Monday, December 28, 2009

Separating work and home

Dear Diversity Diva: I work at a company where managers are expected to host little holiday parties at their home for the people they manage. Because of the neighborhood I live in, I just don’t feel comfortable having folks from work over. How do I get out of this and keep my boss from holding it against me? — Humble About My Home

Dear Humble: This time of the year can be a stressful time, not just because of family expectations but because of the expectations at work with the pseudo-family dynamic some workplaces can engender.

At work, where people all show up at the same place, it’s easy to forget that people come from different backgrounds and transport themselves from different neighborhoods. While people should never be ashamed of where they are from or where they live now, it’s not an unreasonable concern to wonder how your co-workers and supervisors will judge you outside of the workplace knowing how judgmental people can be inside the workplace.

To stay in your boss’s good graces, explain to him or her that personal family issues (keeping it vague) make it inconvenient to host work parties at home but that you would be more than happy to help arrange for an off-site lunch or happy hour or some other entertainment function.

Emphasize your desire to reward and bond with your team and ask your boss to help you brainstorm some creative ways to do that in a way that won’t negatively impact your family.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Let heritage be self-defined

Dear Diversity Diva: At lunch, several of us were talking about the Tiger Woods affair and we kind of got into a debate about the right way to refer to someone who is more than one race. What is the right way? — Mixed Up About Mixed Races

Dear Mixed Up: It’s understandable why you would be confused. Most of us are blends of ethnic heritages. Some are just more obvious blends than others.

I had this very conversation with a co-worker who once asked why most famous people who have a black parent and a white parent identify themselves as black rather than biracial. I pointed out that people tend to self-identify by what the world repeatedly identifies them as. For example, can you imagine if actress Halle Berry or recording artist Alicia Keys or President Barack Obama identified themselves as white?

Tiger Woods tried to get around this when he first gained notoriety by referring to himself as Cablinasian. That not only made him the butt of jokes, ridicule and even some hostility, but it didn’t keep every media outlet and most people from generally referring to Woods as black.

In a nutshell, the correct answer is that a person of diverse heritage is to be called by whatever he or she chooses to be called — whether it’s mixed, biracial or just picking one race, even if you suspect from physical observation that person has a parent who is of a different race.

The reason you allow people to choose their own self-identification is because individuals have reasons they refer to themselves the way they do. For example, if an adult was raised by just one parent, the adult may identify with just the race of the person who raised him or her. On the other hand, someone who was happily raised by parents from two (or more) racial backgrounds may prefer the term “biracial” because it honors the heritages of both backgrounds.

In the workplace, however, unless someone chooses to tell you all this, it’s a highly personal matter that co-workers don’t need to know in respecting and honoring that person’s preferences. Though if your co-worker invents a cumbersome name such as Cablinasian, you may be allowed to ask that person for his or her second choice.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Add war to the list of taboo topics at work

Dear Diversity Diva: I’m in the military reserves, something everybody at my job knows because of the changes to my work schedule from time to time. One of my supervisors makes anti-war comments all the time that really bother me. How should I handle this? Signed, Worked-Up Weekend Soldier

Dear Worked-Up: Sex, money and religion have always been topics best not to discuss in inappropriate places. Add the U.S. involvement in military action to that list.

Increasingly, everyone knows a loved one or an acquaintance going overseas to serve. People also have strong opinions about issues involving safety and, yes, money. And war and military action, for some, is nothing more than a topic reduced to budgetary considerations of taxpayer money.

If the supervisor has done something that makes you feel that he or she is discriminating against you on the basis of your military service — for example, doesn’t allow your seniority to accrue when you are away for training or makes you use your earned vacation for your time away for reservist duty — then you should immediately notify your human resources department. That would be a violation of federal law.

If that’s not the case, I would have a friendly talk with the supervisor and make clear that you would appreciate keeping this topic off the discussion track.

As is the case with most strong, casually expressed opinions, the supervisor may not be aware of the impact. But a supervisor should be smart enough to hear you very clearly.