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Below are five scenarios that could be obstacles when creating a more culturally inclusive and diverse workforce. The answers to address each scenario are certainly not complete. They provide a few ideas and, hopefully, stimulate further thoughts and discussion. 

1.  The office manager of a larger state association is in the process of hiring an administrative assistant position that she supervises. The deputy director of the association (who is her superior), who is a white male, gives the office manager the resume’ of an acquaintance of his. He asks the office manager to look the resume’ over and also comments that the acquaintance looks like a good fit for the position. What are some fair ways for the office manager to move forward with handling this resume’ and the process for hiring for the position?

This is a very difficult situation. First, in addition to the office manager’s desire to honor what her boss asks her to do, the boss probably has a good idea of what is needed for the job and will likely bring forward a good candidate. Ideally, this resume’ should go to the same place that all applicants’ resumes’ do and should be handled in the same manner.  The boss should be cautious about this practice in the first place because it puts the office manager in a "no-win" position. Instead he should either pass on the resume’ without comment or encourage the applicant to follow the customary application process. It is hard to fault someone for wanting to help an acquaintance or friend find a job.  Still, the boss has influence over his employees, and the manager is likely to feel some pressure to favor the boss’s suggestion. If the office has started a formal minority inclusion or diversity program, the boss may be less likely to do this. If it does happen, hopefully the boss would also mention that although he is listed as a reference, that this application should go through the same process as other applications. Otherwise, the diversity efforts should provide the background for the manager to talk to the boss about the process for handling this resume’ in the customary manner. Another option may be for the manager to ask her boss if this resume’ should be handled in the same way as others given the organization’s current diversity efforts, or more generally ask the boss his expectations for this applicant. Although it is best if this conversation around expectations happens earlier in the selection process, it could even happen when down to making the final decision, with this applicant being one of the finalists. Even with a diversity program in place, and regardless of when in the process it is brought up, it is acknowledged that this is not an easy conversation for the manager to have with her boss.

This points to the need for policies and procedures that will support the minority inclusion program. This includes having all resumes’ and applications handled in a similar manner, emphasizing that the process is expected to be followed for all positions by all staff, including, and probably particularly, the boss!

2. The state association of a more rural, less populated state has made contact with several other organizations in the effort of reaching more minority prospects to make their workforce more diverse. Still the pool of prospects tends to be mainly Caucasian men and very few who are part of minority or other under-represented groups. This has resulted in very little change in the association’s diversity. What else could this association do?

Minority inclusion should be viewed as a process not a project. New strategies and connections will continue to be developed particularly as North America and various states and provinces become more diverse. Although your initial efforts may not have obtained the results you hoped for, it should not be considered failure. You probably have learned a number of important things.

One probable thing to do is to look to make connections with even more additional organizations. As you continue to expand your contact organizations, you may need to more closely examine the diversity and inclusion efforts of those organizations. Are these organizations from which you are looking for contacts more diverse than your organization? Do they have special expertise or advocate for a minority group or groups? Check out the list of organizations that represent minority or other under-represented groups.

Also remember that you have various elements to your “workforce” beyond your employees, such as your boards and committees, officials, ancillary workers or vendors. Continue to expand your minority inclusion efforts in a number of these areas. You will probably find your success in increasing the diversity of your workforce in some of these areas will be greater than others. Expanding minorities or under-represented groups in some areas may provide opportunities that can lead to expansion into other areas. For example, including more minorities and under-represented groups on boards and committees can give them a closer look at the work of your organization, which may lead to increased minority applications for employee positions. This could also happen with increasing the minority owned vendor organizations, which you use for various services, or with increasing the number of minority workers among your ancillary workers at tournaments and other events.  Out of relationships with minorities and other underrepresented groups in these areas, mentoring opportunities could develop to help these minorities prepare for other opportunities, including employment, within your workforce.

3.  After starting intentional efforts to include more people of color in its workforce, an eastern state association is experiencing a few staff members not showing much support for these efforts. Some of them have questioned the extra work required to include people of minority and other under-represented groups in its workforce. Some of them expressed the belief that this may be a type of reverse discrimination against qualified candidates from the majority population, and that it will result in less qualified people as part of its workforce? How can the state association leadership address such reactions and attitudes?

One of the first things is to revisit your rationale for having a minority inclusion or diversity program. Why is diversity important to your organization and its work?  You may have included statements such as the following: Diversity improves and enriches the organizational environment. It brings different experiences and different ways of addressing issues. It also helps the organization relate to and better represent the needs of our customers, schools, their staffs, students, officials and parents.

You may add other significant reasons beyond your original rationale statements. You may also point out that most minority and other under-represented groups have not had the same opportunities as the majority population. One significant reason for this is the differences in available financial resources between races and ethnic groups that still exist in North America.  Another closely related reason is the segregated living and social environments.  Many minorities do not have the same access to educational and job opportunities for financial reasons. Also, social circles and ties still weigh heavily in workforce opportunities. Therefore, when an organization’s workforce is already comprised primarily of those of the majority population, those with social ties to people in this workforce, generally others of the majority population, are at an advantage for positions in this organization. This, therefore, leaves those of minority groups at a disadvantage. Who you know is a factor for people securing workforce positions. Certainly it is not always the case, but it is enough of the time to make a rather large difference in the overall picture of employment and positions obtained, and favoring the majority population.

Diversity training could also help some of these staff understand these differences between cultures and how to better work with others from different backgrounds. Getting to have new staff of different backgrounds in the work place may also help change attitudes.

Ultimately, you may need to let some of these employees know that diversity is valued by the organization. Even it if takes time, the organization is committed to this direction. If people can’t get on board with this direction, as with other company directions, decisions will need to be made at some point about continuing to work within the organization.

4.  The NFHS has a minority inclusion program in place and has hired several employees who are part of minority groups. Working relationships between some of the minority employees and some white employees of longer tenure have not functioned as well as they could. What are some helpful ways for the NFHS leadership to address this situation?

This may be somewhat normal when introducing new staff, and particularly those of a different cultural, into the existing office environment, especially an environment that has been very similar in cultural background, such as those from the white, majority culture.  Some of this could work itself out over time. However, it is probably better to address such issues earlier rather than later. It may be better to get things out in the open about the possible cultural differences and the tension. This will show that you are willing to talk about such differences and reaffirm the commitment to diversity and minority inclusion.

This also points out that creating and having a diverse workforce goes beyond hiring or selecting minorities and other underrepresented groups. Managing diversity is equally important. This will be part of the leadership challenge. Creating an environment where cultural differences and backgrounds can be discussed, including how they may lead to different approaches and work styles, which can be beneficial in the workplace, will be part of this work. Discussing these topics will probably be awkward for many staff members, particularly at first. However, in order to maintain a diverse workplace, this will probably be an essential element of the leadership challenge and managing diversity well.

One possible way to address this particular issue is to have the staff, newer and more established together, and in mixed smaller groups as needed, identify some areas for improvement in the workplace. Then in the mixed group or groups, brainstorm some possible solutions and finally develop some plans to move forward. This will allow time for the staff to work together. Hopefully, they and you will see that the new methods and the more established ways to get things done can work together smoothly.  Both the contributions of the newer, minority employees and the more established employees have value and can work together.  It should also help assess whether further work would help address any cultural issues that surface.  An even more direct approach would be to identify some of the areas of conflict. Then have groups brainstorm ways to turn the areas of conflict into strengths.

Diversity training may a good option to address any further cultural difference items or a place to include the identification and brainstorm exercise mentioned above. Also at any point in this process, during a work session, the diversity training, or at another time, the rationale, vision, goals and objectives should be reviewed.  This review and restatement is an opportunity to show your commitment to minority inclusion and diversity efforts in your organization.

5.  A few staff members of a western state association believe that special treatment is given to staff members of minority cultures that is not given to the rest of the staff. Recently a Middle Eastern staff member was granted time and access to a special room to say prayers several times a day during a Muslim holiday. What are some things that state association leaders and staff members can do?

There are often a number of reasons that employees may feel that they or their colleagues are treated differently.  All such issues or reasons may not ever be adequately addressed. Sometimes these dynamics can be happening overtly or covertly, which may be harder to address.  Leaders need to use their resources and energy wisely in knowing which of such issues to address and how. If you want to maintain a diverse workforce, differential treatment, real or perceived, should be addressed. If people believe they are treated differently due to race, ethnicity, or probably any cultural difference, over time you may lose ground in maintaining a diverse workforce. Let it be said that handling issues of equal or fair treatment for any reason, and probably particularly regarding race or ethnicity, are rarely easy.

A fundamental element for effectively raising diversity concerns is for employees to be encouraged to bring forward such concerns and know that there will be no recrimination. Going to one’s supervisor is often a first step when an employee has concerns about his or her work or the workplace. For this to work well around diversity issues would require: 1) all supervisors receive training in handling such matters, and 2) there is encouragement and support for supervisors to do so. This is in addition to the encouragement and support for employees to go to their supervisors with such concerns.

Until discussing diversity issues becomes well integrated in the office environment, it may be helpful to have such concerns directed to one person, possibly an office manager, a Human Resources person, or directly to the head of the organization. Having a central place helps ensure that diversity issues are handled more consistently. Even slightly different handling of situations by different staff may be perceived as unequal or unfair treatment, even if only due to human nature. As we know from the experience of athletics and performing arts, fair and equal treatment are goals we try to obtain, but don’t achieve as often as we would like! Even the same person, such as an official, can render a different judgment in similar situations. Whoever this designated person is, she or he should have training in handling diversity issues.

Whatever the means, it should be clearly laid out in the organization’s policies and procedures. And again, bringing such issues forward will need encouragement and support from top management. The expectations of top management will play a major role in managing workforce diversity well. Encouraging discussion at many levels will help integrate diversity into the workplace.

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