Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Diversity Outside the Office Door

By Tatyana Fertelmeyster - 08.17.2015

There has been a lot of talk later about the numbers – who is hiring whom and how percentages look. This conversation is here to stay but I am not that interested in adding my efforts to a counting process. I am much more curious about a “now what?” question.

Let me step back for a moment here and share a couple of conversations with you. The first one happened about 10 years ago when I was asked to provide a cross-cultural training for a young woman who came to Chicago for a 2-year international assignment. She was from Russia.

She worked for the HR department in her company’s Moscow office and they now brought her to work at the headquarters to get a bigger picture and add some global management skills to her resume. This woman (whom I will call Olga) and I spent two days together in most fascinating conversations. One of our discussions was about diversity.

“Diversity? – Olga said. – Sure, we have a diversity component in our HR in Moscow. We are an American company after all. But honestly – why do we need it? We hire the best candidates based on their credentials, skills and abilities. And we treat them well. If the best candidate happens to be a Chechen – so be it”.

And then, in the same breath, she says: “Yes, we know that this person can be beaten up on a way home. But what does that have to do with us?”

Another conversation happened a few years ago during one of KMA diversity trainings.

We were working with a group of engineers in a corporate office in the Midwest. At one point an African American man in his 30th gets up and addresses his colleagues. “When I come to work- color does not matter for me. I am here to work as all of you are. I am here to be successful. What I don’t usually bring into the office with me is what happens to me outside of the office door”.

He then proceeds to share that just a day before, on Sunday afternoon, he was driving home with his wife and their baby after visiting relatives. Their car was stopped five or six blocks away from their house. “A police officer kept us on a side of the road for at least half an hour in a summer heat. He wanted to know what we were doing in that neighborhood. The fact that he was looking at my driver’s license with my home address a few blocks away did not seem to make any difference”.

“As I said, – he concluded, – I usually don’t bring this kind of stuff to work. I try to keep it all separate. But this is too fresh and it happens all the time!”

Back to numbers – let’s hire statistically perfect combinations of people. Let’s have all kinds of diversity initiatives.

And let’s watch a lot of our efforts going down the drain while we let our office doors dictate what we do and do not do about differences.



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