Finding the Middle Ground of Diversity Management
Most managers tend to fall into either of two extremes. They are way too distant from the people they manage, or they are so overly friendly that they destroy the healthy degree of boundaries that needs to be in place.
Being a manager who is interested and approachable strikes the right balance for employees to come forward with their individual diversity issues that can have a larger impact on the work environment.
Managers who fail to observe, interact with, and act upon what they observe when necessary put themselves in the position of being the fall guy or girl when potential problems snowball. They will be questioned on what they knew and when they knew it.
If you are a manager in charge of a department or area of your company that appears to have a problem, you will be questioned about what steps you took to prevent or lessen the issue.
Also, because you are the manager, you will be held to a higher standard regarding what you did or didn’t do than any other employee involved in the issue.
For example, say there is a female office worker who complains to the HR department that several male coworkers frequently make off-color, offensive comments and tell dirty jokes that make her feel uncomfortable. She tells HR that she has repeatedly told her coworkers to stop. While she hasn’t reported this directly to her supervisor because she didn’t feel comfortable doing so, HR should ask her manager what he observed.
HR should ask if the manager ever observed the female worker’s discomfort, overheard any jokes or comments, and was ever aware of any other female who expressed concern about the same issue.
In addition, a thorough HR investigator should probe a little deeper and try to get an idea of why the female coworker went directly to the HR department to register her complaint rather than going to her manager. It’s not so much that HR is trying to blame the manager, but a sharp HR investigator goes the extra mile to make sure this isn’t the surface of a larger problem. The investigator wants to make sure that the female employee’s complaint is just an isolated issue.
If HR doesn’t look into these matters and the complaint keeps going, it will land right in the arms of the company’s outside legal counsel, with massive billing rates. The attorneys will definitely ask these probing questions if the HR department doesn’t.
So you see, managers and supervisors have a greater incentive than most in a company—even HR—to make sure they have their finger on the pulse of the workplace diversity issues in the area that they govern. At the very least, they have a responsibility to create an environment with an open door, inviting employees to bring to them what they might not otherwise notice.
Workplace Diversity Exercise
One of the biggest keys to embracing diversity in your workplace is to become aware of what is going on around you. Nothing really ever seems like a person’s concern until it personally affects him or until he is forcibly drawn into someone else’s controversy.
Ask yourself if there is something—anything—even marginally related to diversity or some issue or problem with discrimination involving someone else that you could find yourself being questioned about as a witness. Strain the brain. Think about any comment, even one heard in passing or an observation made at the watercooler. Yes, gossip counts. If there is even one thing, that’s your tie to diversity in your workplace.