Conduct Diversity Training to Head Off Potential Lawsuits

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After R&B star SZA said she had security called on her while shopping at a Zefora store in California, the chain closed all of its U.S. stores for an hour to conduct “inclusion workshops” for its 16,000 employees.

Zefora understood the swift backlash that can hit a company that has acted inappropriately towards a customer, particularly if they are a minority. Unfortunately, Zefora is not the only company that has made the spotlight in recent years thanks to rogue employees that cross the line and harass or discriminate against a customer, co-worker, vendor or partner.

And in the age of people video-recording these encounters, a rogue employee could sink your company if the target decides to take legal action.

The second threat is the potential backlash of customers shunning your company once the word spreads on social media. This was the case with two Oregonians who ended up closing their bakery after the public backlash that followed their decision to not bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple.

The best way for an organization to set a tone of tolerance is through diversity or inclusion training to guide them in their day-to-day interactions with co-workers, customers, partners, vendors and others. While this type of training is not mandated by any state or federal agency, it is recommended whether or not you have a diverse workforce or client base.

Implementing a diversity training program is also an important step in helping to reduce the risk of workplace discrimination and harassment claims. In settling discrimination cases, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission often requires companies to educate employees on the importance of diversity in hiring and promotion, and how to avoid stereotypes.

A proactive employer that wants to avoid problems from the get-go would take that step without being required to.

More important than ever

Our country is becoming more diverse with each passing year. It’s not only different races and religions, but also sexual orientation and alternative lifestyles.

The norms that dictated behavior a half-century ago are transforming. To minimize the risk that employees, supervisors or managers step out of line in this new era, employers must develop an awareness of diversity within their business through appropriate training.

Diversity in the workplace is apparent in everything from our names to the types of food we eat, and long-taboo subjects are now discussed freely. People with disabilities often work alongside openly gay co-workers, and a variety of languages are spoken by employees and customers alike.

Elements of a strong training program

For diversity training to succeed, managers must find ways to integrate the training into daily tasks. It must go beyond a once-a-year training session. Here are some ideas:

Draw the line – Make it clear that intolerance is not acceptable, and that those demonstrating prejudice have no place in your organization. 

Get management buy-in – Ingrain in your managers and supervisors the importance of diversity to both boost worker satisfaction and as a risk management tool to avoid lawsuits. Managers understand the personnel dynamics among the staff they manage, as well as interactions with customers.

Treat everyone with respect – Employees should be told that if they prejudge a customer or co-worker and treat them as a lesser individual, they can face be reprimanded and, if the offense is serious enough, fired.

System for handling complaints – Create procedures that all managers must follow if they receive a complaint about harassment or discriminatory behavior, or if an employee witnesses another employee treating a co-worker, customer, vendor or another person in a demeaning way.

Hold a seminar for all employees – Review what is acceptable and not acceptable, and cover all of the above. Try to focus on positives and give employees the opportunity to ask questions.


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