The ongoing protests and calls for greater equality in our country are prompting many changes, from renaming buildings to large donations to diversity organizations.
For many, however, these changes won't directly impact them. Whether they're working from home or going back to work, they may not really think about diversity other than to be supportive of various causes or to voice their concern.
Yet, diversity does affect all of us. Every day. Whether we can admit it to ourselves or not, we all show prejudice in various ways at work. This doesn't mean we are openly hostile to someone of color or nationality, but it still exists.
These prejudices also don't mean we're all bad people. We just need to become better informed and more aware of our own actions. Things we do or say (or don't say) can lead to real harm, whether it's damaging someone's reputation, ensuring the person doesn't get ahead or even leading to that person losing a job.
Here are some things to think about:
- Your network. Check out your online connections, whether it's Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn. How diverse is it? Do you have connections -- people you regularly connect to -- who are from different cultures, races, genders, etc.? Do you have conversations about topics outside of work-related matters? Do you listen? Do you learn? Do you interact with people who disagree with you?
- Your effort. In your workplace, are there people with names that you find difficult to pronounce? Is that the reason that you've come up with a nickname or otherwise shortened the name to make it easier for you? No one should be forced to change his or her name for such a reason -- it shows a real lack of respect and professional courtesy. You may need to ask the person to help you with the pronunciation, but that's OK. Start making an effort to be more open and receptive to others who aren't like you.
- Your assumptions. More than once, I've met someone in person who says: "Oh, you sounded blonde on the phone." What does that even mean? How do you sound blonde? Or, I've been treated derisively by someone because of the slight twang of my voice. We often make assumptions because it helps us quickly categorize people and decide what we will do in reaction to that person. So, a shorter-than-average man must have a "Napoleon" complex, a blonde girl who dresses preppy must be a sorority airhead and a Black woman who went to Harvard must have been an affirmative action student. Think hard about how many times you do this, and even ask family and friends to make you aware when they hear you making assumptions about colleagues.
We can all do better and there's no time to waste. Start today thinking about the way you interact with others at work and how you can really start to make a difference in your own actions and attitudes.
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