Let me start by saying, I’ve always had a great experience at WeWork offices, where I frequently visit to get work done. The staff and amenities are top-notch. In addition, they always have great events which are excellent opportunities to network and meet new people. That’s why it pained me this morning, to look at the event calendar and see this event, “Muffins for Mamba,” with the description “Make your Monday Spectacular with some delicious muffins in honor of Mamba.”

WAIT, WHAT?! We lost a cultural icon in Kobe Bryant (nickname Mamba) THIS WEEK and it’s already being reduced to a gimmick to invite people to a weekly Monday morning Muffin breakfast. Though I haven’t visited that location, it pained me because of the culturally tone-deaf message it sends, which can negatively affect the perception of the many great people that work at the company.

You may be thinking, “What’s so bad about that?” If that’s what your thought is, then you’re a part of the primary reason that Diversity training is so important.

First, the beauty of modern business in America is that there are plentiful opportunities to create and sell any product or service that you’re passionate about. The downside of that is almost all industries are extremely competitive, with companies focusing on producing points of differentiation to set themselves apart and increase sales.

This is a good thing. The problem arises when companies get so focused on processes for growth and sustainability, that they fail to look at the process that matters most, the development of their employees and their cultural sensitivity to the growing demographic of customers they serve.

I conduct a lot of diversity and inclusion training for large companies and the irony is that a lot of people still don’t understand the point or purpose of “diversity” training. Probably the quote I hear most often when I ask an organization about it is “well our company isn’t racist, so we don’t need diversity training.

Often, they’re correct. They aren’t inherently racist. But what they miss is this. Diversity training isn’t just about “racism,” it’s about the underlying tone and message you send out that make both your organization and your customers feel like you truly understand them. After all, the primary goal of business growth is developing a rapport with your employees and customers that sends a message that “We understand you because we are you.”

Seemingly small mistakes, rather inherently racist or just ignorantly tone-deaf, can have lasting negative ramifications for a company. Last year, Gucci caught a huge backlash for it’s “blackface imagery” balaclava which appeared Highly racist. The $890 sweater caused a whirlwind of controversy and led to boycotts and more. (note: Gucci did apologize quickly and took several immediate action steps to try and correct, listen to its customers, evaluate its processes as well as poured a lot of money into diversity-based initiatives).

Others, such as the Adidas Black History Month “Ultraboost Uncaged” shoe last month or a primary reason I’m a believer and teacher of Diversity and Inclusion. Though there was nothing racist about the shoe, it was an All-White shoe to celebrate Black History Month. You might think to yourself, “So what? What’s the problem?”

That’s precisely why D&I training is so vital. It matters to someone. It mattered to Several people. It mattered to a population. Adidas caught huge backlash as well for their “miss.” Again, was Adidas’ goal to create a racist product? No. Was it racist? No. Did it miss the mark and forego the intended result of celebrating “BLACK history,” to honor the lives and struggle of African Americans to overcome oppression and fight for equality, with a WHITE shoe? ABSOLUTELY.

Do you see the difference? It’s not always about “being racist.” It’s about understanding the struggles, worries, and cultures of the various people a company employs and customers they serve. There is no “one size fits all” approach to any business. The world is becoming a melting pot. As a result, the voice and buying power of all ethnicities, religious, political, and gender groups are growing immensely.

Companies MUST listen to their customers. More importantly, they MUST train their employees to understand other cultures so that a tone-deaf miss doesn’t become the downfall of the entire organization.

How could Adidas have avoided the backlash? How can WeWork have avoided this culturally deaf “mamba muffins” event that casts a negative view of the company? What can your company do to avoid a similar fate?

CELEBRATE differences – Before you can celebrate difference, you must be sure everyone is at the table. Talk with the diverse employees at your organization. Invite members of different demographic groups to your organization to show them you value them and listen to their stories. You can’t truly value someone you don’t understand. You can’t avoid cultural misses if you don’t value and appreciate the point of view of others.

ASSESS preconceived cognitive bias – Don’t just celebrate difference, LISTEN to members of different demographics. What you think is important to you, might not matter to them. Again, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to business anymore. Listen to their struggles. What you’ll find is that their problems are different than yours. What you might find in listening to those problems is OPPORTUNITY. Opportunity to make your employees feel valued, and Opportunity to solve that same problem and struggle for the customers and clients you serve.

ESTABLISH commonalities and clear goals – Have you ever tried to speak to someone who speaks a different language than you? You might point at an object or make a gesture to find commonality so you can communicate. D&I is about finding those same commonalities. It’s about understanding that diverse groups speak different cultural languages and live by different creeds. Establishing common ground where diverse groups can relate on an issue and then establish mutual goals that everyone understands is a surefire way to success.

CONSTRUCT parameters for effective communication – Figure out a communication system to ensure everyone is on the same page, has the same objective, and give all groups input into the planning and execution of the goal. By inviting members of diverse groups to be part of the planning, they can then relay the plan to their inclusive group in a manner that appeals and makes sense. Essentially figure out how to translate the message your company wants to send so that it is well received by your team members and your audience.

The result is a company culture where each employee not only feels understood but understands and excitedly pursues the company’s goals. Ultimately, you achieve higher synergy which leads to a greater bottom line and performance, higher employee satisfaction, customer trust.

Plus, your Public Relations team will thank you for the nightmares you can help them avoid.

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