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The Changing Landscape of Diversity in the Workplace

The world in which we live in constantly changes and new laws are constantly enforcing ways of dealing with our colleagues our fathers never would have imagined. Whether it is being openly Gay in the office or co-workers who come from five or six different countries, we are working today in a very diverse society. With it come new responsibilities.

The fact the U.S. Supreme Court is going to decide two cases this year dealing with the rights of Gay, Lesbian and Trans Gender Americans is testimony to the changing times.

The fact the high court needs to decide these cases is also a testimony of the new backlash toward these Americans.

In 1955 the a derogatory remark towards someone in the office who might be homosexual was common enough and while rude and insensitive, it was tolerated. It may have even ended up in driving the worker off the job. Gay men were marrying women just to keep their jobs hoping no one would discover their true sexual identity. Not only could they lose their job but in many cases they did lose their lives. Bullying in those years took on an entirely new meaning.

Likewise having a worker in the office who was Black, Chinese or Mexican was very much a token employee. Openly cracking jokes in front of these employees about their ethnicity or race again was commonplace. Again it was pretty much tolerated and the target of the abuse was expected to laugh along with the mockers. To not laugh would be rude and not a good sport, according to those making the remarks.

If you were of Spanish decent you were a Mexican. It didn’t matter if you were from El Salvador, Cuba or Argentina. You were considered a Mexican.

Abuse of women was another complete subject. Women were the targets of sexual advances they neither wanted nor encouraged. In many cases sleeping with the man who signed your time card was a forgone conclusion if you wanted to keep your job. Often it was constant remarks about how good they looked and “I really like that dress, it fits your body perfectly.” It kept up until the woman either quit or gave in.

White ethnics were not to escape the ridicule of the majority either. Remember Pollack Jokes which turned into Italian Jokes if you were Italian-American and happened to walk into the room when one was being told? And the stereotypical words associated with the only true Native Americans were “drunken Indian.”

While this may not have changed totally in today’s world at least there are laws against it and they are enforceable to a degree. It takes a lot of work and documentation and pure intestinal fortitude to follow through on legal action certainly.

There are many organizations which help in these cases. Some like the ACLU, others check with their Union lawyers and still others go the personal attorney route. Which ever way you choose to go if you are feeling harassed on any level, be sure to document everything there is to document whether it is verbal or not.

Most corporations have wised up so to speak. Many major businesses force new employees to sit through what can seem like pretty lame video’s dealing with sexual and racial harassment. An entire cottage industry has sprung up which deals with these videos and the lessons they teach. While they may indeed seem lame and elementary they serve a purpose. They remind us all how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.

Jason Ewing is an avid blogger and contributor to, a leading workplace diversity and inclusion website.

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