Keep Prejudice Out of Your Organization
by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLab®
  For this column I interviewed four well-known senior human resources executives about ways to keep prejudice out of your organization. This is their advice:
  1. Elizabeth Moravek
    Human Resources Director
    United Artists Theater Circuit, Inc.

    Keep prejudice out of your organization at the start, during the interview. I'm constantly educating every level of management about things they can and cannot say and ask.

    I stress skill-based, job-related questions. For example:

    "Describe how you handled a situation where a customer came to you angry or upset," or "What were some of the things about which you and your previous supervisor disagreed?"

    With job titles, we changed Doorman to Door Attendant, and Candy Girl to Concessions Attendant. It's a process of continuing education and consciousness raising. I don't find prejudice deliberate, as much as I find it careless. People just need to think about what they're saying.

    Pre-screening tests are fraught with legal problems. A recent advertisement for pre-employment testing said, "This test identifies those people most likely to engage in drugs and alcohol abuse . . . It identifies those people inclined to steal when given the opportunity . . . It flags those who may engage in sabotage and destructive behavior." Tests like these are dangerous from a legal standpoint. For one thing, there's a good bet they haven't been validated.

    Rather than questionable testing, it's better to stress probationary periods—now called "orientation periods"—and employment at will. Especially with difficult, violent, or problem employees, hammer away that you can quit or be terminated with or without cause, with or without notice. Manage problem people and stay on top of performance.

    Some candidates interview beautifully, their references check out, yet three months later you find out they don't have both oars in the water. Don't wait six months or three years to take disciplinary action. Act at once.

    Some managers demote difficult employees or transfer them to another department to avoid confrontation. That's a mistake.

    It's better to deal with problems head-on. One manager had a history of passing on problems to others. I felt I had made great progress when he said, "I will never demote or transfer poor performers again. In the future, employees will cut it or else leave the organization."

  2. Harv Sims
    Director of Training

    You can never get rid of prejudice, but you can expose it, educate against it, and drive it underground. Like drug abuse, you keep it visible, and actively pursue it. That will suppress it.

    Continuous awareness is part of our curriculum at CoBANK. We have policies against prejudice and we enforce them. We train against it on a yearly basis, and we don't let infractions slide by. We send a message through the corporation that we're not going to tolerate it.

    We don't care how you behave at home or in public, we do care how you act inside the company. At one time we had as many Chippendale calendars as Sports Illustrated calendars. They all had to come down. We're not changing society, just changing the work environment. In the past even upper-level managers were winking at the rules. The winking stopped when we fired a couple supervisors.

  3. Jim Sexton
    Vice President Human Resources
    Stanley Aviation Corporation

    In the last ten years prejudice hasn't disappeared, it has simply gone underground. We don't screen applicants directly for prejudice, but we do disqualify them for racial slurs or sexual remarks. We communicate frequently with our employees. The President gives a formal address quarterly stressing anti-harassment. We won't tolerate it. It's not good practice, and not good business. In short, it's not the right thing to do.

    Corporate culture determines what's allowed and what's not allowed. Therefore, establish a strong policy saying that prejudice is not tolerated. Enforce your policies and deal with problems directly. In our company, we have zero tolerance if something prejudicial is said. It's not acceptable. You're better off not to have a policy against prejudice or discrimination than to have one and not enforce it.

  4. Barbara Brannen
    Vice President Human Resources
    Rose Medical Center

    By allowing prejudice into organizations, we remove our opportunity to grow. Diversity brings creativity. A homogeneous group may get along well, but new and different ideas get lost. All of us carry around biases related to anything: foods, clothing, even what constitutes better weather.

    We need to learn to deal with prejudice in the workplace, to keep it from interfering with being with other people in a productive way. It's important to have perspective about your biases. We need to teach openness in the workplace. Openness is the ability to respect other people's place and position. Our training at Rose Medical Center is based on respect. I don't ask employees to give up their prejudices. I respect their right to have a different view, and I expect them to respect others' rights.

    The hardest thing to do about prejudice is to sit down and talk about it. It's hard to get started. Once you're started, it's easy.

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