Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...

September 2007 Issue Number 92

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

"Polishing the Gold"-- National Society of Executive Fire Officers Leadership Conference October 16-18, 2007, Monte Carlo Resort, Las Vegas, NV. Go to for more information.

8th Biennial Fire Service Women's Leadership Training Seminar April 24-27, 2008 Glendale, AZ. Go to for more information.


In the News

The D Word

I recently did a presentation entitled "Leading Diverse Teams" as part of the Company Officer Symposium at Fire-Rescue International in Atlanta. Following the session, one of the nearly 200 participants came up to speak to me at the podium. "I just want to tell you that this wasn't anything like what I expected," he said. "I expected to be nauseated. Diversity-- the same old crap. I almost didn't come. But I'm glad I did, because this was really great."

I laughed and thanked him for his comments. I consider putting his accolade on my website: "Your workshop did not nauseate me!" But really, that's some of the highest praise you can get when talking about the D word these days. Diversity. Why is it still so problematic? Why can't people talk about it in ways that make sense?

There are many good reasons why people hate diversity training. Among these is the fact it is often done so badly, and frequently with much too narrow a scope. The effect, if not the intention, is often that some people in the audience feel that they are either being singled out or blamed.

I've never understood this approach to diversity training. Not only does it not do any good, but in many cases, the information conveyed isn't even accurate. Diversity training that tries to generalize about how certain ethnic or sociological groups behave or think by definition ignores the diversity within those groups.

One of the reasons that diversity training has gone astray over the years is that it is often lumped together with EEO training and specifically, legal briefings on the subjects of harassment and discrimination. Telling a group about the dire outcomes of lawsuits is not the best way to get them in the mood to appreciate diversity. Of course harassment and discrimination training needs to happen, and even this can be done in a way that is inclusive and calls on people's better nature and sense of professionalism, rather than just threatening them.

Diversity goes far beyond the so-called protected classes identified in civil rights law. A discussion of diversity must speak to the myriad differences among all people, even those who look very much alike on the surface. It is these differences-- based in cognition, beliefs, and experiences-- that make groups and organizations strong. This kind of diversity allows groups to make better decisions and to think more creatively, and may provide protection against the dangers of groupthink.

People naturally gravitate to those who are more like themselves in experience and background, but we learn more from those who are different. In order for that learning to take place, a conversation must happen. People must interact, they must have a sense of commonality and ties that bind them together which supersede the differences among them. There must be a framework of respect and inclusion that allows people to really get to know one another, finding genuine connection in the deeper mission they share.

For me, this is the essence of good diversity training-- giving people the skills and the desire to recognize differences for what they are, and to reach beyond them for that common ground that unites us all.

News Brief

Twenty-eight scientists, engineers and other workers have filed a lawsuit challenging new security measures for contract employees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, saying that the new requirements violate their constitutional rights. The new process requires that all contractors give permission for access to personal medical and financial records as well as answering questions about extended family members, neighbors, and other issues such as loyalty and sexual orientation. A similar process has been instituted recently for contract instructors at the National Fire Academy.

Source: New York Times, August 31, 2007. See also

Sexual Harassment Update

Does Harassment Training Cause More Lawsuits?

Some managers believe that what their employees don't know can't hurt them. Specifically, they think that if you teach employees how to recognize harassment, they'll soon be seeing it everywhere, and suing over it.

A recent study done by Caren Goldberg, a professor at American University, has tested this reasoning. The study involved 243 graduate students who held jobs but had never had harassment training. Dr. Goldberg asked the students to imagine themselves in harassment situations, and then asked how many would respond to these situations with a lawsuit versus other remedies. Goldberg then conducted harassment training with only half the group. Three months later, she tested the entire group with scenarios and asked how many would file a lawsuit if harassed.

The result was no difference within the group regardless of training. The desire to file a lawsuit seemed to be generated by personal factors more than the degree of training a person had. "This study indicates that the presumed downside of harassment training is much ado about nothing," Goldberg concluded. "These findings will hopefully provide reassurance to employers undecided about training."

In fact, good quality, consistent harassment training is one of the best defenses employers have against lawsuits, grievances, and other problems associated with workplace harassment. Some states mandate harassment training. Everyone should be doing it.

Source: Business and Legal Reports, August 20, 2007


© Linda F. Willing, 2007

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