Don’t Worry, You’re Only Human


Is it possible to be completely objective and non-judgmental about others? If you see co-workers with dreadlocks, tattoos or a yarmulke, do you automatically make certain assumptions? What races through your mind when a disabled person navigates a supermarket aisle? How about the elderly lady who slowly and carefully backs out of a parking space … very, very slowly and very, very carefully?

Don’t worry – it’s perfectly normal to have a whole range of feelings about your fellows. You’re not prejudiced, intolerant or ignorant – you’re just human.

In 2002, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, the United Nations established May 21 as World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. In recognition of World Day 2016 on Saturday, it’s worth taking an introspective look at how we think and behave and whether business organizations truly embrace diversity and inclusiveness.

In her stunningly insightful 2015 video talk, What Does My Headscarf Mean to You?, engineer and diversity activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied explains why unconscious bias, while perfectly understandable, creates unequal access to opportunity and advancement in the workplace. Recognizing and addressing the problem, however, helps mitigate the negativity.

“If we want to live in a world where the circumstances of your birth do not dictate your future and where equal opportunity is ubiquitous,” she says, “then each and every one of us has a role to play in making sure unconscious bias does not determine our lives.”

Abdel-Magied quotes the jaw-dropping results of studies indicating that (a) your chances of landing a lab technician position are greater if your name is John instead of Jennifer and (b) job candidates with Chinese or Arabic names need to send out 68% and 64% percent more applications, respectively, than candidates with Anglo-Saxon names to receive the same number of interviews.

Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan, authors of The Inclusion Dividend, point out that while most companies want to believe that promotions and opportunities are based strictly on merit, the evidence indicates otherwise. For instance, women hold fewer than 15% of executive positions at Fortune 500 companies even though they comprise half of the workforce and graduate from college at the same rate as men.

“Full and systemic inclusion is a worthy goal, but it is one that most organizations are unlikely to realize without concerted effort,” the authors write.

And it’s not just a matter of keeping an open mind, meeting quotas or striving to be fair. Research shows that profits and productivity are significantly higher in organizations that practice diversity and inclusion. In its report, Managing Diverse Employees at Starbucks, the Macrothink Institute explains that the retail coffee giant recently opened 42 stores in “ethnically diverse and underserved urban areas,” has locations in more than 60 countries and hires people from all backgrounds.

“In order to excel in diversity practices, companies should go beyond the Equal Employment Opportunities law and other similar laws that protect diverse employees,” the report says.

In other words, diversity and inclusion must be an ongoing initiative – not just something to ponder once a year.

 What Does My Headscarf Mean to You?
Yassmin Abdel-Magied
 The Inclusion Dividend
Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan
 Managing Diverse Employees at Starbucks
Ulla P. Morais, Jacqueline Pena, Kevin Shacket, Lucien Sintilus, Roiner Ruiz, Yesenia Rivera and Bahaudin G. Mujtaba
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