During my highly visible role as diversity and inclusion director at two Fortune 500 companies, I wrote internal articles read by people across the globe. I also had to make difficult decisions, sometimes with potentially significant financial consequences, for the organization. Following is a major decision I made and the national fallout in one company. That’s followed by a few responses I received in response to internal articles I wrote. Note that topics of sexual orientation or Islam/Muslims seemed to generate these messages to me:
Here’re two men I want you to meet. They’re happy, lead productive lives and at peace with themselves, except, well, maybe they’re not.
Guy #1: Seems that he has everything going for him, a successful career, a beautiful home, expensive cars in his driveway and a family that adores him. He shows up at church every Sunday and never misses his daughter’s dance recitals.
Guy #2: He gets by comfortably on his pension and social security checks. Not into the social media “stuff,” he spends his days writing letters to the dwindling number of folks he’s known for decades. His biggest source of pride is his only son, a high-level administrator at a prestigious university and holder of two degrees from Ivy League universities.
Now if you were to ask either one of them “How ya doing?” they’ll probably respond, “Just fine.” But beyond the façade they may in fact be dealing with an affliction within…loneliness!
Editor’s note: this article on anti-Semitism was originally published as an op-ed in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Russian President Putin got my attention when he suggested that Jews with Russian citizenship might have interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. “Maybe they’re not even Russians,” said Putin. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship – even that needs to be checked.” Putin reminded me why my great grandparents made the harrowing journey from Russia and the Ukraine to the United States. My ancestors weren’t the only ones. Between 1881 and 1924, over 2.5 million East European Jews sought to escape the relentless persecution and ghettoization. The slice of history was captured in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, but while Hollywood entertained, it didn’t fully show the history of anti-Semitism in Russia and Eastern Europe, or its ongoing ripple effect.
During the early morning of October 16, 2018, I was awakened by the muffled voices of my parents who were scurrying around their home. I could hear them speaking but did not know what they were talking about and besides, I was interested in getting a bit more sleep. At approximately 7:00am one of them appeared in the doorway. She told me what time it was and that we were evacuating. Initially I thought, is it that serious? Nevertheless, I immediately got out of bed and put on some jeans and tennis shoes, grabbed my Vera Bradley duffle and put a few toiletries into the matching cosmetics bag.
I was visiting, so my bags were readily available. It took very little time and we were out the door and into the driving rain. As I got into the back seat of the truck I noticed that there was a ladder propped against the roof of the carport. The situation appeared to be worse than I thought. After a few minutes the door next to me opened, and I was handed the next-door neighbor’s dog and told we must evacuate her also. No problem, I love dogs. Within the next few moments we were driving up the hill to higher ground with the next-door neighbors, from both sides, following in their vehicles.
Before we go any further, allow me to raise this question: If someone were to ask you, ‘what is the most important social issue in this country’, what would you answer? Well, that is the indirect topic of this article.
The parent’s house is in the Sandy Harbor subdivision in Horseshoe Bay, Texas which is in Llano county. It is located between two low water crossings and along Lake Lyndon B. Johnson. Here is the dilemma they faced. Should we wait too long we would be stuck; and faced with the high probability of flooding from the lake overflowing its banks. On the other hand, if we evacuate there was no way to determine how long it would be before we could safely return to their home. At the time of our escape, the low water crossing at the entrance of the subdivision was well above the level for safely driving through it. The low water crossing in the opposite direction was quickly becoming unsafe as well.
Therefore, we made haste, passed through that low water crossing and drove to the home of a couple whose house is on much higher ground. Not only are they neighbors, they are longtime friends of my parents. Upon arrival the couple was standing on their deck like porch to greet us and the other neighbors arriving at their home. As I approached, our hostess greeted me very warmly. Mind you, I did not know her and had never seen her before. Yet there she was with a hug and genuine concern for my safety. As we entered their home, with wet shoes, clothes and raincoats, there was no concern voiced about getting the floor wet or the neighbor’s dog coming into their home. On the contrary, we were invited to make ourselves comfortable.
Breakfast was offered and then prepared. It was served buffet style and the atmosphere was extremely welcoming. Afterwards, we took a walk in the rain to check on the well being of other neighbors and on the status of the low water crossing we came through earlier. We found it to be filled with water and it was clearly unwise to go through it again, either way. My tennis shoes were now soaked and upon returning to the home of our host and hostess I removed them. She kindly offered me house shoes to keep my feet warm. Next several of us played a domino game, of which I was unfamiliar, called chicken feet. We laughed and had a great time socializing while the flooding was happening outside.
The individuals in this small representation of that neighborhood kept an eye on the rising lake and voiced concern for their property as well as that of their neighbors; but their demonstration of altruism for one another far outweighed those concerns. There were many phone calls and text messages being sent and received to inquire about other neighbors. Two of the group went out into the pouring rain to answer an emergency call. Everyone was relieved to know there was no medical emergency involved.
By the way, did I mention that I am a middle aged African American woman and my parents are an interracial couple? They are well known, respected and loved among their neighbors and in their community; but it was my first-time meeting those with whom I spent time on that cold and wet day. Also, I learned that the gentleman who was staying next door to the parents was also a visitor in the neighborhood.
This article is indeed about inclusion and how I was made welcome among a group of people who look nothing like me and more than likely think differently about many things. Greater still, it is a tribute to the spirit of humanity I beheld within each person I met. They genuinely care about one another and the welfare of others. This was not something simply verbalized, it was demonstrated in their actions.
Later that day, after the rain became a soft drizzle and the lake began to recede, we were able to return to the parent’s home. I determined that I would tell others about the sharing and caring I witnessed in that small place within a very large universe. It was a privileged to see it and know that since it exists there, it still exists.
That night, we slept peacefully with the ladder still propped against the roof over the carport.
Chart your own professional future. Because where you work can make all the difference in the world in your job satisfaction. Why not? Now is the right time. Unemployment is low and there is a labor shortage, so you have choices in jobs!
This means that you should act with purpose in choosing where you work. Figure out what is important to you and then, while interviewing, ask questions that help you learn about the company and if it is a place where your needs and values will be met. If diversity is a critical value for you, it should be as well for the organization at which you work. How can you determine how important diversity is to an organization just from an interview? You will want a sense of this before deciding whether or not to accept an offer of employment. You can acquire this information during an interview by asking questions like the following, observing, and listening.
I. The Inn
Torchlights singe the late night air and the kicked-up dust glows on the path to the inn. A man in a brown robe leads the donkey, each step measured. His wife, wrapped in a wool shawl, stays the autumn chill. For a moment, she must stop, grips the nape of the donkey’s neck, and winces, as before, bracing for the next contraction. He steadies her, wonders if Mary’s okay. She relaxes her hold and smiles, but the harvest moon glinting off her eyes belies her calm assurance. As sure as ebb and flow, the next wave of pain cannot be quelled—her hands pressing her belly as if to stem the tide. Joseph’s feet, no longer downtrodden by fatigue, rush him to the inn. He raps on the oaken door as if his fists were made of brass. But his own would have him not. Go Away! A gruff voice rumbles through the wood. There are no more rooms. Those words echo in the desperate air with Mary’s cries. Yet, there is a shuffle of shoes. A clenched-jaw voice on the other side of the door seeps through, Jacob. Let them in! The innkeeper’s eyes wedge, Yes, Eliana. She stokes the fire, pots clacking on the coals. Water boils. He shows them to the straw-crib behind the house, where the sheep lay.
II: The Temple
Palm straw, mimosa boughs and Jerusalem pines—cut and blessed for the great harvest. Chants usher from inside the holy place to the outside air thick with sense of sacredness. The high priest raises a knife and slays the perfect lamb. Blood pools in a stone cup. With a hyssop branch, he splatters blood on the scapegoat laden with the sins of the world. It is sent out into the wilderness, and forgotten. The sky cracks with a blinding light as if a great deluge was about to burst. But there is no rain, only whispers in the air and the crackle of shimmering light. The moon smiles through high cirrus tinted carmine, ribbon’d green, flashed with gold from the sun nestled deep below the horizon. And there is peace in the silent air.
III: The Palace
Herod paces the marble floor, stepping on signs of the sky—an ancient zodiac inked into the tiles—with the animals and many serpents. He stops on the head of the lion; his robe flows, swishing stars painted there. Rage burns in his eyes. He demands his court astrologers to explain the bright flash that diamonds the sky and the veil of colors that drape the town of Bethlehem to the south. But Sire, surely a favorable sign from the gods, for Augustus Caesar… for you! Herod’s face relaxes, taught muscles ease; his eyes, glassy in the torchlight. Behind him hangs a tapestry of hammered gold. It catches the light. As if snake-charmed, each flicker writhes as a worm. Herod simply gloats.
IV: The Fields
Jerusalem grass shines purple under the twilight moon, and the sheep’s gray shapes melt into the dark. A shepherd deftly moves his fingers over holes of an olivewood flute, and a psalm wisps heavenward. God approves and opens the curtained sky exposing all its stars. A singular light flashes brighter than the moon. Sheer rainbows silk the night. Celestial choirs trumpet, ethereal voices swirl with the stars and sing. The baby boy crowns. Cries ring among the hills; whisper in the hearts of men. And the shepherds run to him with hope.
Previously published in The Hellroaring Review, 2012
Image credit: aurora (stock) and nativity scene (pngtree).
In case you missed it, October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). However, you may not have noticed due to several other monthly observances nationwide. NDEAM is sponsored annually in October by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, which says the observance dates back to 1945.
Did you know? The employment population ratio for people without disabilities (65.7%) was more than triple that of people with disabilities (18.7%) in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In the early morning of October 16, 2018, I was awakened by the muffled voices of my parents who were scurrying around their home. I could hear them speaking but did not know what they were talking about. Besides, I was interested in getting a bit more sleep. At approximately 7:00am one of them appeared in the doorway. She told me what time it was and that we were evacuating. Initially I thought, is it that serious? Nevertheless, I immediately got out of bed and put on some jeans and tennis shoes, grabbed my Vera Bradley duffle and put a few toiletries into the matching cosmetics bag. I was visiting, so my bags were readily available. It took very little time and we were out the door and into the driving rain.
In case you missed it, October 10th was World Mental Health Day. The annual observance is sponsored by the World Health Organization to raise awareness of critically important mental health issues.
Now it’s time for more people around the world to step up and sustain the momentum by uniting in a daily effort to #EndTheStigma.
Fostering open communication, education, transparency, advocacy and outreach — both online and off — are solid strategies to eradicate myths, fears and stereotypes surrounding people with mental illness.
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!