Think about workplace diversity in terms of experience

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Just about every major business publication has run something about how diversity improves business performance. If you are on a diverse team, you’ll probably have more success than if you’re on a homogenous team. And, to some extent, we can each control the teams we’re on.

For one thing, you should pick companies to work for that have a diverse group of employees. You can also do what you can to build your own diverse teams.

One way to think of diversity is race. A professor at the University of Chicago conducted a study about workplace racism in which he sent 5000 resumes to want ads in Boston and Chicago. He sent duplicate resumes, but changed the names. The names that sounded white (Emily Walsh) were fifty percent more likely to get a call back than a name that sounded African-American (Lakisha Washington).

You are probably saying to yourself that you would never be racist at work. But that is probably not true. Because almost no one will admit to being racist, but a lot of it is unintentional, and it’s definitely not limited to the scope of that resume study.

While you’re busy denying that you’re racist, consider that diversity is not all about race – or gender, for that matter.

I had an eye-opening experience when I wrote an article for the LA Weekly about medical issues for “non-whites”. I could not write “minorities” in the LA Weekly, because in LA, Hispanics outnumber whites. (Interesting side note, from the article: Many top doctors who study this topic are advocating separate but equal treatments for blacks and whites.)

So, try thinking about diversity in terms of experience. Look for diversity in economic experience, in schooling, politics. The June issue of Harper’s magazine ran a little piece about how “living libraries” that have taken place in Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Portugal. The idea is that there are real people that you can borrow for an hour in order to explore your own prejudices and stereotypes. Here are some examples of the kinds of people you can borrow:

Animal-rights activist, black person, bureaucrat, environmentalist, ex-football hooligan, ex-illiterate person, e-neo-Nazi, feminist, Jew, Muslim, priest, unemployed person, asylum seeker, blonde woman, disabled person, ex-drug abuser, ex-homeless person, ex-prisoner, gay person, lesbian, police officer, skateboarder, vegetarian.

The charm of the list, of course, is that we each ask ourselves who we have the most prejudice against. For me, it’s the football player. I’m not sure, frankly, that I’ve ever talked to one for more than a couple of minutes.

So maybe diversity you need to create in your work teams is as wide or as narrow as the kind of experience you are missing in your own life.

22 replies
  1. salemgurl
    salemgurl says:

    I worked with a career guidance counselor for the mentally challenged because I suffer from depression.

    I wanted to do Informational Interviews and asked my counselor if he would assist me by putting me in touch with his networking friends.

    Unfortunately, he didn’t know what a Informational Interview was and when he decided to assist me he decided that he should perform the Informational Interview instead of me.

    The main purpose of the Informational Interview was for me to find out information and network with the person.

    So, I of course had to let him go….

    On my own, informational interviews have been very difficult because I’ve been trying to get in touch with Event Planners and many are too busy to call me back or return the message via email.

    I’m going in a different career direction because I’m not looking to create my own event planning business.

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    First of all, I’m really sorry to hear about the depression.

    I’ve written a lot about depression in the workplace, and I’ve had some experience with it myself. It’s a very difficult situation.

    It seems great that you decided to work with a career counselor. I wish you had not had such a bad experience, becuase I think good ones do help a lot.

    You might try again. You might have better luck with someone else.

    At any rate, you are right that informational interviews are a great way to go.

    Good luck.

  3. Dylan Tweney
    Dylan Tweney says:

    In my last job I encouraged the boss to hire as
    diversely as possible. And I tried to increase the number of minority
    applicants by posting our job notice on a variety of job boards for women,
    African Americans, etc. Total number of applicants via those channels? Zero.
    Every single candidate we had came to us via craigslist.

    the problem is that diversity’s great. but when you’ve got a staff of 7 you
    can’t afford to make a single hire on the basis of anything except competence
    and excellence. those factors being equal, by all means hire the person who
    is as different as possible. But you can’t afford to hire someone less
    qualified, or less smart, or less enthusiastic, just to round out the
    diversity of your team.

    And i’m saying this as a person who urgently wants to remake the demographics
    of the entire IT industry, so that by the time my daughter is old enough to
    work in it, she won’t face the kind of ignorance and crap that people do now.
    My daughter is African American, so I feel strongly about this. But how to
    make it really happen when your resources are very limited — that’s a much
    harder question.

  4. jparadis
    jparadis says:

    I am a qualified, educated, African American with an Italian last name. I have been of several interviews and was truly qualified for most of the positions. On one occasion I was interviewed and took a test (passed with flying colors) by Human Resources, Marketing and the Administrative Assistant to the CEO for “PRS Preception Research Services”. I was then called back to meet the CEO, Elliot Young – he advised during the interview that I did have the experience for the position. Two weeks later I called HR, she advised that I did not fit into the organization, I questioned, why, is it because of my work? she said of course not – and could give no other reason as to why I was not a fit. It appears that on several interviews that my last name being “Italian” and I show up being an African American has play a significant role as to the reason I am not hired for the career opportunity.

    Very dissapointed in our society in Fort Lee, NJ.

    Diversity only exist when it is force fed!!!

  5. Ditseko Seduku
    Ditseko Seduku says:

    Dear Sir

    Please need strong advice and prayers as I direct being attacked by the devil at my workplace through my so called colleagues and sub-ordinate managers. As a black senior in the field that I give my expertise they try to manipulate my intelligence by mobbing against me. They use all sorts of abuse reckless addressing me when asked a question and indirectly looking at it other to rub a fact that it build to be against what you trying to do best.

    They always try to find fault in anything that will arise from internal department of external departments.

    They will try to outdo your best efforts and try to prove to do what you can actually do. Will never be happy for any good recommendation from any stuff members that tries to show appreciation and satisfaction about my work. They smile in my face and as soon as I turn around they do what they do best Gossip me behind my back. Moreover they disclose every information that shared with them while where in good terms.

    There are aware of the rumors that the is "high possibility for me to be promoted be a manager as I was supposed to be early last year." it never happened and their doing everything to belittle me and my dignity to show that I cant even speak ENGLISH, amazingly I have worked in this field over 11years of my life. Moreover they took my best expertise and practice them as theirs and still block me to get position. I'm black and proud for whom I am. I cannot be as fluent as English from England but I m not dumb and stupid to express myself properly for the next person to understand my points.


    Ditseko Seduku

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