Through the Prisms Of Black and White To begin to fathom the breadth and depth of the cultural and racial divide in America, one need look no further than four major news events involving athletes; three of them recent and one that dominated the headlines just over a decade ago. The 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson; last year’s Duke Lacrosse team members accused of sexual assault; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s guilty plea to dogfighting conspiracy charges; and San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record amidst allegations of steroid use all tell us that we are, in many ways, a divided nation when it comes to how we view and perceive certain occurrences. Despite facts that have proven to be incontrovertible, blacks and whites viewed each of these events differently and hold vastly dissimilar opinions about the relative guilt and innocence of the individuals involved. Given this reality, as the cable industry gathers this week to celebrate diversity and explore diversity-related issues, we must ask ourselves this question: Is it possible that our companies’ policies are being viewed differently by different groups within our overall employee base, and if so, could these policies be deemed as racist and/or sexist by one or more of these groups? Consider that over the past few years there have been dozens of class action suits alleging corporate and institutional racism brought against American companies, and settlements in these cases have totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. Nike, Sodexho, Microsoft and Walgreens are just a few of the major corporations involved in noteworthy court cases. In these particular instances, the companies completely denied any wrongdoing, and in most cases issued statements defending their hiring and advancement practices, while at the same time reiterating their belief in diversity as a social good. There’s little doubt that the African Americans who brought suit felt horribly wronged by their respective employers. But there’s also little doubt that employers felt that they had done nothing wrong and firmly believe their policies rank among the more enlightened in corporate America. Why the disconnect? Whether these differences are ultimately a product of race or class, or a combination of both, in America, whites and blacks view the world through the prism of personal and cultural experience. Each group processes information very differently and forms opinions accordingly. With this in mind, consider your own company’s policies: are they truly as fair as you believe them to be? Thoroughly review your HR policies and practices often. Solicit feedback from your employees at all levels and continuously communicate with them. Read what’s going on at other companies, talk to peers and keep up with workforce issues and trends. And walk the talk on diversity. Let your employees know you’re serious about this issue, and demonstrate that you are continuously exploring how to improve. With Diversity Week in full swing, now’s the time to ask yourself if perception is reality regarding your working environment. But before you do, make sure you know what the perceptions actually are. There are no quick fixes or easy answers. Just the willingness and the resolve to look in the mirror and take the necessary action. Ann Carlsen is founder and CEO of Carlsen Resources, Inc, an executive search firm specializing in media and telecommunications. This is an excerpt of a thought piece, entitled “A Study in Black and White: Do Your Employees Consider Your Corporate Policies Racist?” To receive a free copy, call the company at 970-242-9462.

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