Thursday, January 08, 2009

Make Sure Your Issue is Race-Based Before Making the Allegation!

Sometimes problems at work are race-based and sometimes problems and issues arise just because of business. It's important to really look at your situation and decide where your issues fall. Is the problem business or is it race? The reason I ask is that I'm working with a group of folks who are always screaming race or favoritism, even with me. I don't play those games at work and certainly wouldn't go around wrongfully/fraudulently making allegations against Black workers. When I've spoken to workers, regardless of race, any issues I've brought up have always been about business. There was never anything personal or racial.

Sometimes it takes a bit of maturity and honesty to identify what type of situation we're in, when problems creep up in the workplace. Most of us will come up with issues at work at some point because we're dealing with humans. Confusion, ignorance, malice, unintentional harm, etc. are all going to be taking place on any job.

For Black workers, those common workplace experiences at work are sometimes elevated by the realities of racism in American society. Racism can escalate a so-called typical workplace experience into a problem that can result into significant legal and financial liability for employers.

Sometimes Black workers are blind-sided by wildly and openly racist words and actions. But, more often than not, Black workers are forced to deal with very subtle forms of racism, including the use of racial code words and the use of race-neutral language that is being twisted for evil purposes. When dealing with subtle racism, there are usually many layers of bullsh*t, I mean pretexts to weed through, such as cover stories and false allegations designed to hide racially-based motivations.

Not only is racism usually pretty covert these days, but the people causing the issues at work often live in some alternate universe where they have convinced themselves that they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies. They will take great umbrage to the mere idea that they may have said or done something, which was racially offensive. Some of them may even cry at the notion that someone believes they have race-based biases, which they’ve acted upon.

Some people just do not have the ability to censor themselves and to keep their personal biases at home. And, some people have truly convinced themselves that they are open-minded and accepting of diversity, even though that may not be the truth. As a result, these people may be sending out signals, using racially coded language and engaging in actions that they perceive to be harmless and unbiased, when they are not. For instance, a person may have convinced themselves that they are denying a Black worker a promotion for legitimate cause, but their words (emails, memos, meetings, etc.) may raise questions about their motivation based on any number of factors, including:

--the language they’ve used to justify what they are doing;

--double-standards they may be applying to a Black worker, which is the supporting reason for the decision they’ve made;

--rules that have been changed to justify a decision, even a slight change in rules; and

--the person may have shown a disregard for written policies, practices, and precedence that should have applied to your situation.

In essence, while this person may have said one thing (and may stand by what they’ve said), their words and actions may have told a story which raises questions about their decision-making process and personal biases.

The reality is the average Black worker has no interest in getting into a racially-charged issue at work. It’s just not worth it on a professional or personal level. However, we are sometimes forced to question whether race is a factor for us at our jobs based on circumstances and based on incidences that are so egregious they simply can’t be ignored. This may happen with the baseless denial of a promotion or through some other action. Regardless of the cause, we are forced to ask ourselves, “Is this happening because I’m Black?”

Well, here are some tips and things to consider, if you find yourself questioning the motivation of employment actions at work:

1. Take a step back from the situation and try to look at the situation from other perspectives. Are any of the issues, which you perceive as race-based, possibly caused by other legitimate reasons? Write down the basis for your position of on-the-job racism. You should list specific examples of inequitable treatment, a racially-hostile environment, etc. You can’t just make a claim of racism. You have to be able to back it up with details (directives, quotes from staff and managers, emails, memos, etc.).

2. Ask yourself if any actions taken against you have a legitimate basis in reality to justify what has transpired. If you can’t find a real reason for a decision, start probing more deeply into the reasons being used to justify any employment actions. This includes requesting meetings with your supervisor/manager and HR, if it is necessary to clarify corporate policies and procedures. Always document anything you’ve been told.

3. Ask around. Find out if you are the only Black worker impacted by a decision or action, when there may be other similarly situated employees (same title, level, etc.) who should have also been impacted by a decision. Were you as a Black worker (or were you and other Black workers) singled out for certain personnel actions?

4. Talk to other minority to find out if they share your perspective. Start taking notes. Try to determine how significant the suspected problem on your job may be. Ask staff what you can do--as a group--to address the problem, if that’s what you collectively, or even individually, decide to do.

5. Keep thorough notes and put your concerns in writing. Force people to respond to you in writing. If you send an email and get a call in return, shoot off an email when you get off the phone to summarize what was discussed. Be sure to include any new allegations of wrongdoing or any new lines of defense being offered by a supervisor/manager, etc.

6. Decide if you are ready to confront the issue, openly and honestly. Think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and if the person you need to speak to will be receptive to that message. Even if they will not be, you may decide that you need to address the situation anyway. Do so! If you are shut down, consider contacting HR for assistance.

7. Come up with possible solutions for any problems you’ve identified. It’s always better to have a suggestion for making things better, even when coming up with these ideas is not necessarily your responsibility. When it comes to something as important as earning a living and your work environment, think of things that can improve your situation. This includes asking if the company will provide sensitivity/diversity training, send out a reminder regarding the policy on harassment, conduct an investigation into the pattern behavior of a particular coworker or supervisor, etc.

Remember not to be too hasty, if you aren’t sure you’re dealing with a race issue at work. Sometimes it’s best to document anything causing you concern and waiting to watch how events unfold. If you become convinced there is an issue, you will have your documentation and evidence (emails, etc.) to support your position.

Just don’t go around making accusations you can’t prove. The minute the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a friend has made discrimination charges and her lawyer which she has paid a retainer just withdrew from her case. What should she do know?

9:48 PM  

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