Acknowledge Sensitivity, Defuse Its Impact, Move On

One of the main reasons Diversity Executive exists — if we dare be so bold and set such a lofty goal — is to push the diversity conversation forward. In order to do that we’ve established a platform within which all diversity leaders can operate. That platform is the business marketplace — or its small, likely encapsulated counterpart, the workplace.

A sensible career professional has his or her company’s continued success as a goal, and not just because that’s how we can afford organic beauty products, golf clubs, the best preschools and expert tailoring. To ensure that success, we have to work together efficiently in an environment that promotes diverse thinking. This leads to innovation and the deliberate idea generation that will drive new product development and fresh, creative ways to reach consumers in a competitive global marketplace. The end of this road is the bottom line: Diversity leads to business success, which brings in money.

Now, this is not to say money is more important than product quality, a fabulous service reputation or the number one performance slot in one’s industry. Money has little to do with another key factor in the workplace: sensitivity, one of the lynch pins of successful diversity and inclusion practices.

Minorities are often ill at ease in the workplace for many reasons. Not looking the same as organizational leaders, not sharing the same background, education or experience, not understanding the language being spoken in meetings or even in the halls can grow feelings of discomfort. These feelings of discomfort are often exacerbated by frustration at slow or negligible progress in solitary attempts to gain this understanding. Further, attempts to glean some understanding may be met with exactly the wrong type of response.

I can recall a job where I jokingly mentioned to a co-worker that people were often surprised when they met me in person after dealings on the phone or via e-mail. She replied, “I think that’s all in your head.” I can smile about it now, but at the time, I felt as though she’d slapped me in the face. My comment may have been ill-advised, but it was sincere, and likely shouldn’t have been met with skepticism or the automatic assumption that my belief was imaginary or without merit.

Discomfort can lead to insecurity and defensiveness — the sensitivity that can leave those in the majority scratching their heads and wondering why so-and-so is angry over what they assume are fairly innocuous comments. But consider this rather heavy-handed scenario. If you were a stranger in a strange place and your livelihood depended on communicating effectively with a population you didn’t fully understand, and that didn’t fully understand you, you might find frequently yourself out of sorts, too. Read more at