Monthly Archives: October 2010

Jonamay Lambert and Selma Myers on Diversity Building Activities

The following guest post is from Jonamay Lambert and Selma Myers, authors of The Diversity Training Handbook: 50 Activities for Promoting Communication and Understanding at Work. They share some diversity building activities for the workplace.

Who Do You Know?

The purpose of this activity is to begin exploring what participants know about people from differing groups.

15 minutes

-Papers and pencils
-Flipchart and marker

1. On the flipchart list these four categories: “Author,” “Artist,” “Musician,” “Politician.” Prepare the flipchart in advance of the session.

2. Ask participants to quickly write down on their own paper five persons (living or dead) that they are familiar with for each category. Allow 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Then ask the participants to place an asterisk next to those names of the five in each category who represent someone from their own ethnic and racial group, or country they were born in.

4. Place the participants into small groups and ask them to compare their lists, the names they wrote and the number of people they starred. Ask them to discuss whether race, ethnicity or country or origin played a role in their choices. If so, why? If not, why not?

5. Reconvene and ask them to orally report the results of their discussions.

6. Discuss what conclusions can be drawn from this exercise. Were women or people of color listed? If so, by whom? Did the categories themselves make a difference?


Close by saying that often we’re more comfortable with similarities and known more about people we have been exposed to. Much of our comfort level is based on when and where we grew up, as well as other personal influences such as parents, schools, churches, the media, etc.

Head in the Clouds, Nose to the Grindstone

The purpose of this activity is to help participants become aware of the tremendous amount of slang used regularly in the English conversation and to realize that communicating with non-native speakers of English may take extra effort.


15-20 minutes


-Paper and pencils
-Flipchart and marker

1. Introduce the topic of slang by explaining it’s always present in normal conversation. Ask participants to jot down all the “socially acceptable” slang terms they use or have heard others use in the following categories, as shown on the flipchart (which the trainer prepares in advance).

-Western or Cowboy Talk
-Parts of the body

2. If the group needs help getting started you might give examples such as:
-Sports – “Ballpark figure,” “a knockout”
-Western or Cowboy Talk – “shoot from the hip,” “ride herd on”
-Clothing – “given the boot,” “shirt off his back”
-Parts of the body – “elbow grease,” shake a leg”

3. Divide participants into small groups and have them compare the phrases they wrote. Ask them to think about and discuss the amount of slang they use in everyday conversation and where some of these expressions came from. They can also share any experiences they have had either not understanding slang or not being understood when they used it.

4. Reconvene and ask participants to orally report on the category that had the most slang phrases. Record the number on the prepared flipchart that lists the categories.

5. Ask the group to call out some of the most commonly used expressions as well as those they felt were the most difficult for someone who did not grow up speaking English. (You may want to add these to the flipchart.)

6. Open the discussion to the possible problems using too much slang and gather some ideas about what people can do to help a non-native speaker.

Summarize with the fact that it is difficult to realize how much slang Americans use. Point out that theuse of slang can be a serious barrier to good communication in general. In fact, often any listener may not have the same slang vocabulary that the speaker has and consequently will not fully understand.

It is important to be sensitive to the fact people who grew up speaking another language and may not understand a conversation when there is a lot of slang. Often they are too embarrassed to ask and so go along as if they understand. (As for what people can do, perhaps monitoring their own use of slang and checking for understanding is the best solution.)

Slang also differs in various parts of the United States, and during different time periods.

Trainer’s Notes
In the case of non-native English speaking participants, they can contribute by citing English slang expressions where the meanings were difficult to understand, or were misinterpreted.

In this activity, we have used the word “slang” to refer to both slang (which changes over time) and to idioms (which become embedded in the language).

Jonamay Lambert is Founder and President of Lambert & Associates, Inc., and has designed and implemented training programs in diversity, leadership, and change management for both Fortune 100 companies and smaller organizations alike. She is co-author of The Diversity Training Activity Book.

Selma Myers is a trained mediator and has been an Intercultural Consultant for over 15 years for small and large companies (including Fortune 500), non-profit and educational institutions, government agencies, and professional associations. She has lived and worked abroad, directed intercultural education programs, and designed and presented a variety of customized programs for clients who deal with cultural diversity in a business setting. Myers is co-author of The Diversity Training Activity Book and Conflict Resolution Across Cultures.

Together Lambert and Myers have written 13 trainer’s guides in the Diversity at Work training series.

And now for the giveaway! The first five commenters on this post win a copy of 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees by Paul Falcone


Randal Pinkett, Ph.D. and Jeffrey Robinson, Ph.D. on Personal Diversity

The following is a guest post by Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson, authors of Black Faces in White Places on how achieving personal diversity benefits the workplace.

Personal Diversity: A Game-Changer in the Workplace

The arguments for leveraging diversity have traditionally been applied to organizations, particularly corporations. We refer to this as organizational diversity. Computer maker Dell expresses its reasons for encouraging diversity in the following way (emphasis ours).

“By continuing to drive diversity initiatives throughout our organization, we harness each individual’s full potential, provide the best customer experience [by better understanding their needs], tap the best and brightest talent, improve our company’s results, become a better place to work, and further our global citizenship efforts in the many cultures we call home.”

The first step for companies that want to achieve these outcomes is to foster a more inclusive work environment that not only acknowledges and respects differences, but also celebrates differences and taps into them as a source of competitive advantage. Corporations, schools, nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups and other work, learning, and spiritual organizations, must be more receptive and more responsive to people of different backgrounds, including people of color, and view their differences as an asset not a liability.

But, what about “personal diversity”? What if we take Dell’s diversity goals and apply them to ourselves to provide a blueprint:

“By continuing to drive diversity initiatives throughout my personal and professional life, I harness my full potential, provide the best human experience by better understanding others’ needs, tap the best and brightest in others, improve my personal results, become a better person to know, and further my global citizenship efforts in the many cultures outside my home.”

The reality is that, at a personal level, we tend to associate with people who are like us or reflect our identity. We often trust others who have similar racial and ethnic backgrounds, grew up in the same or similar neighborhoods, attended the same college or training school and share with us affiliations like religion, fraternities or sororities, community organizations and professions.

And therein lies the challenge. Since most of us live and operate in environments where everyone looks like us, where you work may be the most diverse environment you see all day. Diversity programs often hope that more diverse work environments will benefit the world outside of the organization. However, if we don’t get out of our comfort zone and prioritize personal diversity in our everyday lives, organizational diversity will become a numbers game and not an effective way to leverage the talents of a diverse workforce. That’s changing the game!

Personal diversity may mean going out of your way to learn about people who are different than you. Ask yourself a question: what have you done to establish relationships inside and outside of work with people who are different from you? Remember, this difference could be along several lines including age, gender, ethnicity, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, place of origin, ways of thinking and much, much more.

We are not suggesting that you have the most diverse personal and professional network. But we are suggesting that you have diversity within your personal and professional network. This will likely involve moving beyond your comfort zone to build meaningful relationships with people that are not like you. This places you in a unique and powerful position to then leverage personal diversity.

Leveraging personal diversity means operating seamlessly and naturally within many different contexts. You’re able to interact with different people more comfortably because you have a greater appreciation of their cultural norms. You’re able to work with different teams more productively as a result of previous experiences. You’re able to walk in different circles more effectively because you’ve done it before – even if the circumstances or context is somewhat different.

African Americans have always been called upon to “code switch,” that is, adapt their behaviors to cultures other than their own. In America, that has traditionally meant learning the game and playing the game of the majority, white culture. But in a global, diverse society, and in a United States where minorities are the majority, all will be increasingly called upon to code switch according to an even wider array of norms, standards and customs. You cannot succeed in America without having an appreciation of the diversity that is reflected in America. It’s not about “us” learning more about “them.” And it’s not even about “them” learning more about “us.” It’s about cultural reciprocity–creating a culture where everyone sees the value in learning more about one another.

Leveraging personal diversity is essentially a process, not a product. It is an ongoing, never-ending process by which awareness, understanding and connectedness to others enhances us. If we only talk about corporate diversity and don’t address the underlying issue of personal diversity we’ll never leverage the power of diversity.

The bottom line is this: we can’t just talk about organizational diversity without business leaders making personal efforts to diversify their relationships. Then and only then will diversity become an asset and not a liability.

No matter who you are, make personal diversity a priority in your life and you’ll benefit from it in your personal, professional, and community life. Personal diversity is a game-changer!

Randal Pinkett, PH.D.
is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of BCT Partners, an information technology and management consulting firm. He was the season four winner of “The Apprentice.” He is co-author of Black Faces in White Places.

Jeffrey Robinson, PH.D.
is a leading business scholar at Rutgers Business School. He is co-author of Black Faces in White Places.

Philana Patterson
is a business news editor for the Associated Press. She is co-author of Black Faces in White Places.

Jim Hasse on The Misconceptions of Hiring Employees With Disabilities

The following is a guest post from Jim Hasse, editor and compiler of Perfectly Able, on the common misconceptions of hiring employees with physical disabilities and why believing them can hurt your company.

Four Misconceptions About Job Applicants With Disabilities

There are four misconceptions about job applicants with disabilities that seem to have a life of their own despite empirical data which shows they are false. These false assumptions are:

1. Job applicants with disabilities lack business experience.
2. Competence declines among people who acquire age-related disabilities.
3. Employees with disabilities accumulate more sick leave and have a greater turnover rate than the average employee.
4. Business travel is not practical or needed for employees with disabilities.

Let’s examine each of these misconceptions.

Lack of Business Experience

Many people with disabilities could very well possess extensive business experience, even though their resumes may look slim from a traditional-job perspective.

Take a closer look at their resumes. They may have been in business for themselves or have volunteered their time in for-profit and non-profit organizations.

More than four of 10 respondents to the first-ever national study of self-employed people with disabilities said they chose the entrepreneurial route because they “needed to create their own job.” A similar number also said they had chosen self-employment with its flexible hours and working conditions “to accommodate a disability.”

These are just two findings from a study conducted by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research’s Research & Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services, connected with the University of Montana-affiliated Rural Institute on Disabilities.

“Research has shown that there are nearly as many people with disabilities who own their own businesses as those who work for federal, state, and local governments combined,” says Rural Institute research director Tom Seekins.

Volunteering is another avenue people with disabilities often use to gain business experience. Most motivated individuals with a disability will manage to land internships during college, but, upon graduation, internships are generally not available. Outside of “normal” employment, that leaves volunteering as one of the few avenues they have after college for developing their skills and proving themselves on the job.

After college, job candidates with disabilities also often endure long job searches or stretches between jobs. Some use volunteering as one of their job search strategies to widen their contacts with people who have varying experiences, backgrounds and lifestyles. Others volunteer so they can fill in chronological gaps in their resumes.

Failing Competence at the Onset of Age-related Disability

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, the myth of failing competence in older persons is based on an anachronistic picture of the world of work based on industrial and other physically demanding labor.

In “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else,” Geoff Colvin writes, “Studies in a broad range of domains … show consistently that excellent performers suffer the same age-related declines in speed and general cognitive abilities as everyone else – except in their field of expertise.”

In other words, those who continue to deliberately practice to continually improve in their fields of expertise continue to be high performers.

So, with technology creating a greater emphasis on brain-work over “brawn-work,” employers are tapping into minds and abilities which do not necessarily fail with age.

The high-tech tools of today’s workforce are extremely conducive to maintaining an older, more experienced and knowledgeable workforce. Further, the coming “senior” population represents a group more familiar and comfortable with these tools than were their predecessors.

And, despite a slow economic recovery, you will still need these older workers. Be prepared to rehire retirees who may have acquired a disability but have specific skills or specific knowledge (expertise) and can fill in because work units are chronically short-staffed.

Greater Absenteeism and Turnover

A recent DePaul study of 314 employees across several industries indicates participants with disabilities had fewer scheduled absences than those without disabilities and that all participants had nearly identical job performance ratings.

Anecdotal and survey research indicate that employees with disabilities may be less likely to leave your company than their non-disabled counterparts. For example, Hire Potential found that its placements stayed on the job an average of 50 percent longer than those without disabilities.

And Marriott employees hired through its Pathways to Independence Program experienced a six percent turnover rate versus the 52 percent turnover rate of the overall workforce.
Remember, the costs of replacing employees, including those who acquire a disability, are high. The Employment Policy Foundation states total replacement costs add up to an average of $15,000 per employee. And many people today remain on the job just 23 to 24 months, according to the 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Business Travel Not Practical or Needed

At a job fair geared to job seekers with disabilities, David was rejected out of hand by a recruiter because his openings involved travel — and David is blind. The recruiter who spoke with David was conducting his job under a misconception.

People who are blind travel all the time. There is absolutely no reason to assume that a person with a disability cannot travel on business.

If the worker isn’t given assignments that involve travel only because of his disability, he misses an opportunity to grow and (even more importantly) to demonstrate to you what he can do.

Often business travel involves sales or persuasion in some way, and such success on the road can tangibly impact your company’s bottom line. Networking done during business travel can bring an influx of new ideas, new tools, new intelligence and, potentially, new employees and new customers.

Your business traveler is a goodwill ambassador as well as a scout. An achieving worker with a disability may miss out on such an important contribution. Your company is risking an opportunity by not sending your best persuaders.

So, always challenge your personal assumptions about job seekers with disabilities – especially these four misconceptions. And look for your most-sought-after expertise, honed through deliberate practice, among the 22 million people with disabilities who are of working age in the U.S.

It could very well give you a competitive advantage.

Jim Hasse is an Accredited Business Communicator and Global Career Development Facilitator. He was previously senior content developer of eSight Careers Network, the premier social networking website for visually or physically impaired job seekers.

Tomorrow Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson share 10 game-changing secrets of success for African-Americans in the workplace.

Michelle T. Johnson on How Discrimination on the Internet Translates in the Workplace

The following is a guest post from Michelle Johnson, author of The Diversity Code, on how hurtful actions on the internet hinder workplace performance.

One of the reasons why people get so uptight when the subject of diversity comes up in the workplace stems from the thinking that it’s automatically going to be about race relations and sexual harassment and sexual orientation issues. And no matter how much someone (ok, me) tries to drill the importance of having a more expansive approach to difference, most people usually roll back to the default mechanism of thinking of the Big Three.

While those differences are always important and do need to be addressed in a comprehensive discussion, they’re not definitive of diversity.

But when it comes to the law, well, sometimes it just gets down to the get down.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article: “For the six months that ended April 30, [2010] more than 70,000 people filed claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying they had suffered job discrimination, a 60% increase in bias claims compared with the same period a year earlier.”

Unlike the expansive differences that are addressed in some diversity programs, EEOC complaints can only address the protected classes that include race, gender, age, disability and others groups that the law specifically addresses.

The WSJ article points out that in a suffering economy, people who feel as if they have been discriminated against and don’t readily move on to a new job are more prone to file a discrimination suit.

While it may seem unconnected, the other side of the coin is that while I’ve always noted the harsh, mean and down right bigoted statements that are the “comments” that accompany online stories, the number of these kinds of comments and the degree of vitriol has exploded the last couple of years.

“We’ve seen comments that people would not make in the public square or any type of civic discussion, maybe even with their own families,” said Dennis Ryerson, editor of The Indianapolis Star, in Richard Prince’s Journal-isms. “There is no question in my mind that the process, because it’s largely anonymous, enables people who never speak up on Main Street to communicate their thoughts.”

I call this the flip side of the coin because for every person who is complaining about discrimination that others write off as that of someone seeking to be a victim or playing the “fill-in-the-blank” card, there is an individual who most likely works somewhere, anonymously spewing bigoted, mean-spirited comments in response to some story they’ve read.

My point isn’t that every person who files an EEOC complaint has a legitimate case OR that every anonymous cyber bully is a manager discriminating in Corporate America.

Rather, it’s that as long as the polarized “comments” and conversations continue to proliferate, it’s contributing to a social and work environment that is not just flip sides of the coin but is adding up to a tab that all of us pay for one way or another.

Michelle T. Johnson is creator of the “Diversity Diva” newspaper column, a former employment attorney, and author of Working While Black. Her diversity workshop clients have included Wal-Mart, H&R Block, and several municipalities.

Tomorrow Jim Hasse dispels some common misconceptions about hiring employees with disabilities!

Webinar: Difficult Performance Reviews: How to Turn Painful Conversations into Positive Results

Our American Management Association New Media Team will be doing a webinar with Paul Falcone, author of 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews, next month. He will be sharing how to have more effective review meetings with your employees.

How To Turn Painful Conversations Into Positive Results
November 11, 2010, 1:00 – 2:30 PM
Price: $149

For most managers, the toughest discussions of the year are coming up soon in the form of annual performance reviews.

Naturally, these sessions can lead many to feel uncomfortable.

The way you handle these conversations is even more difficult when you have to deliver feedback in this environment of economic uncertainty.

However when conducted properly, these sessions provide you with a great opportunity to help your employees focus on their goals and boost their morale—while correcting flaws that can hold them back.

This 90-minute interactive Webinar provides tested methods to help you prepare for and conduct these discussions in a way that invites balanced participation, stays true to your message, focuses on performance, gains acceptance and reduces defensiveness.

Click HERE to sign up for the webinar.

For more information on 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews click HERE.

Paul Falcone is Vice President of Employee Relations at Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles and was formerly Vice President of Human Resources at Nickelodeon. He is the author of 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews, 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems, 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees, and 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire. He lives in Valencia, California.