Important Notice:
This site has moved to, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option or archives at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Racial or Business Decision?

I work at a relatively small financial institution in a large city. My division is running a month-long promotion to attract new customers. My boss has pretty much being signing off on all the promotional materials we will be needing from our design department. I haven't been allowed any input. When the promo materials first came over for approval, the items featured pictures of two families, one Caucasian family, and one African American family. Both my boss and her boss decided that the pieces looked "too crowded" and asked that the African American family be removed. I was unaware of this discussion at the time and only found out about it later but given that I am a subordinate, I likely would not have been able to have a say in the matter. Previous experience leads me to conclude that.

Well, because of an error when the electronic files for the posters were sent to the printer, the first version of the signs were printed, the ones that included the African American family. Since it was the design department's error, and not the printer's, the printer rightly refused to reprint the signs for free. My boss then demanded that the design department foot the nearly $1,000 bill for reprinting the signs. At this point, I did learn the full story and asked why we needed to reprint the signs at all? There were no real errors on the signs. The only "problem" was the inclusion of the African American family. The decision to remove the family from the rest of the materials was bad enough but why were we spending more money to compound the issue? I was told that the decision was made and to stay out of it.

HR Lady, what is going on here is making me sick. I am one of only two non-white employees on our floor and the only non-white manager in this division. I have tried to explain to the people I work with why this decision bothers me and no one will listen. I don't feel Like I can go to HR because my boss' superior, who made the decision, is the son of the Board Chairman and I seriously doubt that he will care what I have to say. HR is, as a result, very weak in this company. Everyone
answers to the Board chairman and his son and does whatever they say. Do I have any other recourse?

What type of recourse are you looking for?

Stop and think about that. Just what would you like to see happen? An apology? To whom? To you? Why? Because you are non-white and the family they removed from the photograph was non-white? If they had made the decision to remove the white family and left the black family there, would they need to apologize to the white people at the office?

I realize I'm being annoying and not making you feel any better. I just want you to think through what you are asking for and why you are asking it.

You were hurt by their decision. It sounds like your department took a financial hit as well. But, if the picture was too crowded and one family had to go, how do you know it wasn't done with a coin toss? A $1000 print run sounds awfully small to me, so was this directed towards a specific community? If so, what was the racial make-up of that community? More white than black? Maybe it made good business sense.

From your e-mail, I have no idea if the people you work for have racist feelings or not. In my experience, most people do not. They are trying to do what is best for the business. They may not have the same experiences you do, and as such they may make decisions that can have unintended consequences.

So, what's your responsibility here? If you believe that their decisions involving race are having a detrimental effect on office morale or business results, then you need to be able to show that. Not through, "it's not fair and it makes me angry," but through facts and figures.

The conversation goes something like this:

You: Bob and Karen, I've been running some numbers and I've learned the following. Our market area is 43% minority, but 95% of our print ads feature white people only. I'm wondering if we're missing out on some potential clients because of our advertising decisions.

Karen: I'm not sure changing our ads would increase our minority clients. Remember, 57% of the market area is white.

Bob: We don't want to offend the majority of our target audience.

You: I've thought about both of those things. Here is some information that shows...

And then you present your research. This will go over much better than, "You took the African American family out of the picture for no good reason you racists!"

It's not always about race, although sometimes people feel that it is. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

No comments: