Posted on October 27, 2009

Do You Need Diversity Training?

Lizz Carroll, DiversityInc., October 26, 2009

Are you unwittingly offending people in your office? Do you say things that cause others to wince or lose interest in having a collaborative relationship with you? You may be in need of good diversity training. DiversityInc put together a list of signs to show where you might be making cultural missteps.

To understand what effective diversity training is–and how to measure its results–visit

1. Race/Ethnicity

How do you interact with people from different races and ethnicities in the office? Have you ever found yourself complimenting a Black person on her ability to articulate well? Did you tell a Latino coworker that you were surprised he didn’t have an accent? Do you think an Asian-American coworker is in an accounting position because “they’re all skilled at math”? Have you ever said “you people” when referring to members of a different race and ethnicity?

When Linda Akutagawa, senior vice president of resource and business development at Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP), hears negative terms like these in a professional space, she feels it undermines the overall strength of a company. “When you start to hear somebody say ‘people of your culture’ or ‘you people,’ it’s a whole ‘us-versus-them’ [mentality]. It sends a bad message of ‘It’s not all about us, it’s me, and then there’s you guys.'”

Click here to read “10 Things NEVER to Say to a Black Coworker.”

Click here to read “10 Things NEVER to Say to Latino Executives.”

Click here to read “Things NEVER to Say to Asian Coworkers.”

2. Gender


3. Age/Generations


4. Orientation


5. Disability


6. Religion

If a coworker openly displays religious symbols at his desk, wears garb that reflects faith or takes days off to observe religious holidays, this does not give you the right to probe more deeply about this very personal subject. Inappropriate questions can range from asking about dress, the strictness of their practice or questioning their accommodations (e.g., schedule changes).

Click here to read “5 Things NEVER to Say to Muslim Coworkers.”

To read more about why mandatory diversity training is necessary, visit


. . . to a Black Coworker

DiversityInc. staff, July 17, 2009

1) You’re so articulate

You’re so articulate? Smart? Different? Yes, the speaker may intend a compliment, but what may be meant as praise instead comes across as being condescending. It implies the person being complimented is an exception to the rule and is exhibiting behavior atypical of others of his or her ethnic background.


2) Is That Your Real Hair?


3) “You” people


4) Do you eat a lot of (plug in the offending stereotype here)

Some stereotypes simply refuse to die. There’s nothing wrong with natural curiosity about the ethnic eating habits of some of your coworkers. The problem lies in focusing on stereotypical Black fare such as fried chicken, watermelon, etc. It reveals the speaker has a very limited and narrow perception of Black culture and cuisine.


5) Why are you so angry?

This one is more often directed at Black males, thanks in large part to the media, which often portrays Black men as being angry and/or criminals.

6) Why are you acting white?

Consider this a relative of “You’re so articulate.” Why would exhibiting proper behavior, manners or dialect be categorized as acting white? If that’s the case, what does it mean to act Black?

7) You don’t sound Black over the phone.

What does Black sound like?

8) I don’t think of you as Black.

{snip} Although the words and the sentiment are insulting, the person expressing them is (usually) not consciously trying to insult you. In their backward and ignorant way, they are actually trying to give you a compliment.”

9) You graduated from where?


10) The N-word


. . . to Latino Executives

DiversityInc. staff, April 10, 2009

1. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the promotion, you’re Latina.”

This comment tells the Latino person that his or her ethnicity speaks louder than accomplishments; it’s a classic affirmative-action stereotype that Latinos and Blacks deal with constantly. {snip}

2. “When did you arrive in this country?”

This comment assumes that everyone of Latin descent is a foreigner.

3. “Hola! Habla Ingles?”

This question is patronizing, especially when those three words are the only Spanish the speaker knows. Just speak English.

4. “Do you live with your parents?”

Don’t assume that because someone is Latino, he doesn’t live on his own. {snip}

5. “You’re not like them.”

“My first response is ‘How do they act?’ because I might say, ‘Well, I do act like that,'” says Huerta.

6. “Can you show me your knife?”

Raymond Arroyo, chief diversity officer at Aetna, No. 48 on The 2009 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® list, was asked this question by a sales associate 20 years ago when he traveled to Toronto with three other Latino executives. At the time, mainstream news reports out of New York City told about Puerto Rican gangs wielding knifes. {snip}

7. “Why don’t all you Latinos stop doing that?”

This statement assumes that because a person is Latino, he or she can influence an entire group. Latinos certainly are a varied group, from different countries of origin and with different race/ethnicities/cultural background. Lumping them all together is a common and silly assumption.” {snip}

8. “You’re not white.”

Earlier in his career, Preuss was filling out forms as a new employee when a human-resources executive asked, “What are you?” Preuss, who is from Argentina and whose grandfather is from Germany, has a typical “white” look. Latinos can be of any race.

9. Butchering a Latino’s last name.

“It’s no one’s fault,” says Preuss, who has given up trying to correct people who mispronounce his last name. {snip}

10. “Do you speak Spanish?”

“That’s code for, ‘How Latino are you?'” says Henry Hernandez, a management consultant and former vice president of diversity and inclusion at American Express, No. 14 on the DiversityInc Top 50. {snip} But you can’t make an assumption that because someone is Latino they’re bilingual or that they’re first- or second-generation [U.S. citizen]. {snip}”

. . . to Asian Coworkers

Kevin Canessa Jr., May 13, 2009


“Can’t you ‘Americanize’ your name?”

Not only did Brown suggest to an Asian American that “your citizens” change their names, she said it would be unfair for “us” to have to learn Chinese to better understand surnames. Michael Yaki, a political consultant and attorney in San Francisco, wrote on that Brown’s comments were not only inappropriate, they were factually incorrect.

“Last I checked, one of the most common Chinese surnames was still Wong. And Chin. And Lee. One syllable. I guess I’m a bit confused as to how these names are ‘difficult’ for voter officials in Texas to figure out,” Yaki writes. {snip}

“If war broke out between your native country and America, which side would you support?”

The late Iris Chang wrote several books on the Asian-American experience, including “The Chinese in America,” an honest chronicle of how Chinese people have been treated as outsiders in this country. Chang was fueled to write her bestselling book because a junior high-school classmate asked this very question: “Her question, innocently put, captures the crux of the problem facing the ethnic Chinese in America. Even though many are U.S. citizens whose families have been here for generations, while others are more recent immigrants who have devoted the best years of their lives to this country with citizenship as their goal, none can truly get past the distinction of race or entirely shake the perception of being seen as foreigners in their own land.”


“You must be the IT person” or “You must be so good at math.”


“Implicit in that statement is that you’re good at numbers and technology, so you’re good behind the scenes,” explains Allan Mark, who is Chinese American and the America’s director of diversity strategy and development, for Ernst & Young (No. 3 on The 2009 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® list).

“You’re not exactly leadership material.”

For Asian-American executives who recently immigrated to the United States, the stereotype is two-fold: Not only are they viewed as not being leaders but their cultural norms are interpreted by U.S.-born executives as passive.


. . . to Muslim Coworkers

Gail Zoppo, August 25, 2009


1. “Why can’t Muslims decide when Ramadan starts?”

Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, Ramadan is determined by the sighting of the new moon, which varies from year to year. And like other faiths, there are interpretational differences in beliefs. “In America, there are two groups of Muslims: The first believes you can use scientific data to determine when a new moon can be sighted, and thus you can predetermine the month,” says Nadir Shirazi, creator of “The Ramadan Guide for the Workplace.” The second group, he says, “believes that you must sight the new crescent moon with the naked eye.” So the start/end dates of Ramadan, depending on the practices of Muslims in your workplace, may be different. This year, the holiday can start at sunset on the day proceeding Aug. 22 (or 23) and end Sept. 19 or 20 (or 21). Providing flexible hours and allowing floating holidays will permit employees of Islamic and other faiths to celebrate their holidays without using all their vacation time.

2. “Why can’t you eat today?”

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during daytime hours, so scheduling office parties, fall festivals and luncheon meetings at that time “puts a Muslim coworker on the spot [and] can be embarrassing for both parties,” explains Shirazi.

Education and consideration are key. “The ideal thing is don’t schedule office parties during these times,” says Niham Awad, founding member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest civil-liberties organization for American Muslims, based in Washington, D.C. {snip}

3. “But you don’t look/dress like a Muslim.”

With an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, to think all look and dress similarly is a stereotype.. {snip} Conversely, asking a Muslim woman why she doesn’t cover her body in a black niqab or drapery is equally inappropriate. {snip}

4. “I didn’t know you were Arab.”

This is another culturally insensitive comment. The reason: Only about 20 percent of Muslims worldwide are Middle Eastern. “Muslims are Black. Muslims are white. Muslims are senators–they’re in the White House,” says Chebli. (According to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, three senior leaders in the U.S. government who are Muslim include: Dalia Mogahed, senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies; Ebrahim “Eboo” Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core [Mogahed and Patel are on the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships]; and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.) According to the American Religious Identification Survey, 10 percent of Muslims are Latino, 15 percent are white, 27 percent are Black and 34 percent are Asian.

5. “Why can’t you pray on your coffee break?”

Depending on the times allowed for office breaks, this comment can violate religious rights. That’s because “Muslim prayer must be done within specific time frames,” says Awad, adding that the second and third prayers are during business hours. What’s more, Muslim prayer involves standing up and bowing on the floor, which can be awkward to perform in the workplace. It’s also preferred that prayer be done in a group. Progressive companies will designate a private room or other facility for group prayer. On Fridays, when Muslims are obligated to pray in mosques and not in the office, “companies must give an extended lunch hour,” explains Awad. Companies such as Ford Motor Co., No. 28 in The 2009 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity®, are involving their interfaith-based employee-resource group to help give members space to share experiences and ideas of religious accommodation. “These are not only constitutional issues,” says Awad, “but when you have a friendly work environment, you will have better performing and more loyal employees.”