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Twitter Highlights Failing Grades on Inclusion for American Workplaces

April 6, 2017
Patrice Borders

Last week, under the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork, black women began sharing their stories of discrimination and disrespect on twitter. The stories multiplied. The stories keep coming.

The hashtag, not new on twitter, was revived last Tuesday at the appeal of educator and activist Brittany Packnett when the verbal attacks on two prominent black professional women took microagressions from a low buzz to loud and annoying.

What happened?

To recap, last Tuesday morning, Bill O’Reilly (Fox News Host) chose to mock Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ hair instead of respond to the comments she made while on the floor of Congress saying, “I did not hear a word she said, I was looking at the James Brown wig.” He later apologized.

Later the same day, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, during an exchange at the daily briefing, chose to chastise veteran reporter April Ryan (American Urban Radio Networks) as if she were a child saying, “Please stop shaking your head again.” Many interpreted his calling on her first at the next briefing as his version of an apology.

Packnett took to twitter to share her own Waters and Ryan stories and asked others to join her. The show of solidarity on one level had to be comforting, and yet on another level a dismal report card on the state of “inclusion” across American work places.

The trending tweets highlighted common experiences of professional black women – stereotyped and profiled:

Traci, Blackman (@pastortraci). ” ‘Arrive to keynote. White faculty ask me to go get them some water. I get it. Then tell them why I’m really there. ‘ ” 28 Mar 2017, 8:22 PM.

Gina, Prince-Bythewood (@GPBmadeit). ” ‘Pulling into my own reserved parking space and being told by a random WW that cleaning people can’t park there.’ ” 28 Mar 2017, 1:42 PM.

Razz, (@SweetRazzberrie). ” ‘*Dad sends gift to office. Boss: “I didn’t know you had a dad!.’ ” 28 Mar 2017, 1:43 PM.

Shanise, (@shnsbrn). ” ‘Me: *files sexual harassment report* HR: He says ‘he doesn’t find himself attracted’ to black women. So are you sure?. ‘ ” 29 Mar 2017, 5:23 AM.

How should organizations respond?

The research is undisputed. Organizations that build inclusive cultures outperform those that don’t. There is a toll on the individual and organization when people experience the stories trending under #BlackWomenAtWork – loss of productivity, innovation, and collaboration. Gallup ( quantifies the cost to be over $450 billion annually to the American economy. Building an inclusive culture takes vision and intentional effort.

In the workplace, our behaviors and actions, not our intentions rule. Whether explicit or implicit, when our behavior operates to dismiss, disrespect and marginalize we potentially run afoul of anti-discrimination laws and the spirit of diversity and inclusion policies.

Building on the most effective strategies according to Bersin by Deloitte’s research on inclusive work cultures, we partner with clients to:

1. Create behavioral standards (i.e., setting the expectations of emotionally intelligent workplace behaviors)

2. Train people at all levels on topics like unconscious bias and similarity bias

3. Integrate diversity and inclusion into pipeline strategies (i.e., recruitment and leadership development)

MWH offers strategic solutions for clients who want to leverage the competitive advantages of an inclusive workplace. Our goal is to help organizations minimize legal risk while maximizing the rewards of a culture where people feel valued, empowered, and respected.

This article is a publication of MWH Law Group LLP and is intended to provide general information regarding legal issues and developments to our clients and other friends. It should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or situations. For further information on your own situation, we encourage you to contact the author of the article or any other member of the firm.

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