Have you ever noticed when you give a compliment for good efficient service – you get a smile from the person being complimented…whether, it’s the cashier at Price Chopper or maître-dei at your favorite brunch place …she stands up a little taller, maybe even quickens her pace.

For all of us – no matter where we are in the company hierarchy, our educational background or even the religion that we practice – feeling valued and respected at work is a powerful glue that keeps us on board!  In fact, a group of long-term employees were asked what made the difference for them. Their two top answers:  “I felt recognized” and “I felt cared about.”

As articulated by CRHRA Diversity Committee Chair Traci Koppenhafer in the February 2014 CRHRA e-newsletter, “One of the great challenges facing organizations is getting all employees, from the CEO to the line worker, to realize and embrace the uniqueness of every individual.”  Few would disagree!

And yet, sometimes a person’s talents are not evident to their supervisor, co-workers or the company recruiter or interviewer … We also at times unconsciously assign specific strengths to some groups but not others.  According to Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Cook Ross, Inc. Howard Ross, “Less than 15% of American men are over six foot tall, yet almost 60% of corporate CEOs are over six foot tall. Less than 4% of

American men are over six foot, two inches tall, yet more than 36% of corporate CEOs are over six foot, two inches tall.  (Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink”, research by Timothy Judge and Daniel Cable)  Why does this happen? Clearly corporate boards of directors do not, when conducting a CEO search, send out a message to “get us a tall guy,” and yet the numbers speak for themselves…” (Diversity Best Practices’ publication “CDO Insights”)

Diversity can be found within all workplaces…Think about all the ways people are different from each other (some more visible than others)!  For starters, there’s age, gender, health (physical and mental), education, ethnicity, skin color, lifestyle, children/no children, income, military experience, abilities, religion/spiritual practice.

And depending on messages that we heard growing up or continue to hear, we assign positive or negative associations.  What’s your first image or thought when you think of an 80 year old man?  A WWII veteran?  Or a person who attends AA meetings?

In the “Giving Feedback” training that I developed, I pose the following questions:  What If we held the belief that “Women on welfare do not want to work?”  How would this impact our assumptions and how we treated an employee who had been receiving welfare benefits?  What might we assume if she/he is out for two days?  Or if we see this employee sitting in the break room?

And then, what if we saw the same behavior in a new employee, whom we know recently graduated from college?  Would we make the same assumptions?  Would we view the same behaviors as aberrations for one group and expectations for the other?”

We’re wired to feel more comfortable and spend most of our time with people who look like us, sound like us, etc… In fact, our own comfort level, feelings of familiarity can influence how we interact with others. In Ross’ article, he calls this the “affinity bias” and asks us to imagine conducting an interview with two people:

“John reminds you of yourself when you were younger, or of someone you know and like.  You have that sense of familiarity or “chemistry.” …You ask him the first interview question and he hems and haws a bit…You say, “John, I know it’s an interview, but there’s nothing to be nervous about.  Take a breath and let me ask the question again.”  John nails it this time and he’s off and running to a great interview.

Then you sit down with Sally.  There is nothing negative about her, just no real connection…You ask her the first question and she’s a little nervous too, but this time you don’t pick up on it.  This interview moves forward, but not quite as well as John’s.  The next day, a co-worker asks you how the interviews went, and you respond:  “John was great…open, easy to talk to.  I think he’ll be great with staff and clients.”  And your reply about Sally?  “She’s okay, I guess.”…Your own role in influencing the outcomes was completely invisible to you…” (Diversity Best Practices’ publication “CDO Insights”)

In last month’s article, Koppenhafer raised workplace diversity challenges for all of us.  A starting point might be to explore and implement one of the following strategies:

  • “Recognize that as human beings, our brains make mistakes without us even

knowing it.”   (from Diversity Best Practices’ publication “CDO Insights”) Biases, blind spots, preferences are part of being human; they don’t mean that we’re “bad people.”  In fact, give yourself credit for acknowledging biases.  It takes courage!

  • “ Distribute stories and pictures widely that portray stereotyping-busting images – posters, newsletters, annual reports, speaker series, podcasts. Many studies show that the mere positive image of specific groups of people can combat our

hidden bias.”  (from Diversity Best Practices’ publication “CDO Insights”)

  • Offer customized training to employees responsible for screening resumes, conducting interviews, overseeing mentoring programs, supervising staff, developing and conducting performance evaluations as well as initiating promotions and terminations. Hidden biases can sabotage our best intentions to create an inclusive and diverse workplace.   

Article written by Marsha Lazarus and submitted to CRHRA e-newsletter (2/14)

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