Category Archives: By Deborah Levine

Articles by Deborah Levine, Editor of the American Diversity Report

Policies, Faith, and Calendars – by Deborah Levine

When the Jewish New Year came in September this year, I got many questions about calendars and holy days from Human Resource departments. They wanted to know why the holiday occurs on a different day each year according to our secular calendar. And they asked about food associated with the holiday. Offering the traditional apples and honey for a sweet New Year was the easy part. Explaining the timing was the real challenge.

What should I write about religion and religious calendars in these contentious times? I know that many organizations and companies would prefer that the issue of religious diversity would disappear. But every year, thousands of religion-based lawsuits claiming a “hostile or offensive work environment” are registered with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

What can you do to avoid a hostile and offensive workplace when so many conflicts over religion are begun unintentionally? The bias is labeled “unconscious” when people think it’s harmless, and even fun, to joke about Jews and money, Muslims and head scarves, Sikhs and turbans. They’re surprised when people feel harassed. Isn’t it a right to exercise of their freedom of expression?

Some respond to the dilemma by insisting that no religious expression be allowed at all. Others consider that approach hostile and offensive to people of faith. How do you begin to negotiate between such polar opposites? The first step is for organizations to develop written policies around religion if they haven’t already. Without a written policy, every incident is a matter of debate and personal preference. It doesn’t take long for the resulting distrust and dislike to damage team cohesiveness.

Timing is every thing. Well-meaning companies may find employees disengaged and distanced by ill-timed scheduling decisions. Don’t hold a conference or essential meetings on a major holy day. And if you must, don’t penalize those who can’t attend. What happens when religious calendars aren’t respected? If employees aren’t able to spend time with their families on major holy days, they may feel undervalued and leave. The organization’s talent pool is diminished and it incurs the expense of replenishing it.

Consider your partners and vendors, too. For example: Don’t have a job fair on a day when diverse vendors can’t set up booths. If vendors aren’t able to observe their holy days, they may disappear. In that case, the organization not only loses needed vendors, but the communities that these vendors represent may remove themselves as customers. The organization now has fewer marketing options.

Ready to upgrade your scheduling strategies? A vital element of your company policy should be a multi-faith calendar. Religious calendars vary with seasons, months, and days. Do not try to guess the dates of major holidays. Purchase a multi-cultural calendar or get an online version, many of which are free to users.

While we may not share the same holy days, and many of us aren’t religious, respect for sacred time makes good business sense. Avoid insensitive scheduling and build credibility with employees, vendors, and customers onsite and online. Sensitivity generates good will year round. The trustworthiness you establish helps offset unintended mistakes. So check your calendars and enjoy a few apples and honey!

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For more information on calendars and religious diversity CLICK Religious Diversity at Work

What Should an Aspiring Global Leader Know? — by Deborah Levine

Here’s what teenage global leaders-in-training had to say when asked what a young global leader should know. The words of wisdom come from high school and middle school students participating in the American Diversity Report Youth Global Leadership Class. Enjoy their  timeless advice and then read what leadership experts said about preparing the upcoming generation of leaders.

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The Challenge of Unconscious Bias – by Deborah Levine

Starbucks’ plan for an afternoon of unconscious bias training is admirable but may not be effective. The fuzzy, vague term of unconscious bias is often applied indiscriminately, but unconscious bias isn’t a one-size-fits-all term amenable to a one afternoon of training. Yes, it can refer to the incident where the police were called to arrest two African-Americans waiting for a meeting at Starbucks. But it can also mean only smiling at customers that look like you, rejecting resumes from diverse applicants, and promoting the employees who resemble the current leadership team. If we want to address unconscious bias effectively, we need to first be aware of how the senses, emotions, and brain interact to create unconscious bias. Second, we must go beyond awareness of our biases to sensitivity to their impact. Lastly, we need to develop a system that internalizes wise decision making with ongoing reinforcement of that competence.

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Tracking our Destructors Year by Year– by Deborah Levine

I used to write about terrorism in the U.S. every spring. My articles began with the domestic terrorism of the Oklahoma City bombing more than twenty years ago on April 19.  That’s when I became the community/media liaison for Oklahoma’s Tulsa Jewish Federation. It was shortly after the bombing destroyed the Murrah Building and so many lives were affected. I felt compelled to investigate what led to the deadliest bombing, prior to 9/11, on our native soil.  The violent hatred that I saw has not only continued, but has expanded globally, and now, it  encompasses the entire year.

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Greenpeace, Matriarchs, and Me — by Deborah Levine

As the editor of the American Diversity Report, I’ve insisted on including environmental articles, focusing on the economic impact of Going Green on our world, our workplace, and our lives. When I considered doing an article on the iconic Greenpeace movement which started so much of our environmental activism, I thought it would be an intellectual and historical project.  But,  my 92-year old Aunt Polly informed that my Green-ness runs in the family, that Greenpeace is just a cousin away and that includes one of the movement’s matriarchs.

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Father and Mother’s Day When They’re Gone – by Deborah Levine

Father’s and Mother’s Day are great American traditions, but I’m not sure I like them. Unhappily, I have a really big problem with these days because I don’t have the goods. My mother and grandmother who were such loving figures in my life are gone. My father, who I take after in so many ways, is gone, too. I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself.  My children live far away but will no doubt call or send a card. I’m grateful for their love but I would really like to call my own parents. Just knowing they were around made life balanced and feel more secure.

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Letter Home from WW II Soldier – Courtesy of Deborah Levine

On special occasions, Veterans & Memorial Day, I reread this letter from a young soldier, my father, Aaron Levine to his dear wife. On the verge of being deployed to Europe during World War II, he wrote this 1944 note. He writes my pregnant mother who came to NYC to see him off, but missed him.  My father didn’t see his son until he was one year old. Aaron Levine passed away at age 84 and worked on community projects even on his death bed. 
 Literary, practical, loving, and compulsively methodical, here is his WW II good-bye letter …

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Volkswagen and Women Who Rock – by Deborah Levine

Over the years, I’ve attended press conferences, graduations, receptions, and concerts at Volkswagen Chattanooga’s conference center, but I’ve never before seen it decorated entirely in pink. The event was the first ever Volkswagen Women Who Rock Awards Brunch. After having my picture taken in the photo booth wearing a pink Volkswagen hard hat, I meandered through the crowd waiting to hear from the keynote speaker, Julie Baumgardner, CEO and Founder of Chattanooga’s family oriented nonprofit, First Things First.

Women Who rock
Women Who Rock attendees

We watched profiles of the award nominees on the overhead screens as we listened to each of their favorite songs. It was a musical lesson in diversity. True to Volkswagen’s techie mindset, the playlist could be downloaded on Spotify. After much munching and brunching, we were brought to attention by Shireena Avery, the Volkswagen Diversity Sponsor to the featured Employee Resource Groups (ERG). The Women Who Rock program got underway with Megan Herndon, President of Volkswagen’s Women in Motion ERG.

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#MeToo, Three, Four, and Five: A Leadership Challenge – by Deborah Levine

Why have women waited so long to tell their stories of sexual harassment, discrimination, pedophilia, abuse, and discrimination? How do we as individuals and as a nation process this tidal wave of #MeToo information as people come forward? I’ve hesitated to tell my stories of sexual harassment because I’ve never been able to comprehend and digest them. The first time I experienced my feminine vulnerability, I was only four years old. I was playing outside in the garden of our home in Bermuda, when a teen-age neighbor squatted down next to me as I was playing with my favorite marbles in the garden. Smiling at me, he reached under my skirt and stroked my privates through my underpants. Before he walked away, he made me promise not to tell my father, silencing me.

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Global Trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership – by Deborah Levine

While President Trump reconsidered the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?  Many American cities, like Chattanooga, have built their economies on international industries, their vendors, and outdoors sports competitions including Ironman.  Before the halt to our participation in the TPP, there was a well-attended panel discussion on the controversial TPP  at the Small Business Incubator with moderator Jim Frierson, who was Chief of Staff in the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) during the Reagan Administration. The cabinet agency is responsible for developing international trade policy for the President and negotiating with our trading partners. America’s first bilateral free trade agreements — with Israel and Canada — were initiated, negotiated, and implemented during his eight-year tenure. As intense competition from Japanese autos and semiconductors appeared to threaten the US and then receded, the seeds of an ambitious Pacific regional trade compact were planted in exploratory meetings by the USTR himself, Ambassador Bill Brock, a Chattanooga native.

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