Tag Archives: diversity

The Model Minority Myth and Asian American Heritage Month

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.

It is Asian American Heritage Month.  As we celebrate the many contributions of Asian Americans, let’s also bury the “model minority myth.”  The myth hurts Asian Americans and here’s why:

  1. If you are a model minority, you are not likely to get the help that you very well may need.  When we assume all individuals in a group are stellar, the individuals who need support are less likely to get it.
  2. If you are a model minority, then there is an implication that you may be stronger than others.  This can result in bias against individuals who are white or members of other minority groups who, in fact, are stronger when it comes to a particular job opportunity.
  3. With the model minority myth may come higher expectations.  Being good is not good enough.  We expect more:  why isn’t this person as successful “as they should be?”  This may result in bias against Asian Americans because of the inflated expectations.
  4. When individuals talk about Asian Americans as the model minority, there can be a tendency to focus on math and science. This may hurt Asian Americans when they apply for jobs that require strong interpersonal skills such as HR. That is, the myth may create silos for Asian Americans.

Let’s acknowledge how much better our world is because of the contributions of Asian Americans without stereotyping about them in a way that sounds benign but is anything but.

This Blog should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to specific factual circumstances.

How Are You Honoring Holocaust Remembrance Day Today?

Every year, I write a blog for SHRM on Holocaust Remembrance. Below, is this year’s post.

Today, April 24, 2017, is Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) .

During the Holocaust, more than 11 million human beings were systemically murdered. Plus, millions more died in battle. That includes our brave military forces that sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others.

Of course, every life is a universe. Every loss of innocent life matters equally.

But, the Holocaust had a disproportionate effect on the Jewish community. Six out of nine million European Jews were murdered—the percentage is staggering.

I acknowledge this is personal to me. Most of my family was killed in the Holocaust and that forever informs my worldview.

Those who were saved also informs my worldview. My cousin’s mom was saved by a Catholic Church at great risk to those who were part of its community.

YomHaShoah is a painful reminder for many of us and that pain does not remain at home. HR can help.

One way to do so is simply to post on your Intranet a remembrance statement. You can find words and images all over the Internet.

This is also an ideal topic for a diversity and inclusion program. We can focus on the Holocaust but conclude with a universal message: We cannot tolerate intolerance against any faith, race, ethnicity, etc.

Invite a survivor to speak. Bear witness to someone who did.

There are many ways that HR can remember. I respectfully request that you find a way to do something.

I close by citing Elie Wiesel:

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness. Not only are we responsible for the memories of the dead, we are responsible for what we do with those memories.”

Mary Tyler Moore and Single Women

I am pleased to share my post to the SHRM blog regarding the legacy of Mary Tyler Moore.

A lot has been written about the passing of Mary Tyler Moore. Perhaps we did not know at the time how ground breaking the Mary Tyler Moore show was. In retrospect, it is clear to us.

There are so many episodes that dealt with gender equality, including when Mary was paid less because she was a woman and denied opportunities because she was not a man. With a wonderful combination of strength and humor, she leaned in….and prevailed.

But there was something else about Mary Richards that is getting less attention: the fact that she was single. No, it was not because of a death or divorce but rather a choice.

I have spoken with many single women about workplace issues. A blog on this issue was slated for later this year but the timing unfortunately feels right now.

Single woman have shared with me:

1. They have been asked why they never married. Are married women (or men) asked why they choose to marry? The often unspoken assumption: it was a result, not a choice.

2. They sometimes feel excluded from discussion on managing work and life. While many single people have children, many others don’t. Our respect for life outside of work cannot be restricted to those of either gender who are married with children.

3. They at times feel marginalized when invitations to employer events include spouses, partners or significant others. I know some men who feel the same way. Why not just “adult guest?”

Yes, some state laws prohibit discrimination based on marital status. And, I don’t believe many women (or men) are denied jobs or opportunities because of their single status.

In fact, sometimes they may be given extra work, particularly if they don’t have children. The conscious thought process or implicit assumption: they don’t need to go home.

The dialogue about intimate relations has become refreshingly more inclusive. Yet, we sometimes fails to recognize those who are not in them.

Do single men face the same issues? I am not sure.

I think single men are often seen as having made that choice. Well, this is a choice more and more women are making, too.

So when we remember Mary Richards, we can remember her “spunk.” Lou Grant, I love spunk!

And, we should remember what a pioneer she was for women generally. But I suspect she holds a special place for single women everywhere.

In our workplaces, let’s continue to challenge ourselves to be more inclusive. It’s the least we owe Mary!

The Problem With Saying Women Are Better At…

I am pleased to share my latest post to Philadelphia Business Journal.

A recent study at Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health concluded that hospitalized patients treated by female physicians show lower mortality and readmission rates.

This study is getting a lot of media attention, and in many cases, the conclusions drawn go beyond the findings of the study.

Take, for example, the NPR headline: “Patients treated by Female Doctors Fare Better Than Those Treated By Men.” NPR is but one example. Here’s one more.

On a national TV program, the question was asked: who makes better doctors, women or men? Citing the report, the on-air talent said “women.”

But it is not just about doctors. The internet is replete with articles that report on studies that ask if or conclude that women are better leaders than men.

I understand why the Harvard study is vitally important. Women still face very real bias in medicine (actually, everywhere), and we need to increase our focus on the contributions of women that are often under-appreciated and profoundly unrecognized to combat that bias (including pay to which I will return).

But would we ever ask: who makes better doctors, white people or people of color? Hispanics or African Americans?

Of course not! But why is it okay with gender? Well, it’s not.

It’s no more okay than the surveys that ask would you rather work for a male or female boss? In some cases, the majority answer “men.”

Would we ever ask if you want to work for a person who is white or a person of color? The question indulges in bigotry and so does the question on gender. If someone want to choose the gender of their boss, let them start their own business and work for themselves.

We need to sell the benefits that go with diversity to increase support for smashing conscious bias and bringing to conscious awareness implicit bias. Stated otherwise, if we want to cream the crop, and who doesn’t, we need to harness the talent women bring to the table and not nearly enough is done to do just that.

But we need to be careful not to stereotype in our efforts to eradicate bias and increase inclusion. There is no such thing as “benign” stereotyping and here’s why.

First, the stereotyping creates higher expectations for its intended beneficiaries. It is not enough for women to be competent doctors, leaders, etc. No, they must reach our inflated expectations.

Let me give you an example. Let’s assume that the average male is a “5” on a scale of “1” to “9” in terms of core competencies. If we assume women are stronger, we may expect a “7.”

Now, we interview a woman who is a “6” and a man who is a “5.” She is the stronger candidate but he may appear better because he meets our expectations and she does not meet our inflated expectations.

Second, the stereotyping may result in discrimination against men of talent. This is both a talent and a legal issue. Under the law, gender bias knows no gender.

Finally, by focusing on gender, we don’t get at the root cause of what makes someone more effective. Our focus should be on competencies.

For example, in both leadership and medicine, strong communication skills are critical. That explains, in part, the results of the Harvard study.

So our focus should be on the communication and other skills that have resulted in women outperforming men. And, then we should make sure that, when we, hire, evaluate, promote and pay, we consider those key skills.

When we focus on competencies, as we should, it very well may mean that more women than men will thrive but we are recognizing a core skill and not unwittingly engaging in gender bias. In medicine, the failure to understand the difference literally can have life and death consequences.

Lost in the headlines beyond which many do not go is another key finding. The story within the story is that, while the women performed better than men in this study, they still made materially less money.

The gender pay gap is alive and well in medicine and virtually every aspect of corporate America. Of course, there are legal reasons to address it.

But the business imperative is just as great. Imagine if those gifted doctors who are women leave the profession out of frustration for being paid less, even where they not just meet but exceed the performance of their male peers? That, too, is a life and death issue, literally.

Finale of Holiday Tale by Jewish Guy Who Wears a Chai

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog regarding the holiday season and its impact on employment law.

You are an exhausted HR professional charged with making the holidays lively without inviting lawsuits. On the day of your company’s holiday party, you walk into the lobby of your building and see the elegant Christmas pine that you had helped decorate. As you behold it in its twinkling glory, a co-worker says, “That tree is inappropriate in the workplace.”

The co-worker is wrong. It is beautiful; Christmas can and should be acknowledged—so says the Jewish guy who wears his grandmother’s chai. By the way, Chai is a Hebrew letter that means “life,” and I proudly wear my grandmother’s pendant (and my grandfather’s ring).

There’s no reason to remove symbols of Christmas from holiday decorations. But recognize other holidays, too. A Hanukkah menorah and a Kwanzaa harvest basket would be nice additions.

By the way, size does matter. Imagine the message of five life-sized reindeer next to a Kwanza basket the size of a soup bowl.
Your encounter in the lobby, however, is just the beginning of a day of seasonal challenges.

In the elevator, you hear employees complaining about the holiday party. “I don’t want to go, but I feel like I have to,” one says. You take out a lawfully-prescribed pill. You filled the prescription after the last holiday party.

Of course, you would love to say, “Please, if you don’t want to go, by all means, don’t. Your present to me would be the absence of your presence.” It’s OK to think it, but please don’t say it (unless you are retiring at the end of the year). If you are planning on retiring: go for it (and tell me about it!).

In fact, unless the holiday party is scheduled during working hours, be careful not to require, or even strongly encourage, employees to attend—or else you may ring in the New Year with a wage and hour claim. Yes, Virginia, there is a chance an employee may claim the party is work.

Another person in the elevator is upset that the gathering is not called a Christmas party, while still another says that, as an atheist, she objects that there is any party at all. Oy vey, you think. Okay, perhaps I am projecting my thoughts and words on to you. But you get the idea.

Usually, it’s best to call your shindig a holiday party or seasonal celebration to maximize inclusion, but it is more than OK to mention the various holidays celebrated, including Christmas. In fact, please do. Inclusion does not mean eliminating anything that is not universally shared. It is the opposite!

As the elevator door opens to your floor, you see a large menorah with lit candles. Your receptionist thought it would add meaning to the season.

First, address the fire hazard by blowing out the candles (but don’t make a wish). Second, make it clear that employees cannot put up whatever decorations they want, wherever they want.

Reasonable guardrails can be established. There is a big difference between an employee’s office or work station and a public area, for example.

Two people are waiting for you in your office. One is dismayed that a co-worker gave him a thong as a holiday gift. The other is unhappy that there are no decorations recognizing the Buddhist holiday of Bodhi Day.

To prevent the first headache, let workers know that gifts must be appropriate. Tell them that excludes anything sexual, or otherwise inconsistent, with your equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy.

Consider also how you will deal with gifts of alcohol. What if you prohibit its possession on your premises?

Now, here comes my keen legal prowess: Send an e-mail to employees that reads, “If you receive alcohol as a gift, do not open or consume it at work, and please take it home the day you get it.”

As for decorations, invite people to make suggestions before you put them up. You can maximize spiritual inclusion if you involve employees in the process.

Okay, it’s “party time.” You run so quickly to the bar that you don’t even realize that you have knocked over two colleagues in your zest to get there.

Be careful. Control the amount of alcohol you choose to provide, as well as how much you yourself imbibe.

We know from the EEOC that alcohol is a risk factor relative to harassment. We also know that it poses serious safety risks relative to driving.

Ensure that you serve plenty of nonalcoholic beverages and food, too. Egg rolls are a must (inside joke).

Provide vouchers for cab rides home. Flag aggressively, etc.

Another way to minimize legal risk and help those in need: Consider charging for drinks and donating all of the money to a charity (and matching the amount collected). You want the charity to appeal to all or nearly all.

Here’s my chance to raise my personal passion: give to your local animal welfare rescue. And, consider adopting a four-legged friend, in particular, an older cat or dog (unless you have too much unconditional love in your life).

Following a chat with your CEO at the party, you notice two employees dancing suggestively. There is also a love train of employees, in which everyone puts their hands in the pockets of the person in front of them. Well, they intend the pockets but I am not sure that is where there hands end up. I won’t go any further, at least not here.

Because of situations like these, every year around this time there is a bonanza for plaintiffs’ lawyers: “Were you groped at your holiday party? Witness employees grinding on the dance floor? Call 1-800-IRETIRE.”

To minimize the likelihood that workers will have cause to contact one of these lawyers, remind employees that your EEO policy applies to social events and respond quickly and firmly to inappropriate behavior. Reminder, if you are in HR, there is no such thing as being a passive bystander if you see or hear inappropriate conduct or comments. To ignore is to condone.

And pay attention to the music, too. If music will be played, focus on what it will be.

At the risk of showing my age, Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” would not be my first choice. There is no good answer to Rod’s question!

Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction” isn’t much better. The problem with this title? Both words.

But somewhere between Snoop Dogg and Barry Manilow is an appropriate middle ground. May I suggest Adele?

And don’t worry about playing Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” But that’s about as religious as you probably should get.
You hear discussions about an unofficial after-party. You know it is safer to swim in a lava pit than to attend an after-party. So you run to your office.

You read through the holiday cards on your desk. Many are blank because no one knows what to say. If you say “Happy Holidays,” are you declaring war on Christmas? If you say “Merry Christmas,” are you disrespecting your Muslim colleagues?

A generic “Season’s Greetings” works best. But if you know the faith of the recipient, it is more than OK to customize. I always wish my Christian friends “Merry Christmas.” And I like it when people wish me “Happy Hanukkah” if they know I am Jewish. I am less happy if they do so because they think I look Jewish.

Yes, there are risks everywhere you turn. But these risks can be managed with thoughtful planning.

So, HR, let’s do what we do best: think and then balance. And now, I shall try to do the same.

If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday that corresponds with your faith. If you observe another holiday now, I apologize for not referencing it by name, but I give you my good wishes just the same, as I do for those who recognize no holidays or who celebrate at another time of year.

May peace be with all!

And, please, be good to each other.

Why Being the Model Minority Hurts Asian Americans

I am pleased to share my latest post to the SHRM blog: http://blog.shrm.org/blog/why-being-the-model-minority-hurts-asian-americans

When Asian Americans are described, we often hear words such as “so smart” or “so successful.” Indeed, Asian Americans are often referred to as the “model minority.”

The reality is that, as a group, broadly defined, Asian Americans largely have been successful. For example, while less than 30% of the general population has a bachelor’s degree, approximately 50% of Asian Americans do.

But calling a group the “model minority” hurts members of the group and can result in discrimination against individuals outside the group. Here’s why:

1. If you are a model minority, and “so smart,” you are not likely to get the help that you very well may need. When we assume individuals are “the model,” they are less likely to get equitable mentoring, support, etc.

2. If you are a model minority, then there is an implication that you may be stronger than others. This can result in bias against individuals who are white or members of other minority groups who in fact are stronger when it comes to a particular job opportunity.

3. With the model minority myth may come higher expectations. Being good is not good enough. We expect more: why isn’t this person as successful “as they should be?” This may result in bias against Asian Americans because of the inflated expectations.

4. Make no mistake about it: there still is material bias against Asian Americans. In some cases, it is unconscious. In other cases, it is blatantly overt. If a group is “so successful,” then why do we need to spend time addressing the real bias that keeps individuals within that group from being successful or even more successful?

5. When individuals talk about Asians as the model minority, there can be a tendency to focus on math and science. This may hurt Asian Americans when they apply for jobs that require strong interpersonal skills. One Asian American shared with me an experience of applying for an HR position and being given an application for an engineering position.

6. The model minority myth also ignores the reality that Asian Americans are a diverse group. This diversity within the Asian American community is often ignored.

7. Finally, the model minority myth may result in isolation. Asian Americans are not part of the white power structure but their concerns sometimes are only modestly addressed in efforts to increase diversity and inclusion. Indeed, at times, Asian Americans may experience outright hostility because of their collective success.

***

Asian Americans are a critical part of the fabric of our workplaces. If we want them to be “so successful,” then we need to stop saying that they are and deal with the bias that sometimes exists, even within the diversity space.

Remembering the Holocaust

It is again with sadness and hope that I share with you a commentary on Holocaust remembrance. This op-ed piece was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Once again, it is Holocaust Remembrance Week. While it is 70 years since the carnage ended, it is still so recent that some of the survivors walk among us.

Some thoughts about this day come to mind. First and foremost, we think of those slaughtered by the Nazi machine – approximately 11 million in all, including millions of children.

To continue reading, please click here.

The 6th Circuit Decision on the ADA & Telecommuting: Important But Not Surprising

In the EEOC v. Ford Motor Company, the Sixth Circuit recently held that telecommuting could be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA for the employee at issue.  Commentators have described the decision as everything from “ground breaking” to opening up the “flood gates” to telecommuting accommodation requests.

I am not surprised by the Sixth Circuit’s decision.  I am a bit surprised by the reaction to it. Continue reading The 6th Circuit Decision on the ADA & Telecommuting: Important But Not Surprising

Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Case: Not About But Entirely About Employment

In Fisher, SCOTUS upheld (at least technically) affirmative action in higher education. While the Court reaffirmed that student body diversity could be a compelling state interest, the Supreme Court has made the burden so high for a program to be “narrowly tailored” that the Court has all but gutted “honest” affirmative action.

What about employment?  While the Supreme Court’s case has nothing to do with employment, it has everything to do with employment.  Same decision makers! Continue reading Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Case: Not About But Entirely About Employment