How to Handle Discrimination In Business
To succeed in both business and in life, when one is faced with discrimination–battle it with facts, compassion and communication.
Let’s be frank; the brain is built to classify elements as either being a member of a group, or not. I certainly can’t judge someone for their prejudices, because I have my own biases.
A person’s bias can appear out of nowhere at any time; for example here is a speech given by former Washington D.C. mayor and current D.C Councilman, Marion Barry, at his re-election victory party.
“We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go. I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”
This is only part of the speech so it may not be fair to make an assumption about Mr. Barry’s intentions. Obviously he cares about encouraging business ownership by African Americans.
This need for more African American entrepreneurs is an opportunity for the entire community, no matter what ethnicity or background, to share and help build the future together. How wonderful it would be if a bridge was built so that the Asian business owners could share their skills and experience with the entire neighborhood.
How do we fight discrimination on a personal level?
What we can do is build success in our lives by practicing active determination. We can overcome discrimination by not letting the hatred win. If we let our lives and attitude be defined by how someone else sees us, we will fail. We can ignore petty actions and roll over the ones in our path. We don’t waste our time fighting invisible battles.
This philosophy does not mean that we accept prejudice and discrimination with acceptance. It means that we decide wisely when, where and how to fight so that we can make an impact and create change.
We cannot afford to look at the world and constantly assume discrimination. We will also fail because we’ll be closing ourselves to opportunities and friendship.
When you are communicating across cultural barriers, there will be misunderstanding and hurt feelings. As the world continues to become more competitive on a global basis, it is critical to let go of assumptions. We need to reach out even in the face of seeming discrimination.
Those who are able to break across the cultural barriers will have the upper hand in business.
When I first returned to California, I became friendly with a young woman. We spent a lot of time together and I thought we were good friends. A few months later, she came to my house to pick me up for lunch. I was in the back garden and didn’t hear the doorbell. My grandmother opened the door and got frightened so she shut the door.
My friend called and yelled about how rude and racist my grandmother was. I apologized and tried to explain that my 75 yrs old grandmother had advanced Alzheimer. She somehow got to the door before anyone else. She didn’t even recognized me, her own granddaughter. She was frightened of any strangers especially since she didn’t speak English.
My friend was so invested in her anger and hurt feelings that she never spoke to me again. She refused to come back and meet my family or to see the truth.
The wrong assumptions can close off opportunities. Reaching out in blind faith is not easy but the rewards can be substantial. For a woman in business, sometimes the difficulties that men have in communicating with a woman can be perceived as discrimination.
Ask these questions:
1. Am I jumping to conclusion?
2. Could I have misunderstood the intent?
3. Was there a true intent to harm or put down?
4. Is there a language barrier?
5. Are there cultural rituals or behaviors that could be misunderstood?
6. What’s the worst that can happen if I reach out?
It’s unrealistic to believe that discrimination will be eliminated permanently in our lifetime. Our best choice is to identify the behavior and react appropriately. When in doubt, assume the best of people. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Next week, we’ll look at automatic discrimination and how to handle it.
© 2012 MoneyandRisk.com all rights reserved