The subject of race is one of the most difficult issues to discuss in the workplace. Generally, this is because people are afraid that they might say or do something that will offend a person of adifferent race. Rather than risk upsetting another person, some people choose to ignore the issue. Worse, in their silent, these people continue to harbor stereotypes and discriminatory perceptions.
This is counter-productive for the work environment and often leads to workplace conflict. In fact, managers and supervisors can ill-afford to have this situation continue in the workplace. The following questions are things to consider when preparing to have conversations that may have racial overtones to them. This is a self-examination process and individuals must move at their own pace when asking themselves these questions.
- Do I check my assumptions about people who are different from me?
- Do I talk to people as individuals and not as a part of a specific racial or ethnic group?
- When making assumptions about how people behave, what are my assumptions based on? Are any of my personal interactions affected by a stereotype that I hold?
- If I have had a negative interaction with someone from a particular racial or ethnic group, am I holding that interaction against another?
- If I am a manager or supervisor, am I comfortable with differences in race or ethnicity? If not, how does this affect the way I manage or supervise?
- As a manager or supervisor, am I skilled at recognizing issues in the workplace that may be related to race or ethnicity?
- Can I have an honest conversation with someone of a different racial or ethnic background about my assumptions? If not, why not?
- Do I interact with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds only in the workplace?
- What is my biggest fear when I am talking to someone who is of a different race or ethnicity?
- What level of risk am I willing to take in order to authentically address issues of race/ethnicity?
Answering these questions is the first step to self-examination on the issue of race and a good starting point on learning how to discuss race in the workplace.
Hubbard & Revo-Cohen, Inc. (HRC) is a human resources consulting and technology firm that specializes in workforce diversity, sexual harassment prevention, strategic planning, organizational development, equitable compensation, training and Web based risk management software.