Use teachable moments to make workplace diversity R.E.A.L.

Pics: PA/David Fisher/Shutterstock Downloaded on 3 December 2022 from https://news.sky.com/story/buckingham-palace-household-member-resigns-over-unacceptable-comments-made-at-queen-consorts-reception-12758643

In the wake of the November 30, 2022 incident during which the British Queen’s lady-in-waiting Lady Susan Hussey insisted that charity CEO Ngozi Fulani could not be British, the media has been bombarded with emotionally charged polarized views setting off yet another cycle of public discussions, which for the most part, are really descriptions of the problems of institutionalized racism, unconscious bias, and exclusion. 

On the one hand, there are those who decry the incident as another example of institutionalized racist thinking which excludes Black people and other visible minorities from the mainstream. On the other hand, there are those who decry Ms. Ngozi’s unwillingness to affirm the heritage of her parents and deplore Lady Susan Hussey’s resignation as another casualty of the woke culture.

Any attempt to pass this off as an isolated incident and to expect that Lady Hussey’s resignation has fixed the problem would be superfluous, only delaying another round of public outcries and debates until the next incident occurs and goes viral on social media.

Unlike most commentators, I regard this incident as a teachable moment for all of us.

There is much to be learned, which could bring all of us a few steps further along the road to a world where, as Bob Marley sang, “the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes.”

Quoted from ‘War’ song by Bob Marley
Two different perspectives

For those of us who want to learn from this incident, I ask you to try to view the exchange between Lady Hussey and Ms. Fulani, from both perspectives.

As a Black, anglophone, immigrant woman who has lived and flourished personally and professionally in Quebec, and who proudly embraces Canadian citizenship as an integral part of my heritage, I can fully relate to the conversation that transpired between Lady Hussey and Ms. Fulani. 

Like Ms. Fulani and many other visible minorities, my identity has been questioned on an uncountable number of occasions.  Asked when I am “going home,” what life was like “back home,” and being told stories about how “you people” are loved, are some of the subtle and not so subtle ways in which I have been reminded that I am an “other,” “different from us” and that I am not really Canadian.

The persons asking these questions have not always been total strangers trying to get to know me.  They include colleagues, friends and acquaintances who are aware of my unwavering commitment to serve, contribute and succeed in this country as any other loyal Canadian citizen. 

The message that underlies these conversations is that I am not “one of us” – the “us” being white persons who are in the majority.  Ms. Fulani, and many other persons like myself, are deeply hurt when we hear this.  Having achieved the status of CEO of a charity and being invited by the Queen Consort to a special reception at the palace, clearly are indications that Ms. Fulani’s successful contribution to British society is recognized and highly valued.  She evidently and quite rightly takes pride in her British nationality, and so should Lady Susan Hussey.

Without making any excuses for Lady Hussey, it is understandable why she questioned Ms. Fulani in the way in which she did.  The hard truth is that the majority have extremely limited interaction with visible minorities, particularly those who are successful and occupy positions of leadership from which they are making significant contributions to their shared country.  The curiosity to find out more about the “other” person often leads to awkward questions and conversations. 

A teachable moment

What is troubling about this incident is Lady Hussey’s persistent refusal to accept Ms. Fulani’s statement that she is a British national – “Oh I can see I am going to have a challenge getting you to say where you’re from. When did you first come here?” Lady Hussey is quoted as saying.

Without chastising Ms. Fulani, I believe that she could have led the conversation down the path to greater clarity and understanding, which could have had the potential to be a teachable moment for Lady Hussey.  By reiterating that she is a first generation British national born to immigrant parents, Ms. Fulani could have focused on how diversity is now commonplace, with people of all races embracing the British culture and having a strong affiliation to Britain.  Who knows how Lady Hussey would have responded had the conversation taken this turn, and what Ms. Fulani may have learned from a more productive interaction.

Difficult discussions are essential

From my experience, these conversations are difficult and uncomfortable. They do not get any easier over time.  The truth is that the burden is very often on the visible minority person to dispel stereotypes expressed by non-minorities.  Corporations and individuals – minorities and non-minorities – can alleviate the hurtful burden of stereotypes through difficult, but constructive discussions that build a mutual understanding of how history and current experiences have shaped stereotypes and perspectives.  

As a starting point, individuals should try to give honest answers to some tough questions –

  • Who is a Canadian? What does a Canadian look like?
  • Who am I /are we “othering”?
  • What assumptions are we making about “others,” even though they have lived and worked just as hard, or even harder than “us” Canadians?
Avoiding difficult discussions on diversity is not an option 

I have found that there are non-minority persons who are disinterested in anti-racism, diversity and inclusion issues, which they consider to be irrelevant to them. This may be because their interaction with minority persons is limited, and they don’t see what “the problem” is. Some may perceive that they have nothing to gain or lose by learning about the history or perspectives of “others.” They can get by with the highly regarded Canadian value of politically correctness on the few occasions when they interact with “others.”

These difficult discussions are essential for individuals and organizations to ensure the sustainability of every organization that wants to attract the best talent and be perceived as a progressive and supportive workplace. 

  • Statistics Canada predicts that by 2031, about one person out of three in the labour force would belong to a visible minority group by 2031. This proportion was 15.7% in 2006. It could reach about 40% in Ontario and British Columbia by 2031.

No one can deny that progress is being made to build more inclusive workplaces.  However, there is much more work to be done to understand the perspectives of both minority and non-minority groups and to build a truly inclusive world. 

Making diversity in the workplace R.E.A.L.

We know that leaders in business are taking action to demonstrate that they are creating a diverse, inclusive work environment, and showing intolerance for racism, such as:

  • Firing an employee whose racist actions and / or statements were revealed and widely publicized;
  • A diversity, equality and inclusion position has been created and is staffed by a visible minority;
  • Having occasional storytelling events where visible minority speakers ‘educate’ non-minority employees; and
  • The percentage of visible minority employees is equal to or greater than the percentage of visible minorities in the general population.

Although these actions are valid and can make a difference, leaders in business would do well to look beyond the statistics, observe patterns of behaviour in the workforce and ask critical questions.  A few examples –

  • How do turnover rates compare among visible minorities and other employees?
  • Do cliques, informal divisions among staff and work groups exist? Why?
  • What is the rate of volunteering, attendance at social events among visible minorities and other employees?

R: Answers to these questions provide corporations the opportunity to understand the needs of visible minorities and the Root causes of integration issues where they exist.

E: One way to do this is to survey ethnic minorities in the workforce and Evaluate their responses and   perspectives on inclusivity in the organization. 

A: When crafting solutions, it is important to Avoid setting up programs designed specifically for ethnic groups, as this may lead to the creation of silos that can become a source of resentment for other employees. 

L: Stop giving and accepting “cultural differences” as an easy excuse for poor integration. Leadership must embrace and endorse solutions and mitigating actions such as cross-cultural workshops and forums to develop mutual understanding and to inculcate shared corporate values that will make diversity in the workplace R.E.A.L.  Using incidents such as the Lady Hussey-Ms. Fulani as cases in point for discussion can be extremely useful in workplace training on diversity.

Moving forward

Let’s hope that the aftermath of the Lady Hussey-Ngozi Fulani incident, we will engage in constructive discussions on the bigger issues of deeply rooted unconscious bias, institutionalised racism and diversity.  Ms. Fulani’s comments point us in the right direction –

“..for (Lady Hussey) to resign, that has nothing to do with me. I don’t feel good about that… Conversations need to be had with the relevant people so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

Ngozi Fulani

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

Published by Camille Isaacs-Morell

Enabling businesses and people to be successful. This is my mission, my life’s work. It’s always been what I have done wherever I’ve been employed, called to serve or to volunteer. An experienced business leader, my core values are truth, integrity, and respect. I believe that values-based leadership is critical for organizational success that is enabled by an engaged and empowered workforce. Working over the years in several senior marketing, communications, and executive leadership mandates for global, financial, healthcare, and non-profit organizations, it has been through times of transformation and difficult change that I have done my best work. In my blog posts, I share my perspectives on leadership, marketing and strategy that are based on my key learnings and observations over the years, all with the objective of helping others reach for success. In my spare time, I enjoy the beauty of nature which I reproduce in my pastel paintings.

One thought on “Use teachable moments to make workplace diversity R.E.A.L.

  1. Good to see that in the aftermath ofthis incident, there has been cordial, constructive dialog.
    https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/tradition/a42267030/lady-susan-hussey-ngozi-fulani-buckingham-palace-meeting/

    “Now, Buckingham Palace shared, Fulani and Lady Susan ask “that they be left in peace to rebuild their lives in the wake of an immensely distressing period for them both. They hope that their example shows a path to resolution can be found with kindness, co-operation and the condemnation of discrimination wherever it takes root.”

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