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.
The White Guy responds to one reader's comment on the recent presidential appointment of Amanda Simpson, who is transgender.
What!!!! Why do we need to know about a person's sexual orientation! If that person is qualified for the position then so be it done!!! I don't care that this person has had his penis removed or if a woman has received the penis that he had and he received the vagina that she had and took hormones to perpetuate as a gender that he or she was NOT BORN with--! I know wrong sentence structure!
I've covered this before, but it's worth going over once again only to serve as a warning.
Diversity management requires constant vigilance because we are all predisposed to discriminate. This person works for a philanthropy whose web site eloquently describes its mission as serving people in need regardless of age or economic situation! Even here you will find biased and creepy people expressing their ignorant and hateful "opinions," creating the toxic environment that most people outside the majority are burdened with.
The fact that being transgender isn't about orientation is clearly lost on this person. She's just full of bile and hate over a story about an intrepid and successful fellow traveler on this planet. That we don't have to diminish everything that isn't like "us" or that we don't understand is lost on her. This is why you MUST have MANDATORY diversity training—and when this kind of nonsense rears its ugly head, you must deal with it immediately. There is no such thing as parsing civil or human rights; discrimination of one group will place the chain of oppression on other groups. And as Yvonne Johnson, chair of the Bennett College board of trustees and retired mayor of Greensboro, N.C., once said to me, the chain of oppression is connected to both the oppressed and the oppressor.
Oh, you think your religion preaches that people are born one way or another? Don't go there—your religion is protected by the first amendment to the Constitution, and we the people are protected from your religion by the same amendment. Further, in a work environment, you don't get to choose. It is the imprimatur of the employer to set the ethic and moral values.
Let's get back to this reader's multifaceted hate rant. A person's sexuality (orientation and/or sexual expression) is central to who they are. It would be a sterile, inhumane environment where you could NOT talk about your orientation. Heterosexual, non-transgender people display their orientation in any number of ways—discussing what they did with their families over the weekend, photos of their loved ones on their workstations, who they show up with at social events.
It is a human feeling to think that someone getting something is going to cost you something. The liberation of all people to be who they are—with all the orientation or sexual expression that the human condition gives us—does not diminish being heterosexual. I'd say it validates it by allowing all of us to be who we are while we respect who other people are.
This couldn't be more central to running a business. Regardless of what your organization does—business to consumer/business/government—you're dealing with people. The ONLY thing that transcends commodity is value. You can't build value independent of human relationships. When you can engender trust, you can build value. Increasing clarity on values increased an organization's decision-making abilities. It becomes more clear where you're going to draw the line and what business you'll turn down. Concurrence and clarity of values helps pick successful business partners. I'll never forget the moment of understanding that the late Dave Sampson brought to me when he told me how Marriott won three different $1-billion contracts by expressing his company's values on supplier diversity to city governments when bidding for convention-center projects.
This works on a personal basis also. George Chavel told me about refusing to respond to an RFP after a racist incident with a prospect when he was in a vice-president position. Is there a connection between this clarity of values and his rise from a modest (but value-filled) home to being the CEO of Sodexo, a company with more than 100,000 employees serving food to millions? The connection is absolutely clear in my mind.
So, if you have a person on your team who expresses his or her hateful little opinions, you have a problem. Maybe training will help; people evolve (Abraham Lincoln thought that emancipated enslaved people should be sent back to Africa early in his presidency—Frederick Douglass gave him some "training.") However, sometimes you need to put someone out of your organization. This isn't about opinion; it's about setting the moral values of how you conduct yourself and your business with others.