Three key lessons from a diversity mishap

Photo courtesy of Fernan Balsalubre

Recently my friend and fellow adult figure skater Fernan Balsalubre provided the following disturbing account on his Facebook Page:

“It’s such a small thing nowadays, but the AM/PM (convenience store / gas station prevalent in Southern California) attendant told a gentleman in front of me to “Speak English” three times. I can’t believe this is how we greet people now!

The customer did not speak English. He was pointing at the glass display on the counter at some lottery scratchers, and saying “Two,” while handing money over. Brian, the gas station attendant, asked, “Do you want two of those?” The customer nodded his head. Brian then proceeded to say “Speak English” three times, each time getting louder and slower. The customer paid and left. He looked so embarrassed. I took his photo (yes, from the safety of the energy bar counter) and drove to Chevron.

This gas station is the closest to my dad’s stroke rehabilitation facility, so I have encountered this guy before. He’s not the nicest person. His customer service skills could use some brushing up.”

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Fernan took the time to provide this information to AM/PM headquarters and got no reply. Meanwhile several dozen people saw and commented on this account.

Perhaps the customer did not speak English. Maybe he was deaf and mute. Maybe he recently had a stroke which left his speaking ability partially incapacitated. It does not matter – this interaction is totally disrespectful and highlights three important lessons from this diversity misstep.

1) In today’s world of quickly proliferating social media, diversity mishaps can be frequently and quickly captured, and spread like wildfire. We see more and more capturing of public missteps in dealing with others via cellphones and quickly posted on various social media. It can be a matter of 30 minutes where soon millions of people are aware of some awful occurrence by a company’s or organization’s personnel.

2) All employees, not just managers and executives, need diversity and inclusion training. So many companies believe that diversity and inclusion can be addressed simply via management training. But in reality, it is often the lower-wage, non-management employees that are on the front line interacting with customers and clients.

In my blog “The Three Components of Diversity and Inclusion Training,” I wrote, “It is important that all employees within an enterprise receive diversity and inclusion training. Co-workers are most often the frequent cause of employees not feeling welcomed and becoming unhappy at work, and most often it is the non-management employees on the front lines who interact with your diverse customers.”

3) When diversity missteps occur, corporate leadership must be extremely quick to react. So often these diversity errors get captured and communicated to corporate leaders and then the matter is dropped and the person who reported the incident never contacted. Organizations, especially those with public expression for the diversity and inclusion commitments need to back up these statements with real action.

Diversity and inclusion is increasingly becoming a key strategic initiative for organizations to succeed, and mishaps in this area can so quickly undo years of hard work. Be vigilant and diligent! And thank you, Fernan, for speaking out and taking action in this situation.

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Footnote: I could not find any diversity and inclusion statements on the AM/PM corporate website, but parent company BP has a very visible and robust diversity and inclusion business strategy.

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