Diversity and Inclusion – does it divide us or unify us?

As a diversity and career development consultant since forming my business in 2010 after retiring from IBM, I have been publishing 2-4 blogs each month, many of them about a wide range of diversity topics.
• I have discussed that racism still does indeed exist in “Facing the Truth – Racism Stills Persists in the USA.”
• I offered some hard-hitting solutions to addressing gender discrimination and sexual harassment in “Five Provocative Recommendations to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.”
• I had assistance from members of diverse communities to assist with blogs addressing negative stereotypes of Muslims and Hispanics in our country. The blog Five Common Misconceptions of Muslims in the USA introduces the Muslim topic and has links to additional blogs. And then also look up Seven Misconceptions or Stereotypes of Hispanic People.
• The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Community continues to be misunderstood and maligned by a huge number of Americans, including legislators, and I have written extensively on this topic.

And there are many other areas of diversity that grab our attention: Veterans, People with Disabilities, Diversity of Thought, and even straight white men are part of our diversity mix that adds valuable perspectives and variety.

But what concerns me are the negative comments and misunderstandings about diversity and inclusion. Last week, I wrote “Economic Diversity and a Sad Tale of Misused Privilege,” addressing the recent scandal that hit the news about affluent Americans using wealth to cheat and bribe their children’s admissions into top colleges they may not qualify for. I normally promote each blog on my business Facebook page, and invariably, several people will post negative reactions, often decrying diversity.

This blog was no exception. One reader wrote, “We need to dump all this “diversity” horse crap, it’s not working and only creates more strife. Focus on unity instead, what do we have in common? You should also quit whining about “privilege”. Life is what it is, and crying because someone else has it easier won’t change a damn thing. Do what you can with what you’ve got and you will be much more content with your life.”

At least he did not call me names, bully me and use four or five expletives like many people do. But I felt compelled to reply.

Appreciating each person’s diversity shouldn’t divide us … it unifies us and makes us stronger!

Like many, he misunderstands the value and intent of diversity and inclusion. Focusing on diversity is not meant to divide us, but instead to raise the awareness that every single person is unique and different, and brings value to our society. Embracing differing views, ways of thinking, creativity and talents will build a stronger, richer entity; whether it be our country, community, or business. Learning to understand the challenges various people face and assisting everyone in overcoming these challenges will make everyone stronger. I shared with this reader one of IBM’s diversity taglines, “None of us is as a strong as all of us.”

I do hope that everyone can stop, take a breath, and open their hearts and minds to understanding that appreciating and leveraging the diversity of each person will enhance our lives as individuals, as communities, as nations, and indeed as all humanity. The diversity and inclusion discussion is not a “we vs. them” but an “all of us together” discussion.

Peace, Shalom, Namaste!

An hour with EEOC Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows, Part 2 – LGBT Concerns

EEOC Commissioner Burrows discussed the successful case of transgender woman Tamara Lusardi vs the US Army (photo from www.washingtonblade.com)

EEOC Commissioner Burrows discussed the successful case of transgender woman Tamara Lusardi vs the US Army (photo from www.washingtonblade.com)

NOTE: See link to an important LGBT resource in the last paragraph!

Last week I was invited to attend a “Meet and Greet” with one of the USA’s five EEOC (Employment Equal Opportunity Commission) Commissioners, Charlotte A. Burrows, in the EEOC’s downtown Raleigh office. I received the invite since I am an officer of the Raleigh Business and Professional Network, Raleigh’s National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s affiliate chapter.

In Part 1 published earlier this week (link), I summarized how the meeting was structured and six high priority areas that the EEOC was working on shared by Ms. Burrows. Since I am a diversity consultant capable of handling all areas of diversity but with a deep expertise in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) workplace and marketplace, I will expand on that subject in this “part 2.”

The most important basic point raised by Ms. Burrows is that even though sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly delineated as a “protected classes” in Title VII (The Civil Rights Act of 1964), the EEOC is very open to pursuing complaints in these areas. At the Federal Level, there have been an increasing number of court cases where the ruling is that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is assumed within the “sex” area of Title VII.

Ms. Burrows then mentioned two specific cases in the sexual orientation and gender identity realms:

1) In the 7th District Court Case Warnether A. Muhammad vs. Caterpillar Inc., the court initially took the position that discrimination based on sexual orientation could not be used by the plaintiff suing using Title VII. But on appeal from the EEOC, though Muhammed lost his case on other grouds, the panel did reverse its position about the invalidity of using sexual orientation discrimination in cases like these.

2) In the case of Tamara Lusardi (a transgender woman) vs. the US Army, (link to Washington Blade article) the EEOC ruled that prohibiting Tamara from using the restroom identified with her gender constituted gender discrimination under the law.

Ms. Burrows strongly made the point that the EEOC is truly “open for business” to pursue discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and that over the past few years, over $3M in fines and settlements in these areas have been recorded. She further shared the statistic that in the LGBT area, about 80% of the cases coming to them are around sexual orientation and about 20% around gender identity.

During Q and A when I inquired about the dichotomy between the EEOC pursuing these cases in the light of no national ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that includes protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, she replied that a congressional passed ENDA law would certainly make this discussion much more “cut and dry” and send a very strong national message. However, even with the current absence of an EDNA, the EEOC will certainly still pursue LGBT discrimination cases.

As stated in part 1 of this blog, I am very grateful for the EEOC in fighting employment discrimination for ALL PEOPLE. And even in my own research I later found this very useful resource from the Chamber of Commerce to assist people in addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.