Training can reinforce inclusive workplace policies

Melinda Rizzo, contributing writer//September 20, 2019

Training can reinforce inclusive workplace policies

Melinda Rizzo, contributing writer//September 20, 2019

Not every company offers diversity training, but in today’s changing economic and political climate every business can benefit from it.

While laws ban discriminatory hiring practices based on race, age or gender, workplace diversity or sensitivity training is a proactive step designed to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and accepted.

Feeling safe at work translates into the potential for greater employee productivity, creativity, innovation and satisfaction.

“Businesses are realizing diversity, equity and inclusion are good for business,” said Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown.

He said hiring a diverse workforce based upon skills and abilities also means a company might have broader appeal to more diverse customers, allowing growth into new markets.

Shanker said a baseline understanding of language and individual and group challenges, including cultural context, shared narratives and fears when seeking health care, for example, could put health care providers in a better position to serve patients who are unlike them.

While treating others with kindness and respect matters, it often isn’t enough to break down barriers, whether between colleagues, coworkers, or clients.

“Being respectful is the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t address the challenges,” Shanker explained.

Fold in polarizing political or religious beliefs and it can be difficult for managers to keep tensions out of the workplace.

Lisa Spradlin, owner of Empower2Achieve, a strategic human resources consultant business in Macungie, said she’s been updating client employee handbooks to include political neutrality clauses and position disclaimers.

“I think it all comes down to communication and a focus on emotional intelligence,” she said, noting it’s important for employees and managers to have appropriate sensitivity training and to be accountable for their behaviors on the job.

In Pennsylvania it is illegal for an employer to influence its employees’ voting behaviors in any way. Whether through threats of harm or loss, impact to compensation, or job losses due to an election outcome, according to an October, 2016 article published online by the Society for Human Resource Management, a national organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.

As far as broadcasting a political or religious affiliation or motto, she said companies can request employees not to wear logos or promotional accessories on company time.

“The solution I’ve found most effective is to have a policy in writing,” she said.

She added the risk of making offense and losing a customer or client due to an employee’s attire probably isn’t in a company’s best interests.

“Because you cannot police or control per se, you have to give people the ability to express their opinions outside of work, but professional disclaimers are something we’re seeing a lot,” Spradlin said.

Whether or not a company’s workforce is diverse, it likely will interact with people from a multitude of groups as vendors, clients, customers or suppliers so inclusion training, a growing aspect of diversity training, is becoming more important.

Spradlin said some employees may have extensive training and valuable skills but may not be the best choice to interact with a diverse group of people.

That’s another area where managing performance should come into play.

“[What] I am brought in most often is for sitting in and handling interaction and dynamics between people,” she said.

Acceptance is a key component of a diverse or inclusive work environment, said Deirdre Kamber Todd, an attorney and founding partner of The Kamber Law Group PC in Upper Macungie Township. She also is diversity legislative chair for the Society for Human Resource Management.

But you don’t need to like someone else’s identity label – whether racial, gender, sexual orientation or political – to accept that it is part of how someone identifies, making it also part of who that person is, she added.

Todd said diversity issues have been an ongoing challenge in the Lehigh Valley.

“In this part of the country there are so many families who are very much entrenched. Rather than a melting pot it is more like a stew with a few ingredients,” she said.

Todd said there also can be resistance in some industries to people who are different.

But when “new blood” comes into an organization, diversity begins to emerge and true inclusion can occur, she added.