8 December 2014

Ferguson Should Be A Wake-Up Call For Leaders In America

The drama in Ferguson is hard to watch, but business leaders around the country can use this tragedy as a wake-up call.

Six months ago, Ferguson, Mo., was just another small town in St. Louis County. Nobody knew about it, and certainly no one cared what happened there. 

That all changed on August 9, when Michael Brown was shot by police officer Darren Wilson.

Of course, there are a lot of opinions on this case, and people are voicing them loudly on the news and on social media. Regardless of what you think about the grand jury's decision, it's hard to deny the racial tension it has stirred up across the country. And these feelings have been heightened in the wake of the Eric Garner case in New York, another situation in which a grand jury has decided not to pursue criminal charges against police officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold resulted in Garner's death.

As a business leader, there's a lot you can take away from these situations, and you might look at your business very differently.

The Problem You Don't See Ferguson has commanded national attention for such an extended amount of time because it's brought underlying tension in America to the surface. These issues often manifest in the workplace, where professionals unintentionally single out minorities with culturally insensitive questions and remarks.

Imagine a second-generation Asian-American woman born and raised in Irvine, Calif. When she goes to a job interview, she's asked where she's from. She responds "Irvine." To that, the interviewer asks, "Where are you really from?"

The question seems innocent enough, and the interviewer probably thinks he's politely asking about her heritage. In reality, this kind of behavior is what's known as microaggression.

The term "microaggression" was coined by Harvard University professors in the 1970s and refers to any casual degradation of a marginalized group through unintended comments or actions.

It can happen when managers automatically expect Hispanic employees to speak Spanish, for example, or when they refuse to make an effort to pronounce an individual's name correctly.

I was once asked during a business lunch where I was from. When I responded "Ukraine," the person followed with "I had a cleaning lady who was from Ukraine. She was great."

Stereotypes are common microaggressions, and they're more obvious because they're usually meant to be derogatory. Asians are "smart but not creative." Latinos are "fun but lazy." These classifications are not only offensive, but they can also have a disastrous effect on hiring practices and workplace culture.

Solving the Problem

It's difficult to cure your workplace of microaggression because, in many cases, employees don't realize what they're doing. And unfortunately, even when it's pointed out, many people may not see the problem.

But as the company leader, it's your job to create the best work environment you can for all of your employees. Here are a few things you can do to make that a reality:

1. Forget about race and accent. Help your human resources department maintain a non-biased approach to hiring.

2. Conduct sensitivity training. Chances are good that your employees don't mean to make their colleagues uncomfortable.Taking the time to point out and talk about the issues will help your team understand each other better.

3. Avoid stereotyping in your own speech. As the leader, it's your job to set the example, so refrain from ethnic jokes and other stereotyping.

4. Consider hiring an outside consultant who specializes in diversity training. The consultant will probably see issues that you're missing and have the expertise to help solve them.

The drama in Ferguson is hard to watch, but business leaders around the country can use this tragedy as a wake-up call. There are many ways that leaders can combat bias and racism on a daily basis, and by making an effort to speak up and change the climate within their own companies, they can start making changes in society.


Originally published at INC.com: http://ow.ly/GfVtn


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