Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My boss is a racist. What should I do?

Dear Diversity Diva: My boss is a racist. What should I do?
Dear Diversity Diva: I’m a black woman working for a business that is about to fire me because I don’t get along with my boss, a white woman who I know is racist. I haven’t bothered going to HR because I know they won’t do anything. What do you think I should do? — Rock in a Hard Place
Dear Rock: You’ve got more issues going on than you realize, and it sounds like it’s all about to come to a head.
To begin, how do you know you are about to be fired? For example, if you have been put on probation or given some form of disciplinary warning, your perception that your job is in jeopardy might be quite accurate. However, if you’re just assuming because of the boss tensions, then you may not be at the danger point — just quickly getting there.
Regardless of whether you are guessing or getting direct feedback about the imminent mortality of your job, it is a mistake to keep human resources out of it. From a practical standpoint, you should go to them because you may be getting a lot of things wrong. Maybe your boss is racist. Maybe she’s not. Maybe she’s discriminating against you. Maybe she’s not.
Maybe your job is completely secure but your perceptions and fears are leading you to sit on the railroad tracks ready to be hit by the train. If that’s the case, someone in HR might be able to objectively hear you out and help you fix the situation.
Additionally, from a legal standpoint, if you do get fired and decided to sue on the basis of discrimination, your employer will be able to use the defense that you never complained or gave them the opportunity to resolve discriminatory behavior that may have taken place.
Regardless of what you decide to do, your key objective should be to stop being miserable in a job that is no longer serving you. In these difficult economic times, take the opportunity while you still have a job to find another.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why can't I call an older co-worker "Grandpa"?

Dear Diversity Diva: In the restaurant where I work, we young people call this older guy we work with “Grandpa.” We don’t mean any harm, but our boss says we need to stop calling him that. If Grandpa doesn’t mind, why do we have to stop? — Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

Dear Age: I’m sure you and your co-workers mean no disrespect when you call your older comrade Grandpa. It sounds like it may even be a title of affection and admiration.
However, your boss has more to consider than just whether you like calling a co-worker something other than his name or even whether Grandpa minds the nickname.
For one, I get the impression that you’re assuming Grandpa doesn’t mind being called by that name. You may be right. However, I don’t know if your older co-worker is 35 or 75. Because employees over the age of 40 are legally considered to be in a protected class— meaning that they can sue on the basis of age discrimination — your supervisor may be concerned that Grandpa might claim age discrimination someday and cite your playful nickname as part of the complaint.
Also, remember that your boss has to take into account that other older co-workers and customers who overhear in the restaurant may take offense.
Another possibility you may not have considered is that Grandpa really doesn’t like that nickname and he is the one who went to the boss and complained about it. Many times, even the friendliest co-worker feels more comfortable going to the boss on the sly rather than taking complaints directly to the source for fear of confrontation or creating tension. Even the most direct person has been known to take that approach to keep calm waters and to make the boss the heavy.
A lot of times, conflict in the workplace comes from the impressions created by workers who mean no harm. In a case like this, therefore, the best thing to do is just follow your boss’s guidance. Call Grandpa by his given name.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Do I have to keep going to diversity seminars?

Dear Diversity Diva: Why do I have to keep going to diversity seminars at work? We have them every year and I want to know what’s up with that. Isn’t it my bosses that need to be hearing this stuff anyway? — Sick of Seminars

Dear Sick: You have to keep going to diversity seminars for the same reasons you still need to get an annual physical from a doctor even though you had one back when they put Winnie the Pooh Band-Aids on your boo-boos.
Diversity seminars and workshops often trigger eye-rolling and sighs of exasperation because people think they get along just fine with their co-workers and don’t need any extra help.
No doubt, some seminars are better than others. Some can be informative, fun and lively. Others can be simplistic, preachy or just downright boring.
But even the worst diversity session that your employer sends you to has some information or some insight into your co-workers that you need to know about.
If, for example, you see even one co-worker mouthing off about her sexist bosses, or you see your minority or disabled or older co-workers visibly upset when the issue of bias or discrimination comes up, then you are looking at the reason why you’re there.
And the fact that you didn’t cause or aren’t responsible for someone else’s issue doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you, your department or your company.
Employees who have to check some part of their identify at the workplace door probably think there are not enough good diversity workshops taking place.
A lot of distaste that many have for these training sessions stems from the defensiveness these sessions trigger among the people who assume that on some level they or the group they are a member of will be targeted as “the bad guy.”
But if you start being one of those employees who truly aims to learn just one thing every session, you’ll find that going to them seems less tedious. And you may even find it has some positive impact on your work environment.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Should an office gift of condolence be a political donation?

Dear Diversity Diva: I work in a small department of a large, private business. A member of our team had a death in his family and the team collected money for flowers, only to find out that the wishes of our co-worker’s loved one was to donate money to one of the presidential campaigns. Our office is divided politically, so I don’t feel comfortable with that. What do you think? — Perplexed by Politics

Dear Perplexed: I understand why you would be uncomfortable. You’re trying to support a co-worker in his time of loss, honor someone’s last wishes and avoid offending co-workers.
Even though you didn’t make that last point in your question, ultimately that’s what your real concern is. If the loved one’s request was a donation to Save the Whales or the American Cancer Society, you probably wouldn’t think twice.
But donating money to a political campaign — especially in a tightly contested, extremely polarized presidential campaign — will almost definitely rub someone in the opposing camp the wrong way.
In working for many government municipalities and some private-sector jobs, collecting for a political campaign, even indirectly, would be strictly forbidden.
In a situation where a small group of personal friends at work want to donate money in this fashion in their off-work time, it’s a different issue because it ceases to be a “workplace” donation. But when the situation really is a work department coming together in this way, it’s not fair to put anyone in the position of later finding out that their generosity was used in a way they didn’t intend.
Probably the best way to address this is to convert the money raised into a money order or cashier’s check in your co-worker’s name and give it to him in a condolence card, leaving him to use his judgment in how the money will be used to honor his loved one.
That way, the people in the department have achieved their real objective of supporting their co-worker, the co-worker is touched by the gesture, and political diversity is respected with no one having to feel offended by having their money directly go to a candidate that they had no intention of supporting.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Take boss' resume screenings to human resources department

Dear Diversity Diva:
I am a midlevel supervisor who helps select resumes for my boss to interview applicants for upcoming openings. My boss has made very clear that she wants me to weed out applicants with Hispanic-sounding last names. I don’t like doing this but I also don’t want to upset my boss. What should I do?
Signed, Caught in the Middle

Dear Caught:
The obvious and easy answer is to go to the human resources department. That’s the right thing to do.
But there’s probably a couple of other things at play that make the answer less than direct. One is that you like the boss and don’t want to see her get into trouble. You want some free pass that allows you to do the right thing by the applicants while simultaneously protecting your boss and avoiding awkwardness.
Sorry, but that isn’t going to happen. You can continue doing what your boss wants, and no one may ever be the wiser. Or you can continue doing what your boss wants and then you may find yourself sitting across from a lawyer in a deposition for a case brought by a Hispanic applicant who brings a lawsuit. Now that will be uncomfortable.
You could try appealing directly to your boss and pointing out that what she is doing is unfair and not the most efficient use of your time. However, logic usually never defeats prejudice, so that will most likely not work. Also, and this may be one of your initial concerns, you would be left vulnerable to possible retribution once your boss realizes you’re not on the same page.
If you’re not going to report your boss to her boss or HR, then the next best thing is to do your job of sifting resumes and when you turn them over, make clear that you’ve picked the best applicants from the resumes, which includes any good picks that have a Hispanic-sounding last name. If she doesn’t like it, then both of you can take the issue to human resources together. Chances are, that will be the end of that.
That doesn’t mean that your boss may not be called on the carpet down the line since she will proceed to do her own “screening” or that you won’t be dragged into it. All it means is that you didn’t allow yourself to be a tool in willful discrimination and maybe your boss will be influenced by your example.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Isn't a job posting specifically seeking minority applicants unfair?

Dear Diversity Diva: Not to beat a dead horse, but I strongly disagree with your last column. Are you saying that you would not be offended and turned off from applying for a job if it were advertised “we’re particularly seeking white applicants”? — Ticked from Two Weeks Ago
Dear Ticked: Subtlety doesn’t always translate well in print. So, I’ll say it more clearly: Companies that primarily want white employees don’t have to advertise it in their job postings. Minority job applicants can see it when they go to the job interview and fail to see diversity walking up and down the hallways.
If I along with other professional or working-class minorities stopped applying for jobs in businesses where we were the distinct or nonexistent minority, especially in management, then most of us would never have held a job.
Ticked, I would never presume to tell you or anyone else that they should not be offended by companies making an extra push to have minority job candidates. It’s your right to be offended at whatever strikes you as unfair.
But I reiterate that a job posting is nothing more than an advertisement — a recruitment device — to get as many qualified people to apply for a job as possible. Qualified is the key word. And you can’t get qualified diversity without a diverse pool to choose from in the first place.
The big mistake that most people make is assuming that if a company advertises specifically for diversity, it definitely will give the job to a minority. That’s not the case, and I have yet to meet any minority who thinks that color alone is a qualifying criteria.
By encouraging a wider selection process for individual jobs, though, over the course of time, a nondiverse company has a shot at changing. If you think there’s a better, less divisive way, make suggestions to your company or join organizations that address these issues.
I would love to see the day when race is not an issue, when corporate America naturally looks like the crews in the “Star Trek” shows. However, racial diversity in the workplace is still a hot button issue, with no perfect solutions devised yet.
And since, according to the U.S. Census, today’s racial minorities will become the majority by 2042, better solutions will just have to show up because we very well may have the same workplace challenges showing up in different skin tones.
Personally, I’m hoping for ”Star Trek.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

Is it right for a company to encourage racial minorities to apply for a job?

Dear Diversity Diva: The other day while looking at job postings in my field, a top company had a job opening for a midlevel professional, adding that they were encouraging racial minorities to apply. Not only did that offend me, but I feel discouraged from applying because I’m white. — Peeved by Posting
Dear Peeved: I hear you loud and clear.
Basically you’re offended because a company that you really want to work for seems to blatantly be stating that you’re not a desirable candidate because of your race. At least that’s the way you took the posting.
I’m sure that you’re equally offended when you go for a job interview and just about everyone you see is white — with no visible diversity to be found. I mean you are offended by that too, right?
Because while one seeming preference may be openly stated, the other is openly practiced. Whether the lack of diversity within an organization is purposeful, accidental or just due to indifference, in the eyes of the average qualified candidate who doesn’t fit the profile, it can look as blatantly offensive and unsettling as the job posting was to you.
A black man (actually, a biracial man) might be our next president, but CNN has yet to break the news that workplace discrimination and glass ceilings no longer exist.
When companies openly advertise for diversity, by any other name, it still smells like affirmative action. For some, no matter how well they understand the historical and contemporary reasons for extra recruiting, at some level it still feels unfair.
But feelings don’t replace facts.
For example, in the specific posting you mentioned, the company sought midlevel minority candidates, which means they’re narrowing the field of whom they want to apply to not just any old person of color, but for a racial minority with several years of experience in the field. In other words, would you be qualified anyway to apply if the posting said “particularly interested in white candidates”?
Also, when a company goes to that much extra trouble of including wording like that in a job advertisement, it’s most likely because their current work force is so decidedly monochromatic that it has become a problem for clients or customers and members of that work force who care about diversity and inclusion.
For every handful of whites who saw that posting and was resentful that it specifically seemed to target minority applicants, there was a minority candidate suspicious about why the company had to go out of their way to encourage minorities to apply in the first place.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Can I mandate that women employees wear pantyhose?

Dear Diversity Diva: Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned male, even though I’m not old, but I really have a problem with the increasing trend of women not wearing pantyhose with skirts and dresses when they come to work. Would it be sexist of me to mandate that my female subordinates wear pantyhose to work? — Pantyhose in a Twist

Dear Pantyhose: I’m sure that just about every woman reading this column is hoping that I say a resounding “yes” to your question and tell you that you’re sexist. And while you may be a sexist, I’m going to stick to the issue.
The issue is whether a male believes that he has the right to require a woman to encase parts of her body in an uncomfortable material that restricts movement and comfort. Granted, wearing pantyhose can be an effective prophylactic against looking too casual and not sufficiently professional.
But for the average woman who has to wear nylons eight to 10 hours a day, every day, even when the humidity is nearing triple digits, it can seem like an antiquated and rigid expectation that serves no real purpose other than when specific circumstances require that degree of custom.
Deep down, as a boss, you know whether this requirement you have for your female employees is fair or not. For example, if the women are dealing with the public in a formal work environment, then it might be a legitimate expectation to spell out in your company handbook what expectations of attire are.
But if women throughout the organization in other similar departments are walking their bare legs up and down the hallway, maybe you’re the one who has expectations out of sync with your work environment and with changing times.
Also, going back to the sexist question, maybe you do need to ask yourself if you’re being evenhanded in how you expect your male employees to dress compared to the women. I mean if the women have to wear nylons while men frequently come to work without ties or in khakis and polo-type shirts, maybe you do have some double standards that need re-examining.
When it’s all said and done, if you’re a buttoned-up, consistently dapper guy yourself, it could just be that you’re trying to reinstitute decorum and modesty in the workplace, which some would consider admirable.
I still say that you should consider how it would feel to spend just one full workday zipped up in plastic before seriously considering implementing a mandatory pantyhose workplace.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Will my hair be held against me in a job interview?

Dear Diversity Diva: Because I’m a white guy, you may not find this a diversity issue, but it’s an issue to me. Two days after I put blond highlight tips in my hair, I got a call for a job interview. I’m in a fairly conservative industry and am wondering if that will be something held against me? — Highlights Holding Me Down
Dear Highlights: First, let me get out of the way that diversity is not just about minority groups and women. Workplace diversity is about bringing differences to the table and maximizing everyone’s talents.
Diversity, at its best, is about people in the work force getting past appearances to knowing what you can do in the job you’re hired for.
Now you’re probably right that blond, spiky hair will probably not make it to the U.S. Supreme Court as a discrimination issue, but that doesn’t make your issue any less important to you because it’s not a legally protected one.
A few months ago I wrote about the issue of tattoos on job interviews, but this is different, in that, generally speaking, tattoos are permanent and not something you can change the week before a job interview — if you wanted to.
In essence, what you’re worried about is whether an unflattering, mistaken conclusion will be drawn about you based on your appearance. Or it could be that you’re worried that a very accurate conclusion will be drawn about you based on your appearance, but a conclusion that won’t help you get the job.
In either case, the question to ask yourself is whether your hairstyle is a statement of some kind or whether it’s just a hairstyle. If it’s a statement about your individuality or reflects your identity in some key way (for example, you’re a Kansas City surfer boy), then the better question to ask yourself is whether the place where you are interviewing is a good fit for you anyway.
On the other hand, if it’s just a hairstyle, then change it. It’s not an immutable characteristic or a reflection of cultural, religious or sexual orientation, so it’s not like you would be compromising yourself in any fundamental way to have your stylist slap on some hair rinse.
Diversity often is about the large and deep issues that have historical context and emotional relevance, but sometimes it can just be about the misconceptions about people created from small details.
In the case of hair color, this is a detail you can easily control.
Good luck on your interview!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Is Every Personnel Issue a Big Deal?

Dear Diversity Diva: No offense, Diva, but I think you dropped the ball on your last column. It sounded like you were saying that the manager should just blow off two employees getting into it about gay marriage. Shouldn’t someone have gotten in trouble? — Critical in Kansas City
Dear Critical: I can understand how my response may have seemed that I was taking too soft a tone to the manager’s dilemma. However, that wasn’t the case. The manager asked about what he should do regarding two employees in his small retail store who had a spat when one of them mentioned that he/she was about to get married under California’s new gay marriage law. The other employee responded in an offensive way.
Basically, my answer was in response to the very specific question the manager asked (who gave me more details than space allowed), which was wanting to know what role he had in improving the relationship that went awry between two employees.
The manager was asking about an isolated incident in which two people were on opposite sides of an emotionally charged issue. And whether people like it or not, an isolated difference of opinion between two employees does not trigger the need for a companywide diversity training session or the firing of an employee.
If one of the employees had written and told me how this was an ongoing issue of hostility and harassment, then reporting the incident to management would have been the first step I recommended, followed by possibly hiring an attorney to seek legal remedies based on the facts.
If the manager himself had told me that this was an ongoing issue, then I would have recommended that he quickly take this to his human resources department and address this immediately.
That wasn’t the case here. The manager who contacted me had the specific concern of wanting his people to go back to liking each other again in the aftermath of one conversation. The law can address behaviors; it can even address motivations that result in work environment and job decisions. But the law and human resources department can’t legislate how people feel about other individuals or other groups.
Laws and policies help keep the workplace fair, but they can’t eradicate bigotry, because one person’s bigoted comment is another person’s right to have an opinion.
Just like the first fight with a spouse doesn’t require a trip to a marriage counselor, every isolated disagreement regarding diversity in the workplace does not require a trip to the human resources department or to the EEOC.
Additionally, 100 different HR professional will have 100 different takes on how to handle a personnel issue. But all those approaches are imperfect considering that the EEOC last year had its biggest increase in discrimination complaints from the preceding year since 1993.
Thanks for holding my feet to the fire, Critical!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gay-marriage remark causes discord

Dear Diversity Diva:
I manage a small retail store and the other day a disruptive conversation arose when one of my employees mentioned her plans to go to California to marry her lover and my other employee made a disparaging comment about gay marriage. How do I get two employees who have always gotten along back on track?
California Dreaming
Dear California Dreaming:
There is a reason why discussing weather is the safest conversation you can have with strangers and co-workers — there are only so many ways cloud cover can turn controversial.
Chances are that what happened in your work situation is that the person who made the negative comment about gay marriage expressed an opinion he had always had but felt empowered to vocalize because his co-worker opened the door to the subject. Also, for all you know, the co-worker who made the original comment was deliberately attempting to start a conversation to “out” a co-worker she suspected would be unsupportive.
You never know what’s really going on beneath the surface when sensitive topics pop up.
Ultimately, sensitive conversations in the workplace are a lot like driving. The person who has the clearest view of the situation is presumed to be the one who could have kept the accident from happening in the first place. That’s why if you don’t want to take the chance of someone saying something offensive, you’ve got to carefully pick your workplace discussions and anticipate the logical places where the conversation may end up.
Your options in making this situation better are limited.
It sounds like what you want to accomplish is having your two employees go back to the place they were with each other before harsh words were spoken. Sorry, but that won’t fly.
Each of them probably will see each other through different eyes now that they have openly addressed their conflicting views. If they are both mature and responsible individuals, they’ll try to keep that out of their working relationship as much as possible and maybe even learn something from the encounter they had.
The best you can do is what it sounds like you’re already doing — staying aware and keeping folks on track as best you can.

Monday, June 2, 2008

How do I speak to a co-worker about racial issues?

Dear Diversity Diva: I’m a white male who works in a predominantly white workplace. I’ve tried to talk to a black co-worker of mine about some of the racial events going on in the news, but she usually changes the subject. I really want to understand some things, but how can I learn if I can’t talk to people who have a different viewpoint than I do? — Seeking to Understand
Dear Seeking: First of all, it’s admirable that you genuinely are seeking to understand different vantage points.
Good intentions aside, however, you wade in choppy waters when you expect or even just want your co-workers to provide your learning curve on sensitive topics. When you’re at work, being the one to initiate an uncomfortable conversation about race makes you vulnerable to being on the receiving end of a complaint.
Although unfortunate that your good intentions could be misconstrued, you’ve got to understand that what may be in some ways just a political conversation to you can be a highly provocative conversation to a person with very different life experiences than you — despite the multitude of ways you’re alike.
Many blacks who have been schooled and have worked in predominantly white environments have exhausting experiences with being viewed as a racial spokesperson when it comes to explaining “what black folks think.” I’m sure that’s a common issue with many other people from various backgrounds.
In the case of the co-worker you’ve attempted to talk to about news events, do you have a genuine friendship with her that would leave room for those sensitive conversations to come up naturally?
Otherwise, think about it this way: If there was a sensitive and personal family issue going on with you, you probably would not feel comfortable discussing it with a co-worker who only appeared to have an innocent yet mildly academic interest in the subject.
The beauty of our society is that information is easy currency. Seeking out black interest magazines and Web sites is a good starting point, as is getting involved in community discussions and organizations that seek to foster racial harmony and understanding.
Like you, I agree that conversation is a great path to understanding, but we have to remember that not everyone wants to get on the bumpy road with us.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Speaking in another language isn't rude

Dear Diversity Diva: Where I work there are several groups of people who are originally from other countries, and when they are in the break room or standing off to the side they frequently talk to each other in their own language. Why are people that rude? — English As My Official Language
Dear English: Your question is an increasing concern in our society — not just in the workplace.
The bottom line is: What business is it of yours what people who aren’t talking to you are talking about? Obviously if they are speaking a language you can’t understand, then the issue isn’t about you being offended. Usually, the concern is “But what if they’re talking about me?” So what? Unless they point directly at you and laugh, chances are they aren’t talking about you.
The implication of people finding other languages spoken around them as rude is that those “foreigners” are being deliberately exclusionary. The fact is that when folks go to the side and talk and engage in a conversation and the group seems bonded by being in the same physically distinguishable group, it pops up on the radar quicker. Some people, for example, are quick to take notice when they see several black employees standing to the side talking and laughing, and language isn’t the issue in that case.
If language interfering with actual work is the issue, that’s another concern. But what you’re talking about is how people express their interests, backgrounds and identities in those “in between moments” that help them increase their comfort level in their work environment.
Think about it – if you and some other people are standing by the water cooler talking about who needs to get kicked off “American Idol” or rehashing the latest Chiefs game, are you excluding anyone? No. You’re just not including the uninterested and would probably find it rude if someone tried to insert themselves and change the subject to fit their interests.
Rather than worrying about what other people are saying at break in another language, why don’t you focus on spending your breaks building your own bonds to get you through the day? There is always someone willing to talk about anything or nothing at all until it’s time to get back to work.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How does a newcomer to a job deal with a veteran?

Dear Diversity Diva: I’m new to my job and work in a department where there is a distinct divide between the people who are fairly new to the organization and the people who have worked there for years. How do I get along without stepping on any toes? — Newest Egg to the Dozen
Dear Newest: The tensions between newbies to a job and respected elders can definitely be an issue. And being a respected elder has nothing to do with age, although that can be a factor. It has everything to do with who has sat at the workplace table the longest.
Some departments or organizations have frequent turnover or at least a fairly regular infusion of new personnel.
But other workplaces can become very insular from not changing over the years. And for someone new to that environment, it’s often the unofficial roles and positions that workers have settled into that can create tensions. Sometimes it is because certain individuals feel threatened; most of the time it’s just because of unconscious discomfort with change.
At its heart, diversity is about differences coming together in a community of people who have to interact. And at no time are differences going to show up more prominently than when a new person first enters a place where you spend the bulk of your waking hours.
Unlike other diversity issues that are cultural and/or unchanging, eventually you’ll no longer be the new guy or girl. Your way of doing things — from how grumpy you are before your first cup of coffee to what font you use in your memos — will be judged, evaluated and picked over until people just get used to you.
Until that awkward initiation period passes, all you should focus on is learning and doing your job, being pleasant and asking necessary questions of the respected elders to let them know that their institutional insight and knowledge is appreciated and respected.
For those more thorny problems that directly impact the work, you will have to judge whether you want to tactfully and informally seek clarification about work details with your boss or supervisors.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Is there a stigma associated with depression?

Dear Diversity Diva: I have been diagnosed with clinical depression. Even though I’ve brought in documentation, my boss is being difficult about letting me take a leave of absence. What should I do? — Worn Out From Depression
Dear Worn Out: Depression is a huge issue in the workplace affecting millions of Americans. Unlike other areas of diversity that are lifelong issues, depression can strike anyone at any time and can affect every area of your life.
I can’t personally address the issue of your employer approving your leave of absence because of the legal and human resources issues that impact how your employer interprets your policy and documentation.
However, your diagnosed depression is an illness and should be treated like any other health issue, such as heart disease, cancer or a car accident that may physically affect your ability to do your job. However, depression sometimes is perceived as something a person can just “shake off” like a summer cold.
I’m assuming that in addition to your direct supervisor, you are talking with the HR department about what kind of leave you need and for how long.
Employee productivity is no small issue for an employer, and while it may seem as if it’s just a matter of organizations being mean, insensitive overlords who don’t really care about their employees, in some cases it’s a matter of them trying to distinguish between the employees who really need time off and the ones just trying to get away
You should research what kinds of leave are available to you and be willing to ask yourself some hard questions. Are you willing to take an unpaid leave of absence if your employer approves that? Also, is your depression tied to your job or profession, thus requiring you to decide if you need to make a bigger life change in addition to addressing your depression?
Here’s a good resource on depression that will be useful to both you and your employer: www.depressioncalculator.com/InfoResources.asp#General.
Good luck on getting the help and support you need.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Think before you hit the 'forward' button

Dear Diversity Diva,
I work for a large business and occasionally get e-mails that are of a patriotic and religious nature from friends within the company and outside the company that I like to forward to my friends at work. It’s never been a problem but lately I’ve wondered.
Fan of Forwarding Favorite E-mails
Dear Fan,
Two of the most dangerous jobs in an office setting can be hitting the “send” button and using the “forward” function for e-mails.
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with passing on patriotism or good spiritual cheer to fellow compatriots in the workplace. And if diversity is about understanding and navigating differences, sending e-mails to like-minded people would not seem to be a problem.
But work e-mail is company property — which means you have no privacy rights regarding the e-mail address your employer gives you to use. Therefore, what would be innocent when sent from your private e-mail at home to someone else’s private e-mail becomes something else, particularly if the topic has any possibility of offending.
Although you say you just send your e-mails to friends at work, we all know forwarding e-mails to others is common and you have no control over whether one of your coworkers forwards it to someone who is offended. Or someone may print a copy of your e-mail but then forget to pick it up at the printer and so what didn’t offend the original recipient ends up rubbing someone else wrong who sees the e-mail lying around.
Almost all companies these days have strict policies on the sending or forwarding of personal e-mails. And while many are inconsistent about enforcing those policies, they exist so that they can be enforced when necessary or desired. For example, I know of an instance where a man was fired because he forwarded to his own personal e-mail account the naughty e-mail photos that a friend had sent to him at work.
To reduce the chance of potential misunderstandings and outright violations, start steering your friends toward e-mailing you these items to a home e-mail account. At the very least, keep the forwarding of personal e-mails at work to an absolute minimum.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Handling the transgender issue

How might a progressive employer handle a transgender employee who, for example, goes from female to male, or male to female? How does one address those in transition? — Concerned About Change That Makes Sense
Dear Concerned: Which bathroom is the new man or new woman going to use? That’s going to be the No. 1 challenge for an employer. Or at least the one that other employees will bring to an employer’s attention.
On the surface, it may not appear that employees having sex change operations — or sex reassignment surgery — would pose a wide diversity issue. But it happens enough for there to be a number of groups and literature to assist with the decision, a growing body of law that prevents discrimination surrounding the decision, and an increasing number of companies addressing the issue as part of company policy.
And, as with many diversity issues, there is no way to anticipate whether it will impact a particular workplace with subtle sensitivity or like a barreling Mack truck.
Generally, an employer has ethical and legal reasons why it can’t publicly discuss the medical issues of its employees. However, in the case of an employee who goes through gender modification, the issue becomes dicey. Ideally, the person who goes through the gender modification will take the lead deciding when and how co-workers are alerted to this life-changing event. That employee needs to explain the change in name, the correct pronoun references to use, the physical change in appearance and, most important of all, that there will be a shift from using the little boys’ room to the little girls’ room or vice versa.
While some advocates of transgender issues say that concerns about use of the bathroom are exaggerated, employers and human resources people that I’ve talked to disagree. It can end up being an extremely uncomfortable issue because it’s rare and unusual ground and because its implications touch on people’s core concerns about privacy.
If you’re used to working side by side with Ned for years and then suddenly have to get used to seeing him in the bathroom as Nancy, that’s going to be disconcerting for many people.
Although dealing with people in the workplace having sex change operations can be confusing, awkward and even offensive to some, the employer’s primary responsibility will always be to seek information to make the transformation minimally intrusive for everyone and stay within the bounds of the law. A good place to start is www.gendersanity.com/resources.shtml.

Monday, February 25, 2008

When HR won't halt racism, seek outside help

Dear Diversity Diva: I work for a medium-size organization where I am one of a handful of minority women. My team leader has openly made racist comments, which we reported to our human resources department. Upon investigation, our boss admitted that he made the comments, but HR came to us and pressured us into letting the situation go. What do we do now that we’ve complained and not only have our complaints been ignored but our boss still continues to offend? — Ignored by Management
Dear Ignored: First, let me just say I’m sorry for the stress you and your co-workers have endured. It sounds as if your working environment has become close to intolerable.
When bosses make public and derogatory statements about a racial group and then compound this by being deliberately callous to the harm created by those remarks, the situation moves rapidly beyond just a diversity issue.
You did the right thing in going to HR to make a complaint and seek a resolution. And I hope you and your co-workers have kept good notes both on the offenses you’ve complained about as well as your talks with HR.
Some HR departments are a lot better than others, and it’s too bad that you have to deal with one that essentially told you to stop taking things so seriously.
When a problem or issue is strictly a diversity issue — understanding and dealing with the differences of people in the workplace — solutions can often be individual, creative and informal.
But when the allegations involve creation of a hostile working environment based on race — something prohibited by law — your solutions are few. You’ve already done the first and major one by going to HR. Now you need to seek out the advice of an attorney who will examine the facts and either take on your case or give you guidance on how you can follow up yourself with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a complaint.
Because of time requirements, you should seek outside help sooner rather than later.

Monday, January 28, 2008

To Complain or Not to Complain

Posted on Mon, Jan. 28, 2008 10:15 PM

Dear Diversity Diva: Recent events in the local news have made me wonder what is the best way of handling it when someone you work with calls you by a name or uses words around you that you find offensive. Should you always make a complaint? — Confused About Complaining
Dear Confused: The simple answer is, sure, if you feel like someone’s offended you, go complain. After all, that’s what the human resources department and employment laws are for.
But the simple route isn’t always best.
Deciding whether to confront, complain or suffer in silence depends on the facts. If you “put someone on blast” by filing a complaint, eventually everyone you work with will know about it. (And trust me, regardless of what anyone tells you, filing an “anonymous” complaint can put just as much scrutiny on you as it does the person you’ve brought the complaint against.) Every workplace circumstance differs.
Still, if the person making the offensive comment is your boss, and that person is clearly and overtly making stupidly offensive comments to you, the most appropriate thing probably would be to trot down to HR and tell them about it. But if the person is a peer, or at the very least not a supervisor, then first try a direct approach with the individual.
You also should try directness when the issue that burns you is an isolated event. I’m not in the perception-is-reality camp — perception is often complex and highly personal. In an isolated instance, what could be a deliberate or reckless offense from one person’s standpoint could just be something misunderstood, taken out of context or just plain heard wrong.
An obvious offense to you may not be so to the “offender,” and a two-way, open conversation may clear that up.
Be warned, however: Being direct can be viewed as confrontational or worse, depending on whom you’re dealing with.
Some people, even when informed they have offended, will continue to argue their right to do so, saying: “That’s just being oversensitive. Besides, that’s a stupid thing to be offended by anyway.” For people like that, a formal complaint may be the best and only way to stop an ongoing issue.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tackling the toughest of workplace issues

Posted on Tue, Jan. 15, 2008 10:13 AM

Diversity can be a dreaded word in the workplace.
People just don’t like the concept. They don’t like having to think about it, having to talk about it, having to consider it. Most people just plain resent that it’s an issue at all.
A frequent criticism is “if people just focused on their work, everything would be just fine.” That’s true. It would be.
But it’s never just about work. It’s about how people get along doing the work.
And that’s where this new online column fits in.
As a former employment attorney who has worked for firms representing major companies in the Kansas City area, as a diversity consultant and author who has traveled the country talking to various groups about diversity issues, and just as a KCK girl with a big mouth who has worked since the age of 14, I offer various perspectives.
I’m pretty direct and not always politically correct. So let me say off the bat that while I’m black and female, this column is not just about those demographics. It shapes how I think and approach things, yes, but it no more confines my perspective than the fact that I’ve worked as an attorney representing “da Man” in discrimination lawsuits.
I hope you — the reader, the people out there working in Kansas City and beyond — will ask the questions you don’t want to ask at work but that you really need to talk about to do your work.
As with other advice columns, people asking questions will have anonymity. I don’t even need to know exactly where you work. You can ask the questions you don’t want to ask out loud at work about how to handle issues involving race, gender, disability, age, pregnancy, sexual orientation, marital status, religion. You can ask about relationships, friendships, perceived harassments, observed biases.
My agenda lies in helping to promote a workplace that works — a place where different kinds of people can positively, proactively and practically figure out how to create a workplace where people can just focus on their jobs.
So help me get started. Send a question or two via e-mail to DearDiversityDiva@yahoo.com. And look for answers to appear online throughout the month.
No matter how obvious or even insensitive a question is, somebody else is going to have it, and I hope my answers will help shed light. Or at the very least spark some thought and conversation.