Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tolerance in the Workplace

I receive some really great letters from readers and always appreciate their viewpoints, even if they don't agree with what I've written. Many readers take the time to outline a particular problem at work, and ask me for help in dealing with it.

But sometimes I receive letters that are full of anger and resentment -- and intolerance. These writers blame a certain person for their trouble -- but also the person's gender or the ethnic or religious group to which the person belongs.

Diversity experts told me I shouldn't be so surprised at those letters. They explained that people need someone to blame for their troubles, and blaming "those" people is a convenient outlet.

At the same time, they said, not all intolerance is so obvious. Some of us are intolerant to others at work, and we may not even be aware of it.

Right about now you may be saying you're not like that because you treat everyone the same.

But do you really?

Have you ever said someone is a "real slave driver"? To someone who is African-American, this comment may be offensive. Or, have you said that "all women love to gossip" but thought about how insulting that may be to the females where you work? Saying "all men are slobs" is just as unfair. Anything that has a "those people" kind of edge to it shows that you are making sweeping statements -- not based on fact, but on intolerance.

So, what should you do if you recognize that you're guilty of making such statements? First, be honest. If you have offended someone you should apologize and say, "I know this is awkward, but I'd like to keep working with you."

At the same time, you may not realize you've been offensive until it has been pointed out to you. In that case, be open to the criticism. "So, it was offensive when I said that all Asians are bad drivers? Obviously, it's something I need to work on, and I'm sorry. Thanks for pointing it out."

What should you do if others are making insensitive remarks around you and they won't stop? Say something like, "I don't want to hear racist or sexist jokes anymore. I hope you'll respect my wishes and not tell them in my presence." If you can, get a coworker who feels the same to support you.

Finally, be patient with yourself and with others. It will take some time to drop bad habits that you may have had for a long time. But remember that once you start being more aware, then you will continue to grow in tolerance and understanding -- and that will make you more valuable in the workplace today.

If you'd like more information on diversity, check out If you think you may be the target of discrimination and want to learn more about your legal rights, consult the Equal Opportunity Commission Web site at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read an article called "Minority Workers Still Fight Misconceptions" that I found very interesting and accurate.

The statement that "titans of business really do not care about this issue" is correct.

Internal recruiters are not risk takers and always do what they believe to be "safe bets". Internal recruiters also are firm in their belief that if they recruit, hire, and promote "white women" that they are being diverse.

Minorities - specifically Hispanics - are rarely considered. It really is no different than it was 30 years ago - a Hispanic person has to do 2 to 3 times as
much as their peers for half as much recognition.

Before you dismiss this as a case of a minority candidate whining about not getting a promotion, please read on.

I work for a division of GE - which always promotes themselves and wins awards for their diversity. If you dig deeper, you will again find that this means women. Make no mistake, as long as they are qualified , this is a wonderful thing. However, when you hear direct comments from Senior managers that want to strongly pursue a candidate because she is a women - not even considering the qualifications, I find that to be very unfair.

In our particular divsion of GE, there are no black or Hispanic managers in the middle management area. This means that there is no black or Hispanic manager being groomed for Senior Level positions.

There are many women in management positions but again, no blacks or
Hispanics. GE Industrial is run by Mr. Lloyd Trotter (black) and soon by Mrs. Charlene Begley but, in our particular company which falls under the GE industrial umbrella, blacks and Hispanics are not there.

There are qualified minority candidates but they are discouraged for applying for promotions due to misconceptions. Managers will actively push
non-minority applicants to apply for new positions but will not approach minority candidates.

White candidates are pursued and encouraged to apply for opportunities. If you take a serious look at our business, you will be shocked at the lack of minorities in management excluding women).

At one point in my career, I was told that I would be a long shot for a position I was applying for. I was then contacted a few days later and urged to apply. This was done only to fill the slate - there was never any serious consideration to offering me the position. I wasted a great deal of time preparing for the interviews. At one time, I was not even interviewed by the same people as the other candidates - who were promptly promoted to the two open positions.

Again, a Hispanic person has to do 2 to 3 times as much as their peers for half as much recognition.

As an example, during a National Meeting, awards were handed out for people that had outstanding years in sales. The person with the highest number and the person with the third highest numbers was recognized in front of their peers. A third person was recognized but he was not one of the top 3 in sales. By the way, they are all white males. The person that was number two was not recognized (Hispanic) and was told that numbers was not the only deciding factor. He was also told that this was agreed to by the Senior Management Staff - which I later found out ws not true. It was very embarassing looking out at my peers and seeing the puzzled looks on their faces when I was not recognized. So, draw your own conclusion on why this happened.

Currently, there is an opening for a Mid-level Manager in our business. This was posted a few months ago and I did not apply nor was I recruited by
current managers. They still have not filled the position and it was
re-posted on Monday August 6th. Although I am perfectly qualified and my peers have advised that they would enjoy working for me, I will not apply for this position. Subjecting myself to the humiliation of interviews for
an opportunity that will never be offered to me while filling some interview quota is something I will not subject myself or my family to.

Another position just opened up today and again, I do not beleive that I will apply. Again I believe that there will be white candidates that will be encouraged to apply - I do not envision any black or Hispanic candidates being recruited.

Hopefully, some day we can get past all the BS and misconceptions and actually get equal opportunities in the business world.

This is not about being handed an opportunity because of race or gender, this is about making sure that you are not excluded for the same reasons.

It's a shame that such a large global company falsely accepts awards and accolades that are not deserved.

One last thing, I will post this anonymously because I am very concerned about making my life miserable.