By now you’ve heard about the 10-page essay by James Damore, a now former Google senior engineer. It’s a scenario I’m sure is familiar to you:
- Damore voiced a divergent* perspective in a document at Google.
- His comments went viral and offended many.
- There were several calls that he be fired.
- Google published the obligatory “such behavior does not reflect our cultural values” statement to distance themselves from Damore.
- Google fired Damore for violating company policy.
- Society breathed a collective justified sigh.
And everything was then right with the world. Because when we fire someone for saying, thinking, or doing the “wrong” thing, removing that contrary voice resolves the problem, right?
Obviously, that’s not the case. What we just witnessed was a phenomenon that occurs frequently in the US. I call it the “Bully and Shame” approach to managing diversity: if you don’t believe and support the ideals and beliefs that we espouse, you are persona non grata.
This approach has not deterred other Damore’s from speaking out in the past – nor will it in the future. If anything, it only serves as proof to those who hold contrary perspectives that:
- they need to remain incognito at work;
- they need to speak louder outside of work in the form of protests and rallies; and
- all the platitudes Corporate America espouses about its commitment to diversity are a bill of goods.
At SDMS 360, we approach managing diversity as the process of creating and maintaining an environment that naturally enables all participants to contribute to their full potential in pursuit of organizational objectives. To create such an environment may seem like an insurmountable feat in this day and age, but it is not impossible.
Here are a few steps organizations can take to begin the process of managing diversity when the next Damore scenario occurs.
#1: Start Earnest Conversations
Can We Talk? We increasingly hear of the importance of establishing dialogue with one another to work through our diversity issues. But it’s rare that we see room made for such conversations to occur. Rather we see the “Bully and Shame” approach repeatedly played out on our nation’s airwaves. This is not managing diversity (differences and similarities and related tensions and complexities). It’s the social policing of behavior by mob rule.
I am not saying we should condone behavior or speech that is intended to denigrate or harm individuals. But dialogue is a vital first step that creates awareness and ultimately increased understanding of all parties’ perspectives. Does it resolve the tension? It depends on the level of complexity of the issue. It’s also important to remember that the goal of managing diversity is not to eliminate the tensions but to provide a process that addresses the tensions that would hinder organizations from achieving goals in the midst of the complexities of diversity.
#2: Practice Holding Multiple Perspectives
Is there another way to look at this? Behind every action there is a belief system, a paradigm, a perspective. Demonizing a perspective without ever getting to the its root value will not produce change. Holding multiple perspectives means that we can consider other perspectives while still holding fast to our own. In hearing others out, we are less likely to become defensive and feel the need to disprove and invalidate the other person’s perspective. We’re able to have a conversation versus win a debate. If we are not willing to consider unpopular perspectives, risk the possibility of being offended and yet still push to work through our offenses to find common ground, how will we ever learn to live and work together?
#3: Sift for the Nuggets…
A la carte anyone? When employees provide feedback in the form of contrary perspectives and dissenting opinions, organizations should rejoice. Divergent perspectives can hold valuable information if we are open to listen and look for it. These are opportunities for companies large and small to find the nuggets of truth that can become a point of commonality around which further discussion, understanding and action can be built. Such dialogue has the potential to create an environment that supports the tough conversations, mines the nuggets from those talks, and allows an organization to emerge better for it.
If the challenges our communities and organizations face require that diverse individuals live and work together, we need to develop the capability to respond to offenses in ways other than a reciprocating escalation of counter offenses or calls for removing the voices of offense. The Bully and Shame approach does not build this type of capability.
*I am not evaluating the validity or accuracy of his perspective. I am recognizing that it is a perspective he holds and that it is not considered popular or widely embraced.
About the Author
As CEO of Strategic Diversity Management Solutions 360 (SDMS 360), a consulting and training firm, April Thomas aims to teach individuals and organizations that diversity management is a lifestyle – not just a business tool. Through SDMS 360, April partners with businesses, nonprofits and government agencies to unleash the full power of their workforce.