There’s a lot going on this week. The Oscars were Sunday night and Black History Month ends this week while Women’s History Month begins … and today is Leap Day!
I was trying to figure out how to converge all of this into a meaningful blog post when I started seeing a bunch of posts on Facebook and Twitter about Billy Crystal in “black face” at the Oscars this year. This was in reference to his wearing dark make-up and impersonating the late Sammy Davis Jr. in one of the opening skits for the show.
I was really upset and annoyed by this because 1) I love Billy Crystal, 2) I love Sammy Davis Jr, 3) costume make-up is NOT the same as “black face” and 4) there are much more pressing issues facing minorities than this!! Like seriously. People are actively campaigning and lobbying to essentially turn back the clock on our rights in America … and we’re up in arms about Billy Crystal as Sammy Davis, Jr?!?
I was ranting about this with one of my closest friends when she shared a favorite quote …
Don’t Major in Minor Stuff
As minorities and “protected classes” of people, we often let ourselves get rope-a-doped into this. We focus on minor things like the guy in the cubicle next to us who greets “Whassup, brother” — instead of the major things like the company having no women or people of color on the senior management team. We get mad when we’re seven months pregnant and the boss asks us to create a plan for how work will get done while we’re on maternity leave — instead of being mad that the actual maternity leave is only 4 weeks and completely unpaid. We major in the minors.
Not every issue worth throwing down the gauntlet for. Not every issue is worth the time and attention required to solve or resolve it. Not everything is major.
This isn’t to say there are not real issues in workplaces surrounding stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. There are. I know because I have faced them and continue to face them. Sometimes they are overt, other times they are more subtle and other times they rumble so far beneath the surface that you can never quite put your finger on it but you know that you know that you know that it is there. I get it …
But there are times when it is just the organization’s culture or the supervisor’s personality or even your own personality that result in these conflicts. We label it as prejudice or discriminatory behavior when it’s really just “bad fit” and we start to see a pervasive patterns where they do not exist.
So how do you know where the line is?
- As an employee, it is important to understand what discrimination is. It occurs when an employee suffer adverse impact or is denied opportunity based on their being a member of a protected class. Adverse impact is when standards or procedures applied to everyone lead to a substantial difference in employment outcomes unrelated to successful job performance for a protected group. It is important to remember that adverse impact is not automatically unlawful or discriminatory. Some stuff just goes along with the needs of a particular business. You need to stay open to this possibility because sometimes this happens and there is nothing an employer can or should do about it.
- As an employer/manager/HR person/leader, you need to be sensitive to the potential unintentional discrimination caused by adverse impact in your organizational structure, policies, procedures and practices. Because we all know these things exist! We have a responsibility to identify and confront these issues head on — then work to reverse the issue when possible. This is what truly “seeking diversity” is all about. Otherwise, we end up majoring in minors by focusing on the celebration of various things without having the variety of people there to actually enjoy it.
So on the extra day we have this year and as we transition to a new month where we’ll celebrate more great contributions and reflect on the progress of another group who has faced historical challenges, let’s commit to seek real diversity and understanding all year round — and stop majoring in minor stuff!