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Monday, December 31, 2007

Diversity Thoughts

I'm not a huge fan of diversity departments, trainers or the ever present, "we're not telling you to consider race in your hires, but you better have more minorities on board by this time next year or it will affect your performance appraisal."

Then, you have "diversity training." Carmen has talked about diversity training that is ineffective. But, what if it's worse than ineffective? What if it opens you up for legal trouble?

Hans Bader at Open Market writes:
Gail Heriot, a law professor and member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, reports on the sexual harassment training she received at the University of San Diego, in a state (California) where such training is mandatory under state law. She points out that the training sent the message that criticisms of affirmative action by white male employees are something that the employer should “nip in the bud” through investigations.

This is exceedingly dumb legal advice, since criticism of affirmative action is protected against retaliation by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1981, and other laws, even when the affirmative action program criticized turns out to have been perfectly legal. Even the very court rulings that have upheld private-sector affirmative action programs, such as Sisco v. J.S. Alberici Const. Co. (8th Cir. 1981), have allowed employees to sue employers who retaliate against them for criticizing affirmative action.

Bader goes on to document other nightmares of sexual harassment and diversity training.

What to do, what to do? Companies do such training to prove that discrimination is "not allowable here," but if they do it in a foolish fashion, they end up in illegal practices. A sexual harassment example from Mr. Bader:
In Hartman v. Pena (1995), the Federal Aviation Administration got sued for sexual harassment after it subjected employees to three days of diversity training that scapegoated white males. After a federal judge refused to dismiss the case against it, the agency had to pay out a settlement to the white male employee who sued.

So, here is the short version of the Evil HR Lady school of diversity training. I'll be happy to come present this at your company for a small large fee. Contact me for the actual numbers.

1. People are different.
2. We should be polite to people--even those who look/talk/dress/act differently than we do.
3. Jokes about race/gender/religion/sexual anything are not appropriate for the workplace. Save them for your friends and family, not your coworkers.
4. Remember, that when you are with your co-workers or boss, even if it's at happy hour after work, you are still at work. If you are at the grocery store and you run into your co-worker, you are immediately at work.
5. If someone makes a comment that insults your race/gender/origin/hairstyle/significant other/religion say to them seriously, "I found that comment offensive." If they don't know you find something offensive, can you really expect them to change their behavior?
6. If you say something that you don't mean to be offensive and find out someone is offended, please apologize and don't do it again. I don't care that your co-worker is over sensitive and that joke about how many people of [ethnic origin] it takes to change a light bulb is really, really, funny and this is the only person in the planet that finds this joke offensive, apologize and don't tell it again.
7. Stop being so darn sensitive. Assume that people are not racist/sexist at heart and that their offensive statements are without malice.
8. There is no such thing as a "diverse" candidate. There can be a diverse slate of candidates, which would mean you have a bunch of candidates with different backgrounds. There can be a candidate which would help you achieve your affirmative action goals, but there is not a "diverse" candidate. So, stop saying that.
9. Remember point 2? We need to be polite to everyone.
10. Leave dating out of the office. It only results in problems (and, well, a few happily ever afters, but boy the potential problems are huge and I am in HR and I do worry about such things).

As I said, this is the short version of my diversity plan. But, I think it's better than the Diversity Trainer who teaches that:
Participants must "come to recognize that race impacts every aspect of your life 100 percent of the time." Meanwhile, "anger, guilt and shame are just a few of the emotions" whites should expect to experience "as they move toward greater understanding of Whiteness."

No thanks.


Anonymous said...

As an Employee Relations Manager for a Fortune 500 manufacturing company, this really struck home with me. Your short list of true diversity insights is what I've been talking about for a few years now; you just said them in a much more direct and crystal clear fashion. Now, the trick is to get our Diversity Manager to finally understand that 'diversity' and 'Affirmative Action' are two wholly different things!

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

It turns out that another diversity trainer -- NOT the "New Media Learning" firm -- was probably responsible for the bad training described above.

Hans Bader's post, referred to above, has since been modified to remove any reference to that firm, and to include at the bottom a disclaimer in capitals noting that the firm referred to in Gail Heriot's post says it was NOT the one responsible for the training Heriot described.

Heriot, herself, has added a postscript to her post noting that that firm has denied that it was responsible for the bad training, and that she is trying to get to the bottom of this.

Evil HR Lady said...

Anonymous 11:53, I updated my post to include the revised quote.

But let that be a reminder to you who hire--they represent your company. One bad trainer can still cause headaches.

William the Coroner said...

My diversity training is even shorter; "Don't be an asshole." The pity of it is, people need to be taught how not to be an asshole.

Evil HR Lady said...

Since you work with dead people, I would expect that a short training would be most effective.

The Fitness Diva said...

A good, solid list that should be posted in every workplace. And anyplace else you can slip it in!

baby221 said...

Speaking as someone who is, after a manner of speaking, a diversity educator -- I like your list a lot. There's a time and a place to teach the social justice aspect of agent/target group relations and systems of power and oppression, that kind of thing, but I don't think your average mandatory "cultural sensitivity training" session attendee is going to be very receptive to that kind of information. It's best to stick with the "don't be an asshole, here's how" bits; if people want something deeper, they'll find it for themselves.

Dave Ferguson said...

I was browsing in your archives, and thought I'd chime in on this topic, handled so often and so effectively via the sheep-dip method.

It's impossible to "train" people out of their beliefs and prejudices. (See "Spanish Inquisition.") You stoke resistance among the intransigent, and bore the crap out of normal people.

Here's another take on your bullet points:

Acme Widgets faces stiff competition. We need to hire and keep the most talented people we can find.

We ignore differences that don't matter. We don't want to turn away candidates or lose employees because someone doesn't like their religion, their accent, their skin color, their nationality, or some other factor not relevant to job performance.

Here are some behaviors that are illegal:X, Y, Z. Don't do illegal things at work. If you're not sure about the legality, ask A, B, or C.

Here are some behaviors that, while not illegal, are against company policy.: D, E, F. Don't do these things at work. If you have questions, ask A, B, or C.

Thanks for your attention. Have a doughnut on your way out.