Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.
Q: I am a huge Duck Dynasty fan. From the humor, to wishing I lived like them, to loving the fact that they share their religion at the dinner table, I find the show enlightening. I was disturbed to see that Phil Robertson was suspended for voicing his opinion about his Christian views. I am Christian, I love everyone, but it doesn’t mean I approve of everyone else’s behavior—however, I don’t hate them for it or not want to work with them because of their lifestyle choices. I believe in a diverse society, different views, different ideas, different lives. It would be a boring world if we were all the same.
Being truly diverse is agreeing to disagree … correct? How do you all feel about this?
A: UPDATE: In what appears to be one of the most cynical examples of leveraging hate for their own benefit that I’ve seen recently, A&E not only ran a Duck Dynasty marathon on Christmas, but the network also reinstated Phil Robertson during the holiday season. I thought A&E had made the right decision, but the timing tells me this was planned—and executed very well. I have to admit that the executive staff of A&E seems to have pulled a good one over on the public. We’ll let you know what the advertisers decide.
Thank you for your considerate and pleasantly worded email.
I read the article and thought Phil Robertson’s comments about LGBT people AND Black people were offensive. Although either one would be grounds to separate company from him, the combination is so offensive, A&E, a network with almost no diversity in its executive ranks—and whose website doesn’t appear to have the word “diversity” on it—was able to quickly make the right decision.
Managing “diversity” does not mean forced equivalencies of opinions and beliefs. Everyone’s entitled to his or her beliefs, but when expressing those beliefs creates a hostile environment, productivity is diminished. An employer would not tolerate someone smashing office equipment, nor should an employer tolerate someone smashing people’s feelings. I doubt many people who have LGBT loved ones and/or friends would want to work around Phil Robertson. It is management’s responsibility to understand this process—and to promulgate clear-cut ethics and values so people know where they stand.
Although your email is respectful and earnest, in my opinion, describing LGBT people as being a “lifestyle” is offensive. It’s like saying “preference” when it comes to orientation. There’s plenty of evidence that orientation is not a choice—look in the mirror for proof. No matter what happens today, when you go to bed tonight, are you going to “prefer” a woman? Not unless you’re a lesbian. As far as lifestyle, LGBT people have lifestyles as varied as hetero people, and anyone who works for a large company can see that for him- or herself—unless you’re in the kind of place where bringing your whole self to work isn’t possible. “Preference” and “orientation” are dismissive words; they diminish the humanity of LGBT people by painting them as separate, even abnormal. I think that’s just wrong. To be clear, I doubt you think that way from how you worded your email. I’d imagine you’re a fine person to work with (so please consider dropping that word from your vocabulary).
Finally, we are very fortunate in this country when it comes to religion. Our Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees protection against a state-run religion—and also that religion has protection from the state. However, we are 73 percent Christian. Expressing the majority religious view as absolute and irrefutable is, in my opinion, anti-American and destructive to a diverse work environment. It makes for a claustrophobic work environment if you’re not a Christian—or not religious (at 20 percent, the fastest-growing segment of our population). I attended a business meeting where the CEO closed his otherwise uplifting opening remarks with “in Christ’s name we pray”—I’m quite sure the non-Christians understood that they’d get only so far in that company. This doesn’t mean that a leader can’t be religious. Mr. J. W. “Bill” Marriott is a devout and prominent Mormon, yet Marriott’s first non-family CEO, Arne Sorenson, is not Mormon. I am quite sure that the company’s executives know that being a Mormon isn’t required for advancement. Also, Mr. Marriott publicly came out against Proposition 8 in California—a move, he described at one of our events, that did not make him popular at his church, which strongly supported Proposition 8. This is one of the best expressions of establishing corporate values and living by them that I’ve ever seen.
In conclusion, there are times when we can agree to disagree—and differences treated as assets are a powerful force for talent development and innovation. But an organization has to have clear values and draw the line on behavior that destroys the well-being of the whole entity.