The Challenges of Managing Diversity

Discussion
Mar 21, 2007
George Anderson

By George Anderson

The U.S. was built on the foundation of individual rights. It is, in part, because of the protections contained in The Bill of Rights that so many have sought the refuge of America from the birth of the nation up to the present times.

The protection of individual differences in the workplace, however, can from a practical standpoint at retail prove to be anything from a minor inconvenience to a real impediment to serving the needs of consumers.

In recent times, conflicts between individual conscience and/or expression and the running of a business appear to be on the rise.

Recently, a controversy heated up in the Twin Cities area when Muslim cashiers working at a SuperTarget refused to handle pork items at the checkout. According the Star Tribune, the cashiers would either ask another store employee to handle the meat or request the customer bag the item(s).

Since the story went public, Target has asked Muslim cashiers who have refused to handle pork to either wear gloves and maintain their current job or move to another area of the store – or, depending on staffing needs, perhaps to a different location altogether.

“We are confident that this is a reasonable solution for our guests and team members,” Target spokesperson Paula Thornton-Greear said in a statement from the company.

As others have had to do, Target is looking to find a balance between the individual rights of its workers and the legitimate expectation of service from its customers.

With the options offered to Muslim workers, Target’s policy is in line with other retailers selling pork.

“There are many jobs in the grocery store that do not involve handling pork,” said Vivian King, a spokesperson for Roundy’s.

Mohamed Muse, a Muslim who works at a SuperTarget in St. Louis Park, said the new policy makes sense. “If someone is trying to buy pork, you can’t just say, ‘Wait here,'” he said. “You can’t put a hold on the work system.”

Mr. Muse said the issue of whether or not he could handle pork was addressed when he first joined the company. A human resources worker asked if he objected and he told the person he did. “They said okay. So I work mostly with fruits and vegetables overnight. It was really no problem.”

This is not the first conflict at retail related to religious beliefs. Some pharmacists, it has been widely reported, have refused to fill prescriptions for Plan B and other birth control drugs because it was not condoned in the practice of their faith.

Discussion Questions: Does the increasing level of diversity in the workplace require a different or more comprehensive type of training for managers and employees in dealing with one another as well as customers with customs and beliefs that are unlike their own?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

12 Comments on "The Challenges of Managing Diversity"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
12 years 5 months ago

We are on a slippery slope if “issues of faith” are allowed to determine what a worker will and will not do, and more pointedly with whom they will and will not serve. For example, what if the person’s faith condemns homosexuality, will they be allowed to refuse to check in a same sex couple at a hotel? My view is that one’s faith is a private matter and that in the public arena we find a common ground and that common ground is that we are a nation of law: civil law, not religious dogma. If the law prohibits the business from discriminating based on a person’s gender, race, etc., then we cannot allow religious doctrine to trump that. If a Muslim clerk refused to bag my pork product I would consider that religious discrimination and file a complaint. This issue borders on absurdity.

Roger Selbert, Ph.D.
Guest
Roger Selbert, Ph.D.
12 years 5 months ago

Just as we have entered the age of viewing and treating our customers as individuals, so too have we entered the age of viewing and treating our work associates as individuals. Every employee has an individual set of characteristics that determine attitudes, views, expectations, behavior. Among these characteristics are age, gender, religion, values, etc.

What is important is the match between the individual and the organization in terms of compatibility. Flexibility, adaptability, and yes, some training, is called for.

Brian Anderson
Guest
12 years 5 months ago

Workforce diversity is continuing to be an issue for organizations. HR professionals need to continue developing structures and practices that systematically and diligently take bias out of their HR systems. Since bias is a normal human tendency, it is important for HR professionals to identify all of those “touch points” in organizations where these biases can be acted out.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
12 years 5 months ago
Of the five million Irish immigrants who came to America between 1880 and 1930, how many did so because of our Constitution’s first ten amendments (aka The Bill Of Rights)? How many of them could read it? Of the millions of Mexicans who’ve entered our country illegally during the past fifty years, how many of them did so because of The Bill Of Rights? They came here to join a culture of success, not to disrupt or change it to fit their personal beliefs. After all, they were fleeing cultures that fit their personal beliefs. “Diversity” is a sugary-sweet, pc-proper, word-spin concept which really means “division.” If you emigrate to the “Melting Pot,” then melt. Assimilate, don’t separate. What would happen to a Christian cashier who refused to touch salacious magazines, alcohol, or violent video games at a Wal-Mart checkout? Would management tiptoe around them or fire them? Should a cashier who’s allergic to peanuts have the right to refuse to touch peanut packaging at the checkout? Don’t the employees know, or aren’t they told… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
12 years 5 months ago

Retailers who constructively manage diversity issues can more easily pick the cream of the labor market. Diversity issues aren’t new: when beards and long hair became men’s fashions in the 1960s, many supermarkets wouldn’t employ those people. A generation before that, many stores avoided hiring Jews. Many upscale restaurants didn’t hire Black or women servers. The US government still won’t hire openly gay Arab translators. The more people you reject because of issues unrelated to job performance, the harder it is to find the best. Without the best people, how can your performance be the best?

David Zahn
Guest
12 years 5 months ago

Without addressing the specifically cited Target or Wal-Mart pharmacy situations directly and expanding the question to the more broad one of “do we need to train differently to take into account the diversity of customers and associates/employees,” I would suggest somewhat humorously that we need to devote time to “UNtraining” more than training.

The preconceived notions of what people want/expect/are capable of being or doing, etc. is a problem built upon PRIOR training they have received (though not necessarily found in training manuals or through classroom instruction, but rather in their experiences and conversations with others as they formulated their opinions and perceptions of the world and the people within it). The challenge is to point out to people where their previously reached assumptions and biases are at times either ill-founded, or perhaps even devoid of any reality. Getting people to see things as they are and not as they wish they would be or have come to believe they are is a task that will not happen easily.

Kai Clarke
Guest
12 years 5 months ago

Diversity comes in all forms, and the enforcement of diversity is not required in private enterprise, but only in the public domain. These examples are a reflection of our over-sensitivity to becoming so politically correct that it impedes our business focus. The employee is correct in stating that they can easily work in other places, but asking about the handling of pork seems too minute of a concern to be addressed at the corporate level. Does Target also ask about the handling of beef for Hindus or the allowance for prayer during the day? Does Target allow for the sabbath in their stores on Fridays, as well as the numerous holidays of the Hindu, Islam and Catholic faiths combined? Diversity is the sharing in our differences, not the separation based upon our differences. We need to remember this!

Ryan Mathews
Guest
12 years 5 months ago

It’s also not just a question of what is ethically right. I’m assuming most, if not all, of those Target employees are U.S. citizens which means their freedom to worship is protected by the Constitution. If we, as a nation, are to become really competitive in the global marketplace we’re going to have to learn not just how to address these issues after they come up but how to anticipate them.

Karen McNeely
Guest
12 years 5 months ago

I’m not sure why understanding/meeting the religious requirements of employees needs to fall on the employer.

Using the example sited, certainly if someone is applying for a job in a store where groceries are sold they should know that potentially, pork is being sold there. If that is a problem for them, they should either not apply for this type of position, or be upfront with their requirements and request a position that would not be in conflict.

If an applicant can’t ever work on Tuesdays, they would let the employer know that up front. Religious requirements should be handled in the same manner and the employer can decide whether the requirements are something that they can work around or not.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
12 years 5 months ago
In some cases, a single staff person can disrupt an entire store’s being able to meet a need of its customers, as can happen in the pharmacy situation. A single staff person not wanting to handle pork doesn’t create the same level of disruption. Without data to support this, I suspect that we have always had this level of diversity in the workplace, but that workers (and even customers) did not have a way to express it. The good news is that organizations seem to have become more responsive and respectful in some ways, and less mechanistic and assimilation-oriented. In SOME ways! The challenge, though, is that it is the Master System, not training or a lack of it, that determines how an organization responds to diversity. My apologies to the great trainers out there, but we have data showing a large-scale diversity training program that actually resulted in higher levels of conflict surrounding the issues the training focused on. There is training and there is training, and I want to emphasize that training doesn’t… Read more »
Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
12 years 5 months ago

Unless I am mistaken, neither the cashier nor the bacon buyer are “worshipping.” It is a business transaction in a business setting. Period. Freedom to worship (or not) is a sacred tenet of our society. However, it is something that is done in the heart, in the home and in the synagogue or church or mosque or mountaintop. Religious tolerance in our society only works when it is a two way street and businesses need to help employees of all faiths understand and respect this concept through their training and hiring policies.

Mark Burr
Guest
12 years 5 months ago
If this were not reality, it might be humorous. But it is reality…this is where it becomes sad. In my own community, stores–including even shopping malls–were closed on Sundays in the not so distant past. In fact, there remain many holdouts to the principle of Sunday business. It’s fair to say that the community was likely 40 years or so behind the rest of society with respect to business on Sunday. While I certainly respect the views (and for my own reasons, potentially wish it was still the case), the sky hasn’t fallen. As far as I can tell, no one in the community has been kept from Christian worship because of an intolerant employer. Churches have adjusted; offering alternatives, they are still growing and worship continues. The most important thing is that worship continues. The problem with Target’s policy or any other similar policy is that it runs the risk of showing tolerance of diversity for one but intolerance of the diversity for another. It’s not even like walking a thin line. It’s simply… Read more »
wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Do the individual rights of a worker, particularly as it relates to issues of faith, supersede a shopper’s expectation of service?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...