by Victor Johnson
April is Celebrate Diversity Month. I’d like to illustrate why initiatives like this are important. The story I’m going to tell you is true, the names have been omitted to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.
I have a friend who works in one of the large corporations that has offices in the Columbus Metro Area. After a few years, she was promoted and moved to a different department. Once there, she noticed a real tension in the office. She noted how uncomfortable many of the people around her were when it came to having meetings with a certain senior level executive. In her first department meeting, she found out the reason for the tension. He (the executive) introduced the newest members of the team. He made personal comments about each person, trying to sound witty. He introduced one person and then called him “a new American”. For others he introduced he made comments about their looks, or weight, or age. For three years she worked in this area and continued to hear this executive’s off-color remarks. Until she too became used to the tension in the office.
During her third year, the company added something to the yearly training. It was a stronger emphasis on Diversity and Inclusion. It began with recognition of the April – Celebrate Diversity Month. There were online trainings, live guest speakers, and panel discussions. The Human Resources Department oversaw the initiative and one of their primary concerns was letting everyone know their rights and how to lodge a complaint.
One day, passing by a friend’s desk, she heard the executive make a remark that didn’t sound right. She heard him say something like “…and you let your daughter do that? Aren’t you afraid of what will happen to her?” She waited a few minutes and when the executive was gone, she went back to check on her friend. The woman was in tears but trying to hide it. She tried to comfort her and find out why he said what he said. The woman pointed to a picture on her desk, a wedding photo of her daughter and her new son-in-law – who is African-American.
That was it for my friend. She thought of all the sexist, racist, xenophobic remarks she and her colleagues had endured. With the information she now had about a non-threatening workplace, the emphasis on Diversity and Inclusion, and HRs emphasis on being able to make a formal complaint without fear of reprisal, she knew what to do.
She contacted an HR Specialist and made a formal complaint. After six weeks, the HR Diversity and Inclusion Specialist contacted her. He told my friend that the investigation was complete. Her complaint was found to have merit and he would only say that steps had been taken to deal with the situation. He asked her to keep the investigation confidential, however, if she felt in any way that she was being unjustly punished or the target of reprisal, to contact him immediately.
The seventh week, the senior executive suddenly announced that he was going to retire and that it was his last week on the job. She never told any of her co-workers what she knew about his sudden departure. She only told me because I asked her a couple of years ago about what her company does for Diversity and Inclusion Training.
When she told me this story, she said that she could see that the company was not just paying lip-service about diversity but was committed to assigning resources and importance to Diversity and Inclusion.
This is why initiatives like Celebrate Diversity Month are so important. It is not just to recognize the diversity of our nation or our workplace. It is also to understand our legal rights and the rights of others to be treated with respect and dignity no matter what name is used for the God we worship, no matter where we are born, no matter how look, no matter who we love.
April is Celebrate Diversity Month. In truth, we should celebrate diversity all year, every year!