Monday, February 4, 2013

How do you fight invisible discrimination?

With what seemed like most of Cleveland's western ‘burbs, I spent part of my Sunday afternoon shopping at Costco. My trip not only included the expected bulk items, but also some unexpected bigotry.

Near the samples of mozzarella and pita grilled cheese (delicious), I crossed paths with a family—a father and his two sons—of what appeared to be Arabic descent . The older of the two boys, around age 10, turned to his dad and said:

I got back at that lady who cut me off;
she looked Jewish.

Needless to say, I was stunned, and decided that I couldn’t let the comment go answered. I quietly told the family that I couldn’t stop them from thinking what they want, but they should be careful when and where they express their feelings. They walked away.

In a decade or two, that boy will join the workforce. He could be one of your employees, or, worse, one your managers or supervisors. How do you root out this kind of hatred before it outs itself out in a harassment complaint or discrimination lawsuit? There is no easy answer to this difficult question. Perhaps all we can do is recognize that everyone carries baggage. Some is harmless, and some is hateful. If we foster a workplace of openness and inclusion, when that hatred exposes itself employees will understand that it belongs to a rogue and not your company ,and hopefully, choose not to hold you accountable (provided you respond quickly and decisively when brought to your attention).