How Should Opposition To Workplace Diversity Initiatives Be Handled?

Whether you are selling the idea of developing and implementing a workplace diversity initiative to executive management or to the entire staff, questions around the purpose of initiating such an endeavor will -- in all likelihood -- arise. If not dealt with promptly and effectively, these questions and concerns could be the catalyst for resistance and undermine your results. Oftentimes, proper communication throughout the process can address and sometimes help to avert opposition to such an initiative before it arises. The responses to three commonly asked questions are below:

1) Why are we doing this? Explain the demographic changes in the workforce followed by additional information about the population shifts in your region and in your organization, is a start. You may wish to follow with a discussion of changes that employees have seen and are presently dealing with, in both the organization and the customer-base, and how those changes impact them daily on the job.

2) What's diversity got to do with it? This question may require an explanation of the business imperative related to workplace diversity, showing that preserving the organization's long-term survival is the objective and pointing out the pragmatic benefits to the individual. For example, learning how to communicate across language barriers may be helpful to supervisors of employees who speak limited English or to customer contact staff who deal with a multicultural customer base. Also, developing strategies for resolving conflicts may be useful to managers with fractionalized teams. Or developing coaching skills may give managers the tools they need to mentor and nurture diverse staff members.

3) Does this mean that we have to lower our standards? Quality versus workplace diversity perceptions are the root of this question. Resistance may arise among employees who think the emphasis on workplace diversity is antithetical to quality. Dealing with this question may require a discussion of different ways to view the relationship between quality and workplace diversity. The most important point to make regarding this question is that quality and workplace diversity are not mutually exclusive and do occur in the same employee or individual.

Although challenging, such questions provide the opportunity to set the tone, teach about workplace diversity, and demonstrate the organization's commitment to creating a truly inclusive, respectful work environment. Although effective responses can vary, the following are guidelines that may help you to frame responses without creating greater discomfort with the topic.

1) Inquire. Ask questions to understand, clarify, or get more information. Dig deeper to find out what the person means and what reasoning is behind the comment or question. Make sure your inquiry is a real search for information and not an off-putting accusation.

"What makes you say that?"
"Is that a problem that you are faced with?"
"Can you tell me more about that?"
"How does this impact your interactions with customers?"

2) Show empathy. When powerful emotions are present, acknowledging and responding to the feelings expressed is an important first step in defusing the situation. Listen not just to the words, but to the underlying feelings. It is likely that you will be faced with frustrations similar to those faced by the individual with whom you are talking. Demonstrating understanding can help calm the upset individual so that further communication can take place.

"It is frustrating when you can't understand someone."
"It is difficult to help when you don't know if you're being understood."
"That is irritating for me, too."
"Dealing with situations like that is stressful."

3) Educate. Once emotions have calmed, use this time as an opportunity to debunk myths, give facts and explain. Share your reading and knowledge about stereotypes, cultural differences and civil rights.

"Did you know that the first civil rights law was passed right after the Civil War, more than 130 years ago?"
"The term 'gypped' comes from Gypsy."
"Many gays and lesbians prefer the term 'sexual orientation' over 'sexual
preference' as it expresses their sense that one's sexuality is not a choice but is how someone is born."

4) Express your feelings. When it is your feelings that are involved, you have a right to let the other person know the impact of the comment. Use non-blaming "I" statements when explaining your reactions.

"I feel diminished when I'm referred to as a gal or girl."
"I'm uncomfortable when us vs. them generalizations are made."

5) State your needs or expectations. If it is different behavior that you desire, let people know what you do and do not want.

"Let's focus on creating an approach that we can both agree on."
"Jokes about other religions or cultural groups are off limits with me."

6) Avoid polarization. Getting stuck in an either/or situation can be avoided by soliciting other options and points of view.

"What might be other reasons for this behavior?"
"How might someone of a different background see this?"

7) Use the silence of no response or delaying your response. While silence can be interpreted as tacit approval, there are times when the silence of no response is deafening and sends a powerful message of disapproval. Not laughing at a joke or not responding to a sarcastic remark may serve as all the comment that is needed.

8) Avoid arguing and defending. Curb the impulse to debate, persuade, argue or defend your point of view. Doing so usually only strengthens the resistance and drives entrenched opinions deeper. One of the most difficult diversities of all to deal with may be that of differences in values. Acknowledging that we can have differences of opinion yet respect one another also demonstrates your ability to "walk the talk" of workplace diversity.

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1 comment:

koala1004 said...

I understand that how feel about people whose second language are not English work in an organization in the U.S. In addition, native speakers need to be awareness of different culture and language in the workplace. In order to avoiding ambiguous with communication, special program which provide employees with understanding diversity is needed in the workplace