What would you do if an employee came to you saying that your company’s official anti-discrimination policy wasn’t actually keeping discrimination out of the workplace?
That’s what happened to CEO Raymond W. Smith of Bell Atlantic in 1993. His VP of marketing, Lisa Sherman, told him she couldn’t continue working for the company after a diversity training seminar stirred up unpleasant comments from co-workers about African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jews and homosexuals.
Sherman had been keeping her homosexuality a secret, but now she was open with her boss.
The CEO’s response was to take significant steps to instill the sort of inclusive culture at work that Sherman thought was lacking. For example, he pushed the company to move forward in changing its benefits policies to include domestic partners. And he shared his views with employees through internal publications.
You can’t change everyone’s views, but, Smith says, “You do your best to enact policies, which can affect behavior, if not what is in people’s hearts. After a while, if people behave in a tolerant way, they may start to think in a tolerant way.”
—Adapted from “When Intolerance Becomes Intolerable,” Marci Alboher, The New York Times.
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