About a month ago Chief Learning Officer published an article by Marygrace Schumann, “Diversity Is Learning’s Business”. I was intrigued by this article for a couple reasons. First, is because I am a learning and development professional. Second, because I’ve recently moved to Down East Maine. (For those of you not familiar with Down East Maine, I am about four hours up the coast from Portland Maine, I can see Canada from my “office” window, and I can drive to the Canadian border in less than 30 minutes. And, according to Census.gov, in 2016, Washington County Maine, where I live, was 91.5% white.)
Ms. Schumann writes, “In today’s world of work, many employees post anonymous comments to employer review sites like Glassdoor or turn to chat forums like Blind to air grievances rather than confront their employers directly.” This is very true in bigger cities. In Down East Maine things like this are communicated on Facebook and through word of mouth. Regardless of where you are and where the grievances are aired, preventing harassment and discrimination and making people aware of their unconscious bias is something Learning and Development (L&D) and/or Human Resource (HR) must do. Yes, L&D and HR need to do it to protect the company from civil rights litigation, but (and probably more importantly in small communities like Down East Maine) we need to do it because of the impact to our current employees, future employees, and company reputation.
Ms. Schumann quotes Jennifer Brown, CEO of diversity consulting firm Jennifer Brown Consulting, “A lack of understanding of inclusion leads to toxic work environments where harassment actually happens.” Toxic work environments are terrible. As an L&D and HR professional, I’ve been involved in situations where employees have complained about a toxic work environment, harassment, and discrimination. I also make that statement based on my personal experience. I was once a young female supervisor, I was the north east transplant living in the south, and I am over 40. I am now a “from away” person living in Down East Maine. Even with those things I have a limited perspective since I am white, straight, and able-bodied, but still I have been harassed, discriminated against, picked on, etc. Most of it has been minor, but it has made things uncomfortable for me. (From Away means you are not born and raised in Down East Maine. Please note: I am a small business owner and consultant, so I don’t have a work environment, but if I did being from away could be an issue.)
From Ms. Schumann’s article: “In recent years, the focus has shifted to unconscious bias. Teaching employees to acknowledge and understand the biases they bring to work helps them better understand the different experiences that others have in the workplace, the argument goes. Leaders who better understand their biases are able to build teams with more diversity of thought, thereby leading to more collaboration and innovation.” She also refers to something from Doug Harris, CEO at consulting firm Kaleidoscope Group: Companies should focus on what he calls “conscious inclusion” to move from abstract concepts to behavior change. Conscious inclusion incorporates five principles: demonstrating empathy, authentically communicating, embracing differences, managing privilege and acting courageously.
To be a good leader (or a good co-worker for that matter) we need to be aware of our own biases and we need to make sure we don’t create a toxic environment or discriminate or harass people because of them. Schumann’s article suggests having a mentor (or coach…shameless plug for Peek Learning Consultants) that is different than you; this can be away to realize and overcome your biases and build a trusting relationship with someone who has a different perspective.
As leaders and L&D and HR professionals we also need to realize that unconscious bias and discrimination and harassment can come into play any time – in interviewing, during performance reviews, in terminations, and in all our day to day interactions. We need to be self-aware, we need to provide training, and we need to hold people (ourselves included) accountable for providing a work environment that embraces diversity.
From the EEOC’s website: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect you against employment discrimination when it involves:
Unfair treatment because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in your workplace, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation that you need because of your religious beliefs or disability.
Retaliation because you complained about job discrimination or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Link to Ms. Schumann’s article: Diversity Is Learning’s Business