everyone is put on notice that I abhor it.

    I don't like it towards me or in reverse. I have had to back people I hired for being discriminated against in their departments. It caused me a lot of trouble, but I didn't care because it wasn't right. You lost a friend in your scenario and I gained one after this woman and I went through this ordeal together. Even more disgusting is it happened in a major healthcare system here in NY.

    I also agree with Tim that any of the "isms" should be abolished. Unfortunately, where there is ignorance and hate all of the above have fertile soil to flourish.

    All the best,


    1. Many thanks Janine. You are a good role model for the "do the right thing" mantra!

    2. Thanks Jay! From the looks of this comment thread,there are a few of us that follow the "do the right thing" mantra.

      This is encouraging to see. : )

  3. I too have had this experience Jay. And the older I get the less tolerant I become. When someone says something racist or just stupid, this is usually my call to action to say something almost as stupid about their comment. If often takes a conversation from uncomfortable to tense, BUT #$%^it, if we don't call these folks out, the behavior will continue.

    1. Thanks Dave...I love that you interpret poor behavior as a call to action!