by Anne Holmes
It was time for Michele to attend the four hour Diversity and Respect class that was mandatory for each employee of the Whozit Corporation. So many annual on-line refresher courses to take, like “Exports 101” and “Protect Intellectual Property”. All important, but not inspiring. But the Diversity and Respect class, that sounded interesting.
Whozit Corporation was an engineering and manufacturing company. Everyone knew the “world’s oldest profession“. Michele was pretty sure without doing the research, that engineering and manufacturing was the world’s second oldest profession. As hard as Whozit Corporation had tried to recruit females and minorities, they still had a way to go.
Michele reflected back on her previous thirteen years with the company. Boy, did she have some stories to tell about diversity and respect, or should I say the lack of it. She never just “took it”, she always spoke up, even if it meant her life would be more miserable before it got better. She could remember a couple of times when she would drive to work each day in tears, having to bear an even worse situation after speaking up. But it would always get better. And she would never let the inevitable temporary backwards slide prevent her from speaking up in the future. She was going to do all she could to make sure there was progress.
The class began with an impact. Photos were shown of various people from the shoulders up, just face shots. The students were to individually score these photos based on provided criteria. Then full body photos were shown of the same people and again each student was to score them. A few come to mind; one was of a man of unknown ethnicity with long, wild hair and various piercings. The full photo showed him pushing a stroller. Another was of a conservative looking white male. The full photo was of him sitting in a wheel chair. Another was of an African American woman. The full photo showed her wearing a lab coat with an MD badge. Michele was impressed; this was going to be good.
Missy was the instructor for this class. She was a tall with Farah Fawcett hair, I think it’s safe to say the color was enhanced and she wore a noticeable amount of makeup. Along the same lines as the photo exercise, she played a game with the class but this time she was the object.
“What do you think my favorite leisure activity is?”
“Shopping for clothes and shoes”, said a male in the class.
“I hate shopping. I go in, purchase what I need and leave”.
“What kind of car do you think I drive?”
“A red sports car”, said another one.
“No, a tan Ford Focus”.
She proceeded to tell the class about a time when she went to an off-site diversity conference with three male co-workers. After the conference, the four of them had dinner in the hotel restaurant. She was wearing a black pantsuit and on her way to the salad bar, a patron of the restaurant stopped her, assuming she was a waitress, and proceeded to give her his food order.
Missy would lead classroom discussions as well, trying to get the students to talk about what they felt and on what had just transpired. A few white men spoke up and said they didn’t want to be told how they should feel about certain types of people; they would feel however they wanted. Missy handled them like a pro.
Afterwards, Michele reflected upon the class. She thought Missy was a top notch instructor and had done an excellent job in leading the class. Michele was very inspired by the material. She was also quite dismayed at how threatened some people became during the class.
Michele decided to send Missy an email to share these thoughts and also to share some of her own experiences. Some of these went back about eleven years and some were as recent as a year ago. After she sent the email, Michele felt good.
One week later Michele’s phone rang.
Hi Michele, this is Missy, the instructor of the Diversity and Respect class. I got your email.”
“Oh, hi Missy. That class was so good. You did such a great job of leading it, and dealt with the resistant ones so well too.
“Well, thank you. But I have to tell you, after reading your email describing some of your past experiences; I’m going to have to report some of these to the Equal Employment Opportunity office. Some on these are too old to be reported, and you did tell your various managers about a number of them. But I feel that your previous group had some issues based on what you wrote, and now that I know it, we have to report it. You can expect a phone call from Peter, he’s the representative for your group, and he will interview you. Be prepared to give him names.”
“Peter is going to call and interview you so that he can write a report.”
Michele braced herself for another round of “progress”. Here we go again…