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 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.