Ask the White Guy: Your Orientation Is Fundamental to Who You Are

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.


Question:

As a frequent reader to DiversityInc, and as someone who works in the field of diversity management, I have to respectfully disagree with many of your points in your reply comments to one of your readers. I think this argument between LGBT rights and religious rights in the workplace are two different points.

Companies should not try to force feed their employees an adoptive acceptance practice with either position. Why does it matter if someone is LGBT to the average patron of any business Why does it matter what religion a person is for any patron catering a business

For most of this, people have to agree to disagree and leave it at that without the hostility of calling one an enemy.

Answer:

I disagree. Your orientation is a fundamental part of who you are. Many people consider their religion in the same light.

Workplaces are social environments where people have relationships. You can’t divorce those basic things about yourself from the workplace–and it would be an inhumanly sterile environment if you could. Because these things are such a part of who we are, you cannot hide them without damaging productivity and engagement.

Further, positive relationships are necessary for promotion–and they are significantly based on a concurrence of values. Being a team player is certainly core to demonstrating a concurrence of values. How could you possibly do that well while hiding something so important to who you are

Especially for management, promotions are personal. Before someone e-mails me to say that promotions should be based on “merit,” I’ll tell you that “merit” is a perception in the eye of the person GIVING the promotion–a person who has already proven to be a team player. Their perception of your ability to do the job is relative to their perception of you as a “complete person.” This encompasses orientation and religion in most cases.

I’ve been in corporate meetings that begin with prayers (“in Christ’s name we pray”). How does that make the Muslim or Jewish person feel Included Part of the team Hardly.

Here’s an example that’s more subtle but just as impactful: Most people have a picture of their spouse (if they have one) in their work area. Receiving lines at formal events usually include spouses. So most people display their orientation as a matter of fact. If an LGBT person is working at a company where partner medical benefits are not offered, how do they feel What picture do they have on their workstation Who stands next to them in the receiving line How much do they feel valued as a part of “the team”

I’ve also been in meetings where it’s clear that the leadership actively and personally embraces difference in religion and orientation and that those differences are valued in the company’s ability not to just look like their customers but THINK like them, too.

This leads to the last part of your e-mail. Companies have the obligation to clearly state their values. For inclusive companies, those values will not include those of people who will exclude for reasons of THEIR religion or THEIR orientation. People who have views limiting human rights or civil rights are protected under our Constitution; companies are under no obligation to retain people who harbor views that are antithetical to the corporate values.

And there’s no such thing as “leaving it at the door.” A bigot on Saturday and Sunday is just as damaging as an accountant who only embezzles on the weekend. You don’t want to work with either.

“Enemy” is a strong word, but there is a place for it. A person who would deny another person’s human or civil rights based on orientation or religion–and makes a living promoting that oppression, like Mr. LaBarbera–is my enemy. How could it be any other way

In my opinion, “diversity” doesn’t force an equivalency between haters’ opinions and those who promote and defend human and civil rights. Wiggling away from that moral standard promotes a migration of language–like when people start talking about “culture” and “inclusion” in order to avoid a word that might connote a definite stand on issues.

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