VALUING DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE
The celebration of Columbus Day – that is, commemorating the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492 – is a double-edged sword. Of course, we patriotic Americans are eager to honor the explorer who was integral to the founding of our nation, and we’ve done so in the form of a federal holiday since 1937 (and informally as early as the 18th century.) But undoubtedly, Columbus Day generates controversy.
When Columbus sailed the ocean blue, funded by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, he intended to find and reap the riches of gold and spices from China and the West Indies. Instead, he landed in the Bahamas, where he and his men forced the natives into slavery; in Hispaniola, which he’d believed to be Japan, he allegedly imposed barbaric punishment and torture. Additionally, the expedition introduced new, infectious diseases such as smallpox and influenza, which became scourges upon the indigenous populations.
In recent years Native Americans and other groups protested the lauding of an explorer who opened the door to the colonization of the Americas, the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade, and the killing of millions by murder and disease. Other groups rejected the holiday for its association with Catholicism.
Today we are finally becoming more sensitive to the experiences of people of color, of different religions and beliefs, of immigrants, and of indigenous peoples. In many states this is apparent as they replace the celebration of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, where indigenous peoples are honored with activities such as pow-wows, traditional drumming circles and dances, and educational sessions about Native American culture and history.
But often these are state-imposed holidays and annual commemorations. Fortunately, we are recognizing that it is our responsibility, on a daily basis, to address the need for tolerance and diversity. We are coming full circle: we need only look to the Founding Fathers and Mothers to see that they called for our republic to be built on “inclusion, equality, and respect.”
How do the ideals of our founders, along with state-imposed mandates, translate to our communities? To the daily running of the workplace, for instance?
In the workplace, we must value diversity. In my own companies, this is a priority. It’s not enough that Human Resources departments adhere to a diverse hiring policy. Every company must then work to create a culture of inclusion and mutual respect. Sexual harassment, racism, and ageism have no place in the workplace… or anywhere else in society, for that matter. Creating a workplace environment where employees feel respected, equal, and valued leads to loyalty and passion for the job. It requires the company leadership to be engaged, attentive, upfront, and to maintain an open channel of communication where employees can safely provide feedback to management.
It also requires thoughtful use of language. We don’t have to use offensive, discriminatory language while finding solutions to manage illegal immigration or stop terrorism, for instance.
By the same token, we should not be pointing fingers at a specific race or religious group for the ills of our society; that is not the American way. We need humane solutions that treat people with dignity and respect. Labeling pandemics by country names (i.e. “Chinese Virus” for COVID-19) has led to unnecessary victimization of true-blue, hard-working Americans who happen to be Asian Americans.
Civility is the long-term answer to unifying our country and “making it great again”—not bigotry, sexism, anti-Semitism, or any other form of prejudice. All we need to do is celebrate diversity and practice the art of inclusion, not exclusion.
Suggesting that America can become great again by returning to something resembling a Confederate-like state is the exact opposite of what our Founding Fathers and Mothers had in mind.
The United States must be united. Its corporate and political leaders must be inclusive, not exclusive, of fellow countrymen and women—even when we disagree. If we practice exclusion —especially with regard to politics—our nation as a whole will fracture and weaken.
America’s current diversity brings with it an immense body of knowledge, resources, and technological prowess. We have a wealth of remarkable leaders among us today who may not be politicians per se—but are more than willing and capable of following the colonial legacy and righting the course of our democratic ship.
Written by Dr. Jim White.
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