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5 Mar 2016

The Cultural Coach: What’s In It For Me?

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March 5, 2016 Category: Commentary Posted by:

By Linda Wallace

Without making sure the needs of all workers are met, diversifying a work environment can be harder than it has to be.

Dear Cultural Coach:


I have a black boss, and three black co-workers. I just completed a training program. The black girl (in training) completely missed her fourth day of work and several other days during the training period.

Our black boss favors her despite her tardiness and lack of performance. The other two black ladies are competent, intelligent and hard working. When you people (blacks) learn to stop blaming others, accept personal responsibility for your actions and meet minimal-performance standards, you will earn the respect you now demand but do not deserve. I despise and immediately reject “diversity.” BS!

Linda Wallace

Linda Wallace

Dear Readers: Ouch! Most CEOs reading this column now are hoping that this e-mail did not come from one of their employees. I’m not going to identify the writer, or the city because doing that takes us to the frontlines where embarrassment is the weapon of choice, and nobody ever learns anything.

Every business needs to take the temperature of the workplace regularly to ensure hidden biases do not slow corporate productivity or dull team performances.

So get to it, guys and gals. This is a cultural challenge with costly implications. Make an effort to help staff who share the writer’s sentiments learn how to manage cultural filters so innocent and hard working co-workers don’t end up giving up after concluding that the biased system will halt their progress.

Cultural biases related to gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation create tensions and conflicts that are unproductive and toxic to morale. This e-mail serves a greater goal: It reminds us that equal opportunity can’t exist without processes to ensure all workers get just rewards.

Though the writer’s sentiments may be distasteful to some, they demonstrate how biases diminish our capacity to make fact-based decisions and spark group rivalry. In this case, the writer reached conclusions, yet failed to offer reliable evidence to make herpoint.  While only one of the three black co-workers did not appear to be a strong and steady performer, the writer’s cultural shades portray the entire group as flawed. Biases, like character strengths and flaws, are often revealed to us as tense situations arise.

Try these strategies for promoting inclusive and just workplaces:

• Diversify systems and processes rather than rely on good intentions: If young workers do not fit the corporate culture, assign them mentors to help them adapt to the workplace and develop a strong professional presence.

• Coach managers who feel uncomfortable giving constructive feedback to women, minorities and/or young people: Use role-playing to help managers overcome fears of unfairly being labeled as racist or sexist.

Set up coaching teams to provide them with meaningful, honest and fair feedback.

• Evaluate and monitor cultural boundaries: Ensure that cultural groups are making decisions that are in the company’s best interest, rather than for advancing hidden or silent cultural agendas.

• Promote cultural competency and literacy: Instead of mopping up after cultural collisions occur, introduce the benefits of cultural literacy and cultural competencies. Reward and praise staff who have strong cross-cultural skill sets.

• Diversify Diversity Councils: Diversity groups have a tougher time marketing and framing their messages when they don’t reflect the beliefs and attitudes of the workforce at large. Conservative viewpoints are essential to long-term success.

• Define diversity broadly: Don’t restrict Diversity Councils to issues related to hiring and promotion issues. Allow the groups to consider organizational diversity, functional diversity, geographic diversity and generational issues.

• Offer tools for success: Empower workers to develop strategies that allow them to manage their cultural filters and make quality decisions. Don’t blame others for lacking cultural skills, rather stand tall and teach.

Submit your questions or comments to the Cultural Coach at [email protected]

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