ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - September 2000

Issue Highlight - Remembering What Matters
-  Peter Block explains the need to look deeper than fashion and technological trends to find meaning in our homes and workplaces.

 In This Issue...
Living Impossible Dreams
Ouch! Is it Time to Redesign Your Systems?
Searching Ourselves: Avoiding Office Boxing Rings
Believe It or Not— Workplace Bias Still Exists

Bedtime Stories for Your Organization
Economy Breeds Short-Sightedness

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Heard on the Street

Believe It Or Not-Workplace Bias
Still Exists
Despite Aggressive Legislative Efforts-Subtle Discrimination Still Keeps Companies From Success

One would like to hope that our society has changed since the ugly days of discrimination in the 1960s and before. And few would argue that tolerance has not improved throughout history. But discrimination and prejudice still exist, even if it is in more subtle forms.
  From avoidance to body language, biases continue to manifest themselves quietly in our lives and workplaces. Consequently, we as ethical beings must continue to change our society and ourselves. News for a Change discussed the issue of discrimination in an increasingly diverse global marketplace with a number of specialists in workplace diversity.Their answers are not new, nor surprisingly revealing. Communication, acceptance and tolerance are the keys to fostering a healthy workplace. By working on these skills, articles, such as this one, might become a thing of the past.

 The world is shrinking. The Information Age has brought people from all parts of the world to work in common places and for common companies. Corporations are no longer confined to their individual countries; they now have clients and partners around the globe. Mergers and acquisitions are creating working teams with people of different cultures and backgrounds. The emergence of the global economy has not only brought a wealth of diversity to the workplace, but also a plethora of difficulties that must be addressed in order for companies to remain competitive.

  “The workplace is more diverse now than it has ever been,” says Mauricio Velasquez, president and founder of Diversity Training Group in Herndon, Va. He believes this can and should be a positive thing. However, when it is coupled with the fact that most companies haven’t trained their employees how to deal with diversity issues, problems arise.

  “Most people did not grow up in a diverse family, a diverse neighborhood or even a diverse society,” says Frederick A. Miller, president and CEO of Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc., Troy, N.Y. “We all have a lot to learn in order to deal with the diversity that exists in many organizations and in the world.”

  Although most of today’s workers can look back with pride upon how far we as a society have come since the days of civil rights, there are still deeply seeded and unintentional prejudices. Very few workers and managers would admit to anyone, including themselves, that they hold these prejudices or would act on them. While more than a handful of workers still use racial slurs and openly criticize other cultures and backgrounds, a subtle bias in the workplace is the more common element that damages a healthy work environment.

  “Bias is revealed in facial expression, body language, avoiding contact with minority group members and labeling,” says Dr. Riley Harvill, co-founder of The Harbeck Company Inc. in Dallas, Texas. “It is manifested in at least three important ways: a reluctance to provide honest feedback, excessive reliance on politically correct behavior or language and a reluctance to notice differences.”

  Bias and overt acts of discrimination make it very difficult for a company to remain competitive. In the recent tight labor market, companies have found that although a high budget for recruitment may lure some of the best talent, it is not enough to retain it. Workers demand a friendly work environment. Discrimination and bias cause employees to feel uncomfortable, which usually ends in higher employee turnover.

  “Organizations are better served if people can do their best work instead of spending their time trying to watch out for acts of discrimination, acts of disrespect or acts of exclusion,” says Miller. Katie Hertzog, of Eastern Point Consulting Group in Newton, Mass., notes the correlation between content employees and business success. “There is a direct link to profitability and productivity,” she says. Discrimination negatively affects the morale of workers, the reputation of a company with its clients and its image in the community.

  Velasquez believes that if discrimination causes turmoil from the inside, chances are that more trouble may come from outside sources as well. On August 16th, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a $200,000 settlement of a lawsuit against Metairie, Louisiana-based Lakeside Toyota, one of the state’s largest car dealerships. The suit alleged a former used car manager repeatedly directed racial slurs and physical threats toward six black employees. The cost of the settlement doesn’t even include the economic windfall of having six distressed employees.

  It is important for businesses to behave proactively, rather than reactively, in creating a healthy work atmosphere. Doing so will prevent costly defense cases, reduce external and internal distractions from work and avoid irreversible damage to the company’s reputation. “It is not a matter of if you will deal with these issues, it is a matter of when,” Velasquez says.

Ways To Combat Discrimination

  There are many ways to fight discrimination and promote acceptance. Velasquez suggests three important steps. One must first study the culture of the workplace and identify its prevalent issues. Diversity trainers can facilitate this task, or an organization can bring its leaders and employees together. Here, they can talk about their experiences and expectations. The company must then acknowledge and address these issues. While no universal way to do this exists, acknowledging the problems is a big step. Taking any action to heal these problems is better than ignoring them. Finally, the entire organizational culture must change. This time consuming process cannot happen overnight. Days and weeks of training can’t possibly undo a lifetime of experience that may have created a bias. The issues in the workplace are an indication of society. Any attempt to improve the organizational culture must be accompanied by change in our society.

  Harvill stresses the importance of labeling the problems and having proper training and incentives to build skill and awareness around them. Overcoming discrimination can be treated similarly to other projects an organization takes on. “To achieve business results, organizations must incorporate the appropriate needs assessments, instructional designs, performance evaluations, task analysis, mastery learning and accomplishment-based training,” says Harvill.

The Pyramid Of Life

  Patrick McCormick of Boyle & Associates in Corvallis, Oregon, suggests a concept called the “Pyramid of Life,” which his firm developed in an attempt to heal the problems caused by discrimination and unfamiliarity with diversity. At the center of this Pyramid is the issue. The three walls of the Pyramid are understanding, communication and goal setting. “Communication, understanding and setting goals are the glue that holds the pyramid together,” McCormick says. If the issue at the center is racial discrimination, and it gets out of control, it prevents the pyramid from coming together. “In order for us to overcome the issue and allow the formation of the pyramid, we must communicate to gain understanding of others and ourselves. Once we understand the intent of others and ourselves, we can see everyone’s unique point of view. It is through this understanding and communication with one another that we can create our goals and follow our dreams together,” McCormick says.

  Dealing with diversity in the workplace will not only improve a company’s bottom line, it will create more satisfied employees. Miller compares the situation to a jail. “Both the prison guard and the inmate are affected by the system of the prison,” he says. “In both ways, they are dehumanized by the process. By eliminating those things that are negatively impacting an individual in the system, you end up with everybody being able to make a stronger, better contribution.”

  Judith Katz, executive vice president of Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc., says that not only do companies avoid negative repercussions in the support of diversity, but they also find a new vitality. Katz says, “It is gratifying to see people in an organization finding new ways to be with each other and unleashing the potential of the people and of the organization.”

         September 2000 NFC Homepage


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