Diversity in the Workplace

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctor from someone in HR about a complaint from an employee feeling exclude due to language:  She mainly states she feel left out. Note: She is an attractive girl in an enviable job. My question is: how can I address this issue with staff about how their actions can stir a perception of discrimination.

I am in Human Resources and work for a company that is 78% Hispanic and 76% female. I had a white female complain that she feels left out among the other females in the office. She says they talk in and out of Spanish when she is around; don’t include her in social activities. She doesn’t come straight out and say they are discriminating against her, but I’m getting the impression this is how she is feeling. She says they haven’t said anything specific about her being white. She mainly states she feel left out. Note: She is an attractive girl in an enviable job. My question is: how can I address this issue with staff about how their actions can stir a perception of discrimination. What tips can I include in our company newsletter about diversity and cultural awareness?

Signed, H.R. Guide

Dear H.R. Guide:

The complaint of feeling excluded is one that we have been asked about more than once. In your situation, it is a question that evolves from feeling unable to bridge the gap of a different language and culture. It is a problem like feeling alone upon entering a room of folks to know each other and not having the ability to join in an ongoing conversation. It could be a problem even without the barrier of language and culture because of personality and jealousy because you imply this individual is particularly attractive and has a job that is especially good. And that might not be the case for the other women employees.

What should be your role in this? Your query raises several overlapping questions: Should you keep out of this at a personal level and deal with it more generally, possibly in training of staff and in a newsletter? Or is there anything that you can do to privately coach the woman who brought the complaint so that she might fit in? And/or might you coach her co-workers so that they might include her? Should you tangle with this complaint directly by confronting the work group about this as an interpersonal social-fit problem of feeling excluded by the largely Hispanic workers or should you approach it indirectly as a productivity matter? And how do you fit in?

Can you and do you frequently interact with this largely Hispanic female workforce? These are questions that you have to think through. Hopefully, my remarks and the two posted Q&As in our Archives that I cite below will help you answer these many questions:

· How Can I Confront Spanish Speaking Workers? http://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/archive/q472.htm

· White Feeling Excluded http://www.west2k.com/wpdocs/qdetail.asp?id=439 You will note that these Q&As especially focus on how you as a coach might address the complaint you received in a personal direct way.

My associate Workplace Doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe’s advice is comprehensive and none could be better. My remarks will duplicate hers somewhat but focuses more on your question from an organization framework. By briefly describing your workplace and posing the question to us, you have begun to think through this matter and to frame it from a larger perspective. That larger perspective is more than interpersonal. It is one that pertains to the atmosphere of your workplace and how effectively does the work get done. In a sense, I’m sure you see your HR role far differently than I did when I was a boy working on our farm many decades ago. My job–feeding the animals and cultivating the crops; was to be productive. I didn’t intuitively think of it that way. I just thought of it as slopping the hogs, milking the cows and plowing the corn. But my real job entailed doing what was helpful to keep the animals and crops happy. Seeing it that way was different and meaningful. I could do some things that contributed to that. The weather was beyond my control, but I could do much to promote a congenial atmosphere and if I saw it that way I would not be like the two hated legged animal by the four legged ones as in Orwell’s Animal Farm.

This is to suggest that there is no one quick fix to transforming exclusion to inclusion, and you do not have to be the God who can fix it. This also is to suggest that you don’t have to be an all-wise counselor; however, it is to hope you might see yourself as a creative facilitator. By that, I do not mean one who proposes a quick fix of diversity training, but one that find answers emerges from addressing how well might we as organizationally partners and work groups work together effectively. Another preliminary thought: What I might do from this distance does not have the wisdom that you have from being closer to the situation.

Now for a few remarks:

1. Have you considered framing this complaint as an organizational one; one as matter of civility, respect and engagement? Your role as H.R. is more than one of solving interpersonal sociability problems. To be sure, it is to do what you can to prevent incivility, correct a hostile work environment and promote cooperation. That best is accomplished by fostering a mindset focused on working together with a mission. That means doing what you can to create a mindset of civility, respect, and engagement that is overarching for your entire workforce. Too often workers just think of their jobs as something they are paid to do. They have not framed their employment as accomplishing a mission and they do not see that this is best achieved when they think of it as entailing civility, respect, and engagement.

2. Management’s task and especially you, who carry that special designation of Human Resources, is to spell out what is expected and wanted; from beginning with job recruitment to orientation, training and on-going education. In a sense, you are like clergy preaching and a teacher instructing. You formulate the mission statement. You communicate the mission statement. You make sure the job skills are present and up dated in your workers and you do all possible to foster job and organizational commitment.What often is missing is spelling that out again and again in simple words such as civility, respect and engagement. How that is most effectively spelled out, in my opinion, is multifold, and I’m sure you have ideas about that too; some that I soon will mention in #4.

3. Currently you have the perception of one who feels left out that there is congeniality among the Hispanic workers. She might be right, but she also might not know that within the Hispanic women’s work group there also are some individuals who feel in and others who feel marginal rather than “in”. Since this is a real possibility, is it not the role of H.R. and management to cultivate a mindset among all of civility, respect, and engagement?

4. Creating that mindset is an ongoing collaborative process; one that entails modeling, training, and team-building. It is a top-down, bottom up on-going process. Those at the top spell out collaboratively what is their mission and establish a pattern of frequently asking and taking time to collaboratively answer such questions as: How well are we doing this week? What are the signs we are a team? What is going well and are we on the same page? What’s holding us back? From the bottom up a like pattern is going on. And the answers from the top and from the bottom are exchanged and representatives from the top sometimes are invited to sit in on the conversations at the bottom and those at the bottom are invited to sit in on the conversations at the top. When I worked with GE in team-building and studied quality from Washington D.C across this land to San Diego and Seattle, I saw this as at its best as an on-going conversation.

5. Finally, I must add that I see this larger framework as not just psychological ownership. At its best it achieved when workers are not just doing a job for pay, but are invested in the organization. Their stake in the workplace is tangible and increasing, and that can be realized in both for-profit and not-for profit workplaces.Possibly these thoughts are much more than you ever wanted to get in an answer to your question, and they are “stuff” you already know.

If so, I apologize for not providing a Dear Abby two paragraph answer. Rather I  have not done that because I could tell that you were thinking beyond this particular complaint that prompted your question. And also I’m sure what our site says will only be helpful if you select what you do from a range of approaches to make your role maximally effective and use it as a prompt to even more creative and appropriate action.

So I leave you with my usual signature that would make for a great place to work if all employees would understand: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Please to get back to us with what you do and how it works or fails. We post follow-ups in our Archives so that others who visit our site might learn from those in the trenches.

Follow Up: Thank you so much for your insight. I use your site often to assist me in providing a better working environment for our employees.–H. R.

Reply: Thank you for sending this note. It occurs to me that I failed to suggest any fun activities that promote inclusion of all members within a work group and teamwork. That is: how might work groups be enjoined in work-related activity that they genuinely enjoy and need each others’ participation to accomplish? In fact brainstorming within work groups on such a question as this, in itself, moves a workplace in that direction.

This would not have to be as elaborate as what I sketch below, but might result in something like  launching of a series of month-long inter work group contests that require demonstrations: 1. Know all your co-workers hobbies and/interests

2. Beautify your workspace

3. community volunteers4. Cut wasted effort 4. Cut wasted supplies, etc.

5. Delight your external customer

6. Partnering with between workgroups/departments

7. Partnering with suppliers

8. Secret accomplishment

9. Workplace-wide mindedness

10. Making your workplace employee less stressful

11. Making team meetings fun Judges might be acquired from local stockholders with an end of the month afternoon of 10-20 minute long demos and announcement of winner awards. Rewards should be meaningful such as a day off, a share of stock, money to spend for a work group improvement, etc. I’ve seen such a contest do wonders for an organization. A number of years ago, I saw a variation of this was a 16-department citywide effort.

Incidentally, have you read the August 6, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek and/or are you familiar with Winning Workplaces? Mark Harbeke Manager of Content Development Winning Workplaces mharbeke@winningworkplaces.org

William Gorden