Monday, May 25, 2009

When is it a case of unclear meaning?

Dear Diversity Diva: At a meeting, I was trying to make a point about the need for a variety of perspectives when a co-worker jumped down my throat, mistakenly thinking that I was talking about too many “white males” being on the project. The assumption ticked me off. Is that all anyone thinks you mean just because you’re a member of a minority group? — Making Sense of Assumptions

Dear Making Sense: There would have been nothing wrong if in championing different perspectives, you were including racial background. But if that’s not where you were going, it can be annoying to have to address a point you didn’t make.

Your co-worker would have been better served asking what you meant. And you should have asked him why he was reframing what you said into a completely different point.

Usually discussions like that are best held one on one, but in this case clearing it up professionally in front of the original audience would be a good tactic to nip any misconceptions. And it would set the tone for how you expect important diversity issues to be handled in your presence — which is that you don’t want the concerns you bring up to be obscured by presumptions of what people think you mean.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why does our company celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

Dear Diversity Diva: Not to be funny, but I’m trying to figure out why people in America celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Is it even a holiday that has anything to do with our country? The company I work for has been having Cinco de Mayo activities for a few years. — Figuring Out Festivities

Dear Figuring Out: I think there’s a larger point you’re getting at with your question — which is, why is your company choosing to focus on some ethnic and diversity events and not others? (By the way, Cinco de Mayo celebrates a victory by the Mexican army over the French army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.)

Corporate America frequently passes homage to all kinds of celebrations, holidays and historical events so as not to be just paying lip service to inclusion. It may look like window dressing or just fun and games, but to those who like a workplace that isn’t completely homogenous, it matters.

Although every ethnic, religious or other diverse group isn’t going to get its own event at work, your company at least wants to look like it recognizes the major ones, and in the case of Cinco de Mayo, it’s partially a nod to a segment of the largest ethnic group in our society.

However, companies would serve their whole work force better if they explained the significance of the celebrations. Even St. Patrick’s Day has a historical context besides just an opportunity to wear green, throw a parade and party.