Diversity is Challenging

By: on July 10, 2012 in Advice

We live in a global economy with more diversity and touch than ever before. Time zones and locations mean virtually nothing. The old Bell (then AT&T) slogan “reach out and touch someone” has a whole new meaning with things like conference calls and video chats. I even see it on the technical side when trying to help customers architect highly available systems where downtime may affect some part of the world.

There are some challenges that have always been universal in a diverse workforce, and it never gets easier the more inclusive you get. The reality is that someone, somewhere is going to be affected (and it may upset them, too). I think sometimes people are too sensitive to certain issues, but other times, completely justified at their reaction. Having said that, what things always boil down to in some scenarios is this: do you possibly offend a few people – the minority – and the group at large will be OK, or do you try to accommodate everyone? The answer to that is difficult and in my opinion, not straightforward. It’d be nice to say you can accommodate everyone all the time, but we all know that’s not possible.

Let me give you a practical example. The Jewish calendar has many holidays (and holiday is always a relative term for a day like Yom Kippur), and some are definitely “bigger” than others (at least to most Jews; to others, all are equally important including the Sabbath which happens every Friday and Saturday – not looking to turn this into a religious debate). The three holidays that are off limits for me no matter what are Rosh Hashanah (2 days, not 1), Yom Kippur, and Passover. RH and YK – especially YK – are really important days (New Year and Day of Atonement respectively). Passover due to the food scenario is really hard. I always take the days of the two seders off, but avoid work travel the rest of the week. To my fellow Jews who are more observant than me, I’m not saying Sukkot, Purim, Chanukkah (insert your own spelling), Lag B’Omer, Shavuot, et al. are not important. I know they are.

Where am I going with this? I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been asked to do things on Jewish holidays, and especially RH and YK. On YK I don’t generally answer the phone, watch TV, etc. It’s that important to me, even today. Modern conveniences don’t rule that day and it adds to the reflective mood to be quite honest. So clearly my answer to being asked is always no. What I do hope is that they understand. 9/10 times they are, and I’ve done things like postpone starting dates for engagements.

But what happens if people aren’t understanding, don’t care, or can’t change a date even if they want to? That’s tough. My answer is still going to be no, even if it would mean me losing out on a good opportunity (personally, professionally, financially … or all of ’em). That’s just the way it is. Minority rarely rules. Things can sometimes change if the conflicting date is brought to someone’s attention early enough, but if for a larger event, it may just not be possible. When you’re coordinating tens, hundreds, or possibly thousands of people, it’s hard to figure out one or a set of dates that works for everyone. Invariably there’s a conflict somewhere.

In my experience, when this happens, it’s not malicious or intentional. People make honest oversights  – especially when scheduling events. In my case, I don’t expect everyone to carry a Jewish calendar and know when they happen since the dates change every year (but they are always around the same general timeframe ever year …). But I would hope a major organization with months of heads up could do something about it. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t. That’s life. You can’t be all things to all people, nor can I.

So as you continue to celebrate diversity and being inclusive, remember that you’re going to eventually run into a bump somewhere. It’s a matter of when, not if, and you just have to decide if it’s a major gaffe you need to deal with, or let majority rule and realize some people just can’t take part.

6 responses to “Diversity is Challenging”

  1. Karen Lopez says:

    I add Jewish holidays to my Outlook calendar just for that reason. And it pains me when I see my fellow co-workers or board members roll their eyes when I point out that the reason the conference venue is so affordable that week is because it falls on Yom Kippur. I’m not in any way religious, but I do understand that to other people these days are incredibly important. By scheduling our events on those days and saying “well, we can’t make everyone happy” we are saying “only Christian holidays are real”.

    From another point of view, I suffer through the issue of having meeting scheduled on Canadian holidays, something that no US company would reasonably do on US Thanksgiving or Christmas. Being told that my Thanksgiving doesn’t count is not easy to hear.

    There’s no reason why event planners can’t keep track of major cultural days, regardless of their origin, and try their best to avoid conflicts. There’s also no reason why they can’t show some remorse if the conflicts are truly “unavoidable”.

    • Allan says:

      And that’s basically my point. Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, athiest, whatever you may follow (or not) – there are times when people should take things into account when scheduling. The major stuff isn’t rocket science to figure out. No one hides the dates.

      Religion is the easy example, but if we’re talking global, your example is perfect. Canada != US. Some holidays are the same, others are different and/or don’t exist. If you want certain people to participate, you have to account for their schedule as well as yours to make something work.

      • Karen Lopez says:

        What gets me the most is the horrible responses I get, not the fact that people were oblivious to the fact that we in Canada don’t have the exact same holidays. Here Thanksgiving isn’t the huge deal it is in the US. I still want to observe it. But there are others that are non-trivial. Recently it was Canada Day, which is 1 July. Yeah, it’s close to 4 July, so it makes for a short week for both US and Canadian members of our team. That doesn’t mean, though, that I can or want to switch my day off to the 4th. I want to observe the actual day, maybe participate in events, maybe just have beer on my deck.

        I would love to see the faces of my fellow board/team members if I told them they must attend an in-person meeting on 25 December just because it’s not a holiday for me.

        • Allan says:

          Oh, I don’t disagree with you at all. Just getting some people to wrap their heads around facts like I don’t celebrate Christmas is hard enough. I can’t imagine trying to tell them, “Well, we have Thanksgiving, but it’s not the same as yours and it’s at a different time.”

          I’ve told people “Let’s do this on Christmas Day – perfect timing!” in the past for things like data center moves. You should see the looks and comments. 🙂

  2. Good post Allan. Most of of us don’t understand or know when the non-bank holidays are, but you are right we should respect them.

    I respect people who can set those kinds of priorities and stick to them. In reality people like you are the best ones to hire because you know that they are faithful.

    • Allan says:

      I don’t know when everything is, either. So no worries! But where I’m coming from is if it’s a very legitimate thing (and it’s not just holidays – what if it is a key stakeholder’s kid’s graduation or something), people should try their best to schedule around it or just realize that person can’t participate. End of story.

      An event recently triggered this which I handled behind the scenes and didn’t flame anyone publicly. At the end of the day through discussion, everything worked out. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s OK. Can’t win ’em all.

      I shouldn’t have to be hired to remind major corporations of things like Jewish holidays. If that’s the case, we’ve got issues 🙂 What I always hated was having to burn personal or vacation days to observe. Obviously me going to synagogue is a personal choice that a company has nothing to do with, but I never had the choice to say, swap the day I got off for Christmas for one of the days of Rosh Hashanah. There’s no tit for tat. So for many years I always had very little vacation time because between Passover, YK, and RH I would burn about half of my available days. Again, a personal choice but I wouldn’t do it any other way.

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