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Practical diversity: taking inclusion from theory to practice | Dawn Bennett-Alexander | TEDxUGA

Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Ilse S. Úziel When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I had what turned out to be
a defining moment. For some reason – still unclear
to me more than 55 years later – as she was sitting down, I pulled the chair out
from under my classmate Rosetta. I was immediately sorry that I did it. She fell on a hip on the floor,
everybody laughed. I was horrified. And in my moment of shame, I realized that it was entirely possible to have an idea of who you are
and what you are about, and do something totally at odds with it. If 8 or 9 year olds had mission statements that talked about what their life was like
and what they would do to make decisions, mine would have been
that I would have been nice, I would have been kind,
I would have treated everybody equally. And none of that was reflected in what I did with Rosetta that day. I have come to think of these
as Rosetta moments. (Laughter) With the kinds of stuff
that I do professionally, I have an interest in mission statements as they relate to issues
of employment, workplace, discrimination, diversity, and inclusion. With Laura Pincus Hartman
I coauthored the leading text in employment law
for business in the country, that actually established
the discipline, about 21 years ago. With Linda Harrison
I coauthored the only textbook in legal, ethical, and regulatory business, “Environment of business” that totally incorporates
diversity in every chapter, because that’s how it occurs in life. Both [published by] McGraw-Hill. The reason I do that, and the reason I engage
in the kind of activities I do, the research, the writing, the advocacy, the seminars, the presentations,
the workshops, all of it, all of it is about trying to make it, so that people understand
more about diversity, and that they can avoid
unnecessary workplace liability for violations of Title VII
of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As you know, that Act prohibits
discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race,
color, religion, gender, national origin, age,
disabilities, genetics, and even to some extent,
sexual orientation and gender identity. When these claims arise on the workplace, I need to tell you it drives me crazy. Because they are so avoidable.
Incredibly avoidable. And several years ago, I came up with the idea
of practical diversity. It’s a way of training employees, and the whole attempt
is to take it from the theory that may be in somebody’s
mission statement somewhere in a drawer, to actually practicing it by acting it, and if you do it correctly – It’s not hard to do,
as you’ll see in a few minutes – it can inform every single
workplace decision you make, that could potentially result
in liability, and you can avoid it. One of the things I had to,
– but before I do that – let me just say to you
that you recognize practical diversity, even if you haven’t heard the term yet. You know what it’s missing. Last month there was a case
involving a trucking company in Denver. The trucking company had
a 15 million dollar judgment against it for race discrimination. 2015, race discrimination,
15 million dollars. I don’t know of a workplace
that can afford to take that kind of hit, for a totally unnecessary activity. They segregated their employees by race, they only allowed white employees to be able to work
on bonus double paydays, managerial employees
called black employees the N word, they allowed white employees to do it too, and when a white employee
tried to help, he was terminated. The court said that they had discriminated
in every aspect of employment. That’s very unusual. They said they highly regarded
their diverse workplace, and that they treated
all of their employees with the kind of respect and dignity
they themselves would want. Clearly there was a disconnect
between their theory of diversity, and how they acted it. The decisions that were made
were absolutely avoidable. I haven’t said a thing to you
that made you think: “Oh, there’s no way
they cannot do that.” It was avoidable. 15 million dollars later
they’re dealing with this. One of the things
that you probably wonder about when you deal with something like this, is, and believe me,
after thousands of cases and talking to thousands
of employees, managers, supervisors, business owners, students over the years, I’ve come to understand
that what we tend to think of as the reason why people
engage in activities like that, is not always quite what we think it is. Most of us think if people
engaging in stuff like that that it tends to be because they are
racist, or sexist, or homophobic. Maybe not so much. When my daughter Jennifer,
two weeks after she turned 4 we moved from Washington DC,
where she was born; to Jacksonville, Florida. One of the first orders of business
was to find a doctor. We were sitting in an examining room
waiting for the doctor to come in, and when the doctor came in
he had to immediately go back out to get something that he forgot. So Jennifer said, “Who was that?”
I said it was the doctor. She said: “No, I mean the person
who just came in the room.” I said: “Honey, it was the doctor.” She said: “But it couldn’t be the doctor.” I said, “Why?” and she said,
“Because he was white.” It’s OK to laugh,
I was as horrified as you are, because we had never had
a conversation, I assure you, that said that only black people
could be doctors. (Laughter) What I quickly realized was
that Jennifer had grown up in DC which until then was called
‘chocolate city’ because it had over 60%
of black population. Jennifer had never seen a white doctor. So the message she took away from that
was that doctors had to be black. That may sound ridiculous to you, but we all walk around
with those things in our head. And it starts as soon as we come out, and they put us
in a pink blanket or blue blanket, to send the message
that we are a girl or a boy. What I did not tell you
about that Rosetta story is that the reason that I did
what I did to Rosetta in particular, to the extent you think about it
when you are 8 or 9 years old, is because I had gotten
a very distinct message from my friends at school, that Rosetta was poor
and it was OK to do that to her. Did anybody ever tell me
you can treat poor people that way? No. But I got a very distinctive message because of things that were going on
and the way she was treated, in the very limited interactions
that we had as kids. So we think we grow up, we think that this things
are no longer an issue by the time we get to the workplace, and it’s still there. It’s amazing what’s still there, and part of practical diversity
and acting it is discovering what that is, and being able to do
what you can about it. So, I’m in a workplace one day doing a workshop on diversity, and part of what we are doing
is cultural introductions. So we break up into small groups, we talk about these messages
that we’ve received and they’re about race,
gender, a whole list of things. Then we get back together,
and we talked about what we discovered. We got back together, a guy gets up as a volunteer, he’s white, and I ask him what his messages were
about race growing up, and he told me he had none. As like “I don’t know
what planet you are from, but you will have some race stuff,” so like, “Are you sure?” (Laughter) He said “No, I didn’t have any messages
about race while growing up, of course we didn’t allow
black people to live in our town, so I didn’t have any messages.” (Laughter) Everybody in the room did
exactly what you did, including him, and then his face got really serious
and he said: “You know, I feel awful, I’m about to retire. and I’ve hurt so many black people over the course of my career
and I feel really bad about it because of something in my head
that I didn’t even know was there.” So the message is real and they’re still there
when you are in the workplace. But how can you deal with them
if you don’t know that they are there? So I came up with this idea
of practical diversity to deal with this. I want to be clear that you understand
that this is not some pie in the sky, let’s all hold hands
and sing Kumbaya kind of scheme. I’m a lawyer, I teach law
in the College of Business, I don’t teach sociology,
I don’t teach theology, I teach law. Being in the College of Business means
I am all about the bottom-line. I want to help you save money
by not having to spend 15 million dollars for a really stupid mistake
that was totally avoidable. And the other thing I need to tell you
is that I know that it works. I’ve seen it over the years,
I’ve been doing it for ages. This morning before I left home, I had an e-mail
from an old student of mine who said: “I hope you remember me,
it hasn’t been that long, but I wanted to write to tell you that your employment law course
that I took serves me everyday because what you taught us
ends up preventing me,” – he was in a family of business
so he really cared about the money – from discriminatory acts
at least three times a week.” So this is really serious stuff. But it’s so simple
that you are going to say, “OK, she’s trippin’.” (Laughter) I’m not. Tried-and-true
it really does work. Three things to it. Three principles that I’m going
to leave you with, and they are things you can start doing
right this minute as you sit in your seat. And it’s amazing what they can do. The first thing: figure out
what your messages are that may have a problem
in the workplace and deal with them. Two: stop being so judgmental. ‘Different from’ does not
necessarily mean ‘less than.’ You don’t get to hand pick your coworkers. Three: do what your parents
told you to do. Use the golden rule. Treat other people as you
would like to be treated. Be kind, be respectful, be compassionate. You think those things
don’t have something to do with being on a workplace? Try getting up everyday and go
into a workplace without them. I’m sure that’s how the people
in the trucking company felt. Part of what happens
when you do these things is that you become much more aware
of your actions and you realize, – and this is going to
trip you out when I’ll say this – it truly is all about love, it’s all about love
and the way you treat people. We’re talking about millions
of dollars of claims that could’ve been avoided because of somebody respecting
another person and who they were. Not assuming that just because they were
different from them they were less than. So, I’m in a workplace,
I’m getting ready to take to the stage, it’s a big auditorium, graduating
like in a movie or something. I start down the steps,
crowded full of employees. I start down the steps
and somebody stands up in the room and says very aggressively and loudly: “I hope you’re not going to tell me
to love those homosexuals because my Bible tells me
that a man laying with another man, as with a woman, is an abomination. I think it’s disgusting,
and I’m not going to do it.” Well, since I had not even said a word yet (Laughter) the first order of business was:
“Well, good morning to you, too.” And then I said to him:
“I’ve contracted with your employer to come here today
to talk to you about some things, that are of a very serious nature
for your employer, he’s worried because
of the potential for liability. So I’m going to do
what I was contracted to do, and if you have a problem with what we discuss
by the end of the day, you need to talk
to your employer about it. Two, let me be clear from the beginning that this is America. You get to like anybody you want to, no matter what it is,
I’ll defend your right to do it. What you don’t have a right to do is to use those thoughts
and translate them into action that then gets your employer
in trouble and they have to pay for. That you don’t have a right to do. Three, given your argument, you are going to have
to expand that group son. Because it’s all going to be sin
under your estimation. Let’s add in the liars,
the fornicators, the adulterers, the drunks, the people
that covet their neighbors’ wives, add them all in there, and then,
maybe it’ll be a credible argument. Fourth, you’re hired.
You’re here to do a job. I’m sort of worried about why
you are spending so much time thinking about the sex lives
of your coworkers.” (Laughter) What’s that about? (Laughter) They laughed just like you did,
and he visibly relaxed. To the surprise of everybody in the room, he said: “I’ve never thought
about it like that before. That makes perfect sense.” “Well, thank you for that.”
And he sat down. (Laughter) So it works, I promise you,
if you figure out what your messages are, stop being so judgmental,
use the golden rule, you will end up having far fewer
workplace discrimination claims, and far fewer Rosetta moments. Like Notorious B.I.G said (Laughter) – you didn’t expect me
to say that, did you? – (Laughter) “Now you know, OK?
If you didn’t know, now you know.” (Laughter) That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Thank you. (Applause)

Reynold King

23 Replies to “Practical diversity: taking inclusion from theory to practice | Dawn Bennett-Alexander | TEDxUGA”

  1. "Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disabilities, genetics, sexual orientation and gender identity."

    Doesn't that definition, in the context of advancement, mean that the promotion of "diversity and inclusion" is also discriminatory? If you're basing decisions about whether or not to hire/promote a person on the categories they belong to, you're necessarily denying that same opportunity to others because they don't belong to one of those categories.

    Therefore your only consideration when hiring or promoting an employee should be their qualifications for the job. Not filling some minority quota.

  2. If a Western company with a diversity initiative opens a branch in say, South Korea, will the majority Koreans be given diversity training for the minorities who may work there? What if a branch opens in Cameroon?

  3. My experience with inclusion is not with physically disabled but with behavioral challenged kids. One kid has fit everyday ruining the experience for the rest of the class. The result is whole class is cheated from learning and enjoying school because of one or two kids. The teachers are exasperated as they can't punish bad behavior and they can't teach well. If you put a kid in the corner its cruel "isolation", if you have them do push ups thats making "fitness a punishment". If you have them write (I will behave a 100 times) thats making "reading and writing a punishment". So the answer in the USA is let kids with terrible behavior have their way and ruin the education for all others in the class. So the higher ups that don't experience the situation say "all children deserve an education" but in fact just the opposite happens the entire class gets irritated, discouraged limited education and they do not enjoy the learning. experience. In fact the entire classroom is happy and relieved when when the kids with bad behavior do not show up to class. The parents that can afford to pull their kids from private schools that have these problems or they move family away to better run schools. One Bad Apple Really Spoil the Whole Bunch I believe that is true when it comes to inclusion of this type. It's a big time fail.

  4. This woman got a white name, was cared of and educated by whites, she got paid by whites yet still want to destroy the white race by whining… low IQ or smthng more?

  5. Pretty good. The key here is to recognize what's practical, and what's not. Sometimes, it can be tricky.

  6. This was a lot of fun to listen to. She had a bit of humor to everything and it made understanding this crucial concept that much easier.

  7. Sad to see that the only topic blacks can talk about on TEDx Talks is forced diversity, affirmative action and all that jazz.

  8. Christians shouldn't use the Bible to hate homosexuals. People can disagree with someone else's actions and lifestyle without being a hateful person. The Bible doesn't support prejudice.

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