Training in Diversity & Business Etiquette

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As the world shrinks, corporations around the globe are facing diversity in the workforce like no time ever in history.  Employers now have easy access to vast resources such as Linked-in and Glassdoor, and Headhunters at corporate recruiting firms are tech-savvy and globally connected in ways never before possible.

Diversity in all its forms is reflected in the ever-evolving global workforce. In creating an optimal team, employers can easily search the nation or the globe in a matter of minutes, and likely end up with a diverse team naturally. Their primary job is to find people with the right skill sets for the services they need. It makes no sense to screen applicants first for ethnicity, gender or the faith they practice (if any). Yet the very differences that come to the surface once the team convenes may become a matter of contention for some on staff who may be intolerant of differences and not aware of cultural sensitivity and business etiquette.

Nobody will dispute the benefits of a diverse team. So what’s the problem? Truth be told, diversity also brings conflict, which is manageable, but confrontation? Not so easy. When you have a team of high achievers, strong egos can also collide, and it’s never pretty. Add intolerance to the mix and you have a war brewing. You can run for the hills, or you can prepare and prevent disrupting the workplace.

In terms of U.S. firms, it is important to remember that the typical American worker is not as frequently exposed to foreign cultures as their foreign counterparts. (This is changing with the influx of foreign workers and the global economy.) Our European neighbors can barely drive a few hours without crossing an international border and switching languages.

While Americans rank high among the world’s travelers, they tend to favor domestic locales in favor of lands far away. In any event, the American workplace is becoming more of a melting pot. You may say, “No way. It’s not happening in Silicon Valley.” Give it a few years. Discrimination in IT and any other industry in the U.S. will improve or have their day in court … like Google is now. The elephant in the room is just the leader in the herd and they’re not going to take this any more!

Preventing Conflict With Diverse Teams

Notice how I didn’t say “Avoiding Conflict?”  Anyone who works with diverse teams knows that you cannot work with a talented, creative, diverse group of people if you are “avoiding conflict”. It’s the equivalent of sweeping problems under the rug. If you know there’s a problem and you don’t confront it, it only gets worse, as every manager knows who has been brought in mid-stream to fix a low-performing team.

The ideal measure is prevention. When forming a new team, it’s best that the members see themselves as friends first — or at least fellow humans — before they hit the workplace in full force.

At Venture Up, we offer a specialized form of training that works, covering the value of diversity and proper etiquette.  We emphasize the value of every individual and make no bones about the fact that high achievers, like those on this team, often have strong egos. Everyone can’t be right. If high achievers recognize this common flaw and are able to joke about it and laugh at themselves, it’s a bonding experience. It levels the playing field.  After all, everyone knows they’re right. Sometimes.

No Labels

One way to avoid a failing course in diversity and business etiquette is to avoid labels. The most important factor in diversity truly lies in how we think.  Sure, our life experience, religion, gender or whatever may feed our ideas, but it is our thoughts and behavior that are at center stage; not our religion, ethnicity, shoe-size or favorite ice cream flavor.

Labels also restrict us into that box. Everyone talks about “thinking out of the box,” yet when we label we trap ourselves inside the box everyone is trying to escape. When trainees are forced to use labels, they tend to overthink and avoid the real issues.  Labels are simply categories and are secondary to what matters — cooperation and team performance. Labeling can also make staff self-conscious and guarded, fearful of saying the wrong thing.

The most important factor in diversity truly lies in how we think.  Sure, our life experience, religion, race or whatever may feed our ideas, but it is our thoughts and behavior that are at center stage; not our religion, ethnicity, shoe-size or favorite ice cream flavor. 

When we label we are categorizing, which in itself is a form of stereotyping. By tagging someone “trans”, “black”, “Mormon”, “libertarian”, you erect barriers and establish a code of acceptable behavior. Everyone gets squirmy and cautious. Kick the labels aside and the crowd can relax and stop walking on eggshells.

Just kidding?

Oh, really? Tell the judge. Joking about race, sex or other sensitive topics, regardless of intent, can get employees of every level into deep dung. Sharing opinions about certain races, lifestyle, or even Donald has no place at work. These days everyone must be careful as political correctness in some respects has gone wild. Play it safe and steer clear of anything controversial, like Hillary.

Bad business etiquette can be costly if your words translate to a pink slip, bad publicity or a lawsuit, which could cost the company more money than the entire teams’ salaries combined.