to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #31 — REFLECTING YOUR COMMUNITY IS GREAT FOR BUSINESS

Why would you want to change your employment practices to reflect your community? After all, few people openly support discriminatory practices. Does it really matter that not everyone gets the job he or she wants, or that some people are segregated into certain jobs? Employment equity might be a lofty goal, but is it my business?

 

Beyond the human rights reasons, making sure your business or department better reflects the community you serve is good, in fact, great for business.

 

Here's why:

Decisions will not be made in a vacuum. When decisions are made with only persons from the same or similar backgrounds, important components are often missing. Take something as simple as setting dates for a meeting, a big sale or the opening of a new location. Even with a decent day-timer or calendar, which lists a variety of important celebrations and holy days, if you don't understand the significance of certain holidays in certain cultures, how will you know a good time to set an important meeting you want everyone to attend? Which of the following dates should you avoid when setting up a fall meeting?

 

LABOUR DAY — ROSH HASHANAH — YOM KIPPUR — DIWALI  — REMEMBRANCE DAY — EID AL-FITR — CHRISTMAS DAY

 

If you were brought up in a home like mine, you have no clue about four of the above. In fact, I only know about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because I attended York University, which used to shut down for three days every fall. Given my law-school reading load, I was eternally grateful to my Jewish classmates for "giving" me those days off to catch up or lounge. They replied it was payback time for all those Christmases they'd enjoyed off. Rosh Hashanah is a two-day event (one day for Reform Jews) for celebrating the New Year. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year for Jews.

 

I've come to understand the importance of Diwali, the Hindu "Festival of Lights," when I lived in the Lower Mainland of B.C., marked by a large Indo-Canadian population. As for Eid al-Fitr, I had to call a Muslim friend and ask for advice. I knew the importance of the month-long fasting and praying of Ramadan, but I didn't truly appreciate the importance of its last day. On this day, many Muslims seek a day off work to eat, visit with friends and celebrate.

 

There are so many customs, procedures and even superstitions in every culture, that it's impossible to keep track of them all. But when you have a workplace that reflects the community you serve, there is a better chance someone will give you important information to make sure you're not alienating a large customer base or missing out on a business opportunity.

 

People want to see themselves reflected in business and government. Years ago, as part of a large project for a company, I did an audit of their practices with an eye to encouraging and supporting an inclusive workplace. It soon dawned on me that the firm's customer base looked a lot different from their workforce.  Most workers were white, while visible minorities comprised much of their customer base. Their employees noticed this and increasingly so did their customers. They were surprised to find their paper policies were not reflected in their hiring and promotion practices.

 

Your customers aren't stupid. If they look around your business and notice it's homogeneous while the community and customer base is diverse, they'll notice. If they have an alternative supplier, they'll use it. If there isn't, it leads to a perfect business opportunity to compete against you.

 

However, a word of caution on the issue of reflecting the community. Don't let tokenism be your guide. In the audit noted above, any visible minority employees often found visible minority customers sent directly to them, with no allowance made for whether they were busy or had the expertise to help that customer. Don't let this happen. If visible minority customers need special attention based on their ethnicity, or language, they'll let you know.

 

Avoiding the "us versus them" mentality. When your workplace reflects your community - when you achieve a critical mass of people from different backgrounds - employees and customers will stop suspecting "tokenism" (people hired to fill quotas), and start realizing you hired people in a competitive employment market with competent people everywhere.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

1) Take simple steps - as you don't need to get a Ph.D. in culture. To get a better understanding of the important celebrations, every year I buy the Multifaith Calendar where I get to see which days are of importance. A simple tool for a guy like me who was brought up knowing very little about Canadian differences.

 

2) Pay attention to the tools you have - it only makes sense. Using the Multifaith Calendar for example, look ahead and see what is important and what is not. Even though I look at the calendar, recently I was part of a group scheduling a meeting and we scheduled it during an important religious holiday. The person affected wasn't on the phone call setting up the meeting, so we found out afterwards that she couldn't attend. With my calendar staring me in the face, it was rather silly that I didn't just look at it - and I could have avoided the entire problem.

 

3) Don't do the multicultural lunch - or if you do, that better not be everything you do. Many people with the best of intentions tell me how they do a kind of multicultural lunch. When asked what else is done, often there isn't much more. You're better off spending time on employment initiatives that have real meaning.

This is TIP #31 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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