Reading Between the Lines When it Comes to Inclusion

In December of 2014, I tried to have a constructive confrontation with some colleagues about their use of a racial slur in the workplace. 4 months later I got a response from them via an email. It went something like this.

“Let me assure you when we sent the message, we did not intend to offend or bring disrespect to our employees.”

What they really meant: We did not intentionally mean to offend you. Oh really. Then what was what your intent? Maybe the question to ask is what was the effect of your action as opposed to what was the intent? This was not the first time this racial slur had been uttered. The effect of the racial slur had been established previously and yet it was uttered again.

“The great thing about our group is we embrace and respect the diversity of each employee. We do this to have engaged work environments, drive innovative outcomes, improve business results, and create an inclusive and fair workplace.”

What they really meant: We only pay lip service to inclusion. We have a knowing and doing gap when it comes to inclusion. We know we should not use racial slurs in the workplace but to do something about this racial epithet would force us to confront our comfortable culture and climate that has sustained us in the past.

“We have seen how diversity of thought and perspectives in an inclusive environment at all levels of our group has helped us address challenging business decisions. The unfortunate communication was actually an attempt to strengthen diversity.”

What they really meant: Our privilege as the dominate group allows us to say whatever we want to around here. Yes, this was a calamitous slip of the tongue but trust us we have your best interest at heart even though your subordinate group has the lowest engagement scores of any racial group in our organization.

“We understand your viewpoint and how employees may have received the message. As a result of this incident, our leadership team will have conversations about cultural diversity and its effects on the workplace.”

What they really meant: We are going to continue our dialogue around this issue among ourselves as the dominate group. Inviting your subordinate voice to this discussion would only make things messy. We created the problem so let us fix it. Just trust us.

“The leadership team understands your viewpoint and how employees may have received the message. As a result going forward, they will not send out messages with this racial slur again.”

What they really meant: The prohibition on this racial slur only applies to this particular part of the organization. It does not apply to the entire workplace.

“Thank you again for your feedback and all you do here.”

What they really meant: Please do not leave us. Our diversity numbers may go down. Your racial group has the highest turnover among all racial groups.

Friends ask why not leave your organization. I tell them what country music legend Reba McEntire sung about in her 1985 hit song, “Somebody Should Leave.” Somebody should leave, which one will it be, we hate to give in, hoping what day, we might need each other again.

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