Marilyn was excited when she first started her job in her townís high-end day spa one year ago. She noticed that she was the only staff member of color at the spa, but for Marilyn, this was akin to noticing that the sun wasnít shining today; just an observation.
Marilynís enthusiasm for her job eventually changed to one of confusion and disappointment when from her perspective, she was being treated differently because of her race.
Her co-workers on the whole were very cordial, but it was the little things that made Marilyn begin to wonder. Staff members would often go out to dinner or drinks after work, but did not invite her to join them. Later, she learned that one of her co-workers was to be married and it seemed like everyone at the spa was invited to the wedding except her. She knew that most of them had been working together for years.
Marilyn decided after experiencing a few of these slights during her first month on the job that she would be friendly, but that she would not go out of her way to try to be part of the social scene at the spa. She didnít want to put herself in the position where she would get her feelings hurt.
Marilynís manager asked to meet with her when he and other staff members noticed that Marilyn seemed withdrawn in her interactions with them at the spa. He was blown away to learn that Marilyn felt that her co-workers werenít including her and that she perceived that it was because of the color of her skin. He also had no idea how to handle Marilynís accusation.
How Would You Handle This Situation?
Managers faced with similar situations should ask the employee to provide examples of why they feel the way that they do without making the employee feel uncomfortable or guilty about their perception. If the employee shares information that clearly and concretely identifies that they may have been treated unfairly due to race, it is the managerís responsibility to address the issue immediately by investigating the issue and responding accordingly.
Some businesses are better than others at making sure that new staff feels welcome. Sometimes what is perceived as discrimination or a slight is anything but. In Marilynís situation, it is possible that the staff members, (rightly or wrongly), werenít very good at welcoming new people into the spaís social circle. Cliques are sometimes formed within businesses that make it difficult for newcomers to "break in".
Conversely, Marilyn may have been sending cues that she wasnít interested in being part of the group early on because of her perception that she was being intentionally excluded from social activities.
Business owners need to make sure that staff are made aware that the expectation is that all staff, but especially new staff should be made to feel welcome. A good way to ensure this is to provide the new staff member a "mentor" who will orient them to the workplace, go to lunch with them and make sure that they meet and spend time with other staff members.
Better yet, develop an orientation process for your business that ensures that all new members have an opportunity to meet and get to know their colleagues as well as learn the basics about the business. A welcome breakfast is a good way to accomplish this.
Take Action: Create a process where new staff will be oriented and be allowed to get to know their colleagues. Assign a staff member to mentor new employees to ensure that they feel that they are part of the workplace culture. If you identify possible issues of discrimination, donít jump to conclusions. Gather more information from all parties first. If you do identify a serious issue, work swiftly to deal with the offending employee. Be proactive! Best management practice is to have a written policy on what is and is not acceptable workplace behavior. Make sure that your staff is reminded of your expectations around workplace behavior twice a year.