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4 Key Considerations for Diversity and Inclusion in 2021

Ira S. Wolfe

President, Success Performance Solutions

Six decades ago, Alan Shephard became the first American astronaut in space. Fifty years ago, we landed on the moon. Just two months ago, a four-person crew successfully launched aboard the first NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system in history.

And yet "here we are still struggling [to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion on earth]," said diversity strategist Torin Ellis, on a recent episode of my podcast.

Torin passionately and articulately expressed his impatience and frustration for the slow progress society’s made over the past 60 years on diversity, inclusion and, especially, equity. His voice reverberates in my head weeks after our interview.

Torin is not alone. The killing of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor unleashed anger and outrage among people young and old, black and white, around the world. But for many Baby Boomers, the summer of 2020 felt like déjà vu: Torin was quick to point out that the events of last summer were not unlike the horror and backlash we witnessed when cameras showed state troopers and county possemen attack unarmed marchers in the 1965 Selma to Montogomery march. That event unleashed a series of social and legislative events that attempted to ensure fair and equal treatment for all. We often say that change is a marathon, not a sprint. But 60 years is a long time, even for a marathon.

Seeking to make sure we do what’s right this time, I used my podcast pulpit to access Torin’s unfiltered thoughts and advice. And I started by asking: Will 2020 be remembered as the year things really changed or will things just gradually slip back to the way they were?

Torin didn’t hesitate: "I think it's a little too early for us to say. It feels different and organizations seem to be a bit more serious around the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives this time. Individuals inside of these organizations seem to be a bit more thirsty and curious about how they are going to pursue a change in their organization."

To turn rhetoric, frustration and even anger into good, Torin says the responsibility falls on both individuals and organizations. While companies need to lead the effort in making diversity and inclusion initiatives a priority, we all need to "drop the excuses and figure out how to do the work." To get started, Torin offers four key considerations:

1. Own Your Role

Diversity and inclusion has to start somewhere. Many people suggest it starts with leadership. But Torin suggested that it is also "the responsibility of every member of an organization to own their roles fully. Every individual, after reflecting on where they have fallen short, is responsible for making the changes they need to make in order to create a just workplace."

2. Make Diversity and Inclusion a Priority

The response to the pandemic was swift. We transformed cities, schools, workplaces, and even personal living spaces within days and weeks. Like COVID-19, discrimination, exclusion, and social injustice are also very real threats to our society. If we can create a safe response to a pandemic, why can’t we create a safe and inclusive workplace for people of color, race, age, and gender preference?

Torin said, "The reason no real change has been made is not because it’s impossible, but because it hasn’t been made a top priority. Many organizations have started with initiatives such as unconscious bias training, but haven’t gone far enough. This is a great first step, but not an approach that will lead to lasting change." Instead of relying solely on unconscious bias training, organizations need to promote more holistic efforts that will exist in perpetuity and have long-term, progressive goals associated with them.

3. Table Our Fragility

Personal change is hard work. We need to accept, then unpack our personal biases and prejudices. This process can often cause people to feel attacked. One of the most difficult parts of these changes is that it is ongoing. We are never done working on becoming a better human. It is a constant process that requires reflection, understanding, learning, and practice to make real changes.

We also must accept that we will make mistakes. That’s almost guaranteed. Torin’s advice: "Rather than letting the fear of making a mistake prevent you from diving into the work of being a better person, embrace the inevitability of making mistakes and be prepared to own them."

4. Spread the Word

It is not enough to only work on yourself as an individual. To work towards a truly just society, we are all obliged to get others on board. Create a safe zone for crucial conversations about the reality of our personal biases, prejudices and social injustice. Beyond that, encourage business leaders and influencers to join efforts to advance racial equality and accept responsibility for fixing their practices. It’s not only the moral and right thing to do but racism has led to a $16 trillion loss in GDP over the last 20 years. If nothing else, this finding must be shared and used to spark change.

According to Torin, the biggest threat to progress is "the complacency of white people and the fatigue of Black people." But if we do these four things, Torin strongly believes we'll be in better shape than ever before to shape to make real change.

For more tips about how to make diversity and inclusion a priority in the workplace, check out a recent webinar about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging and HR’s role from Cornerstone’s Advisory Services lead, Jeremy Spake.

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Workplace Diversity: ’The Era of Colorblindness is Over’

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Workplace Diversity: ’The Era of Colorblindness is Over’

Workplace diversity is a pressing topic among HR pros. It's heavily scrutinized in blogs, at conferences and during training sessions. That attention often focuses on how diversity affects the company — but what about how minorities' experiences affect people personally and professionally? Google employee Erica Baker addressed that question recently on Medium with a first-person account of her experiences as a minority in the tech industry. Here, Dr. Kecia Thomas, a professor of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Georgia, explains how individual workers' experiences can reverberate throughout an organization: How do the experiences of minority workers affect the entire company? The concerns of under-represented workers often represent the concerns of other workers, as well. The issues that minority workers might experience are not all that different from the experiences of people who were the first generation to go to college in their families, or people who might come from a lower economic class. Attending to diversity actually helps to improve the workforce overall. Some of the challenges for ethnic minority workers, for example, are that they often find themselves as one-of-a-kind in their workplace. I’m talking about high-level professionals, people with graduate degrees and above. There are implicit biases that might hinder their access to informal networks, to mentoring or to professional development opportunities that could subsequently impair their performance and career development. I think there are also experiences that newcomers face in regard to feeling invisible and voiceless. How do these biases affect people in the majority? It’s not a stretch to say that the lack of exposure for many white colleagues can also be a source of anxiety that can inhibit their opportunity for authentic interactions with a new colleague who is different, ethnically or culturally. Any time we have those barriers to communication or to establishing authentic relationships, it’s a potential barrier to our performance and our ability to work together productively. Whose role is it to consider these issues within a company — and to take steps to address them? When it comes to any type of organizational change, it always begins at the top. Leaders have to understand demographic shifts in their labor force, how those shifts might be reflected — and the needs and priorities of their workers. When leaders are committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace, HR is empowered to put in place the strategies that are equally effective across a diversity of workers. There’s also a culture of the organization that has to be addressed to make sure that people are held accountable if they violate non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Too often, companies don’t have clear policies, or they're not communicated effectively. And even if they’re communicated effectively, they’re not always followed. We are at a critical point as a nation in regard to how we address diversity. We are seeing a lot of blatant forms of discrimination and violence occur, but we’re also seeing a younger generation that is so multicultural and inclusive. We’re seeing an increasing number of states embrace same-sex marriage. So there’s kind of a tidal wave of issues going on that reflect our differences. We have an opportunity to do this well and see this as a way to promote innovation, creativity and greater collaboration. A lot of the research I’ve done with Vicky Plaut [professor of law and social science at the University of California, Berkeley] suggests that we need to embrace multiculturalism and that the era of colorblindness is over. In fact, colorblindness is a signal to members of ethnic and racial minority groups that they are now vulnerable to discrimination. Photo: Can Stock

Dear ReWorker: Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

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Dear ReWorker: Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Dear ReWorker, We recently had a sexual harassment complaint about an employee. Out of curiosity, I Googled this person and found several websites that list his name and include details about his inappropriate sexual activities and relationships. Aside from the internal complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace, the internet posts bother me very much. The situation certainly does not make the company look good and it tells me a lot about the employee's moral and ethical standards. Can I fire him for the complaint as well as what I found out on the Internet? Sincerely, Tempted to Terminate ___________________________________________________________________________________ Dear Tempted to Terminate, You are making this more difficult than it needs to be. If his offense at work was serious enough for termination, you fire him, regardless of his internet persona. It doesn't matter what he does outside of work or what he posts online—he misbehaved at work and should be punished. Now, this does become more complicated if his offense isn't necessarily fireable. Let's say someone complained that he made one dirty joke. That wouldn't (generally) be enough for a termination. If that's the case, here are a few other questions to consider. Is His Online Behavior Just Icky, or Is It Illegal? This is important because in some states or cities, you can't terminate someone for doing something controversial outside of work if it's legal. So, if you find his behavior objectionable but happen to live in one of these jurisdictions, you can't terminate him for that behavior. If you live outside these areas, employees don't have the right to do icky things and brag about them on the internet, even if it's outside of the workplace. There's no free speech in the workplace, and as long as his questionable behavior didn't include him starting a union, you can terminate him for outside activities. Are You Discriminating Based on Gender or Sexual Orientation? If a woman were saying the same things online as the employee in question, would you be okay with it? If your answer is yes, then you're discriminating illegally. If he were a different sexual orientation, would you be okay with it? If so, then you need to be extra cautious. The courts have reached mixed verdicts on whether you can legally discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation, but the reality is, even if your bias falls within the law, you shouldn't act on it. You should be judging people based on their work. Does the Behavior Reflect Badly on the Company? Assuming that his behavior at work wasn't serious enough for a termination, and assuming that it's not illegal to terminate him, should you still do it? Generally, managers should stay out of their employees' online lives. You wouldn't invite yourself over to dinner at their house, so why should you invite yourself onto their Facebook pages? With that said, you should take action if the employee's behavior reflects badly on the company. If there's nothing online linking him to your company, you should probably let it go. If it's easy to link him to your company, however, that's another story. Regardless of your decision you need to do two things: consult with your employment attorney and enforce the same standard across the board, regardless of age, gender, position or tenure. Your ReWorker, Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady Photo: Creative Commons

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