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You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for October, 2009.

Lovin’ the Work

By Jean Mavrelis - 10.29.2009

We met a lot of people in the last two weeks from SHRM and from the Defense Intelligence Community.  Any of you “new blog readers” who are visiting for the first time, we want to welcome you!

At SHRM, the KMA team introduced our Web-based training, “Corporate Tribalism.” It was clear that there is a need for a training that can reach large numbers of employees in an efficient, cost-effective manner. We’re proud of the new training and pleased by the reactions from such an incredible variety of industries – from health care to manufacturing to energy.  Many were so positive about our e-learning series and the accompanying discussion guides for in-house trainers who want to follow up the training with discussion groups.

It’s wonderful speaking directly with folks from a variety of organizations about their specific diversity training needs.   We love the opportunity to take the pulse of how cultural issues are impacting the workplace and this was a wonderful setting in which to do that. Read more »

Rule by Rule: “Zero Tolerance Policies” and the Decline of Common Sense

By Thomas Kochman - 10.16.2009

The NY Times editorial “Back Where He Belongs” addresses the injustice behind the expulsion of a six year old boy who brought a Cub Scout camping utensil to school that contained a small knife.

Behind that decision was a 1994 Congressional law that required states to pass laws mandating expulsion for students who bring firearms onto school property which many States and school systems translated into “zero tolerance policies” leading to the criminalization of minor offenses.

Apart from what these acts of injustice bring up about what constitutes fair play — specifically that a punishment should fit the crime— “zero tolerance” policies take discretionary authority out of the equation transforming governance into a robotic and simplistic rule by rule.

The rationale for taking individual discretion out of the equation probably has something to do with limiting legal liability—the view that policies are “suit-proof” to the extent that they are applied uniformly. 

But the consequences of rule by rule take out the very thing that makes us human with outcomes that would be laughable if they weren’t so disastrous or grating, like mandatory life sentences based on the “Three Strikes You’re Out” rule to uniformly carding everyone at airport lounges –including senior citizens– to make sure they are of “drinking age.”

What’s the point of educating people to make correct decisions if you make them all into drones?

Social Etiquette at Work

By Thomas Kochman - 10.09.2009

What prompts this blog is a complaint by an Asian friend of ours about a work place situation where he presented himself in front of two white male associates who were bullshitting about personal stuff and they continued to talk as if he wasn\’t there. Compounding his sense of indignation was that what they were talking about was personal while what he wanted to talk about was work-related, which, in his mind, should trump the personal –after all, isn\’t everyone at work primarily supposed to be working?

Apart from the possibility that racial and ethnic bias may also have factored into the way the white men reacted–would another white male associate who approached them be similarly invisible?– there are also matters of culture and social etiquette here which tend to be less obvious, so let me discuss a few of those. Read more »

When Humor isn\’t Funny

By Jean Mavrelis - 10.08.2009

Humor can build team camaraderie or destroy it. Many white men have reported in our sessions that today’s politically correct environment has forced them to lose their sense of humor.  It is true that white men bond by teasing – but when that teasing is cross cultural or cross gender, it is a slippery slope.  John McCain learned this the hard way when he joked about an ape raping a woman

Stereotyping of ethnic groups is particularly offensive, whether masked as humor or not, especially when coming from outsiders, regardless of the motive behind them. Some ethnic groups are hit harder by humor than others. Asians will often “feel the pain and not show it”.  One Asian woman told me that a white male colleague said, “You’re not like other Asians”.  She went home and brooded for months about whether that was an insult or not, and if not, what did it mean?  A Chinese man was teased/reprimanded by his boss, as were two Anglo colleagues, about “leaving the coffee room a mess” as they sat eating lunch.  The Chinese employee sat there in shock and pain.  Three months later during his performance review he blurted out, “It wasn’t me who dirtied the coffee area”.  His white male boss didn’t remember the incident.  A Mexican American police officer was “affectionately” nicknamed “beaner” by his colleagues.  He hated it, but didn’t dare say so for fear he would be seen by his white male associates as overly sensitive.

I would like to hear from readers about a time when someone acted like they were joking, but that humor took a great personal toll. I’m especially interested in times when the humor was across lines of ethnicity or gender. Maybe we can all learn from this kind of conversation.