By Chandra Prasad, Editor-at-Large, Vault.com
Tell me about your race-related trainings.
The trainings focus on a basic understanding of race from a practical [perspective]. What is racism; how do I perceive it; what are the barriers to eliminating it, both individual and institutional; and how can we remove these barriers? We also look to see if there are any policies or procedures at the company that can contribute to racism. [The trainings] are an opportunity to dialogue around race and racism; and to see how we can move forward on both a personal and an organizational level.
For the purposes of your work, how do you define race?
There are the historical and intellectual standpoints [on racism], which [typically illustrate] oppression. But I'm more concerned with [common] perceptions: What do I think when I see a person who is black, white, yellow? What is first thing I see? Then the question arises: What do we do with this information? And how do our decisions affect colleagues who are different from us?
What is your background? How did you get into this line of work?
I'm a lawyer by training. I worked in the employment law arena, but made the decision to go to the preventative side. On a personal level, I have always had an interest in addressing issues [of race] from a pragmatic, hands-on perspective.
People are typically uncomfortable discussing race - especially in the workplace. How do you make people feel at ease?
I begin by sharing personal stories and interactions. I tell them my own stories regarding race - not to elicit sympathy, but to get them to open up. For example, I'll say, 'I learned this when I made this mistake.' Sharing personal stories helps people to loosen up. When it comes to [talking about] racism, people are walking on eggshells. [The bottom line is] we're all in this together.
I'm the facilitator and that's exactly what I do: facilitate conversation. I help folks see things from a different perspective. I am not judgmental; in my training there is no right or wrong. Acknowledgement is most important [since], quite frankly, race is something that is always noticed.
Does your own identity influence people's perceptions of you as a facilitator?
That you see a Black man isn't the issue. People may perceive me as "more qualified" to talk about race [because of the way I look]. But being Black doesn't make me more qualified; it simply informs my perspective.
In your trainings, do you discuss the different stereotypes that affect different groups of people?
Yes. For example, one discussion may be on stereotyping Hispanics. What are the specific stereotypes that affect this minority group? Where do they come from? What has your experience been with Hispanic people and how have your opinions been shaped by what you've seen and heard? During these discussions, the stereotypes come out - for Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, gays and lesbians, everyone.
What kind of companies do you work with?
Many traditional companies with authoritative, top-down management structures. I don't do much work with high tech companies; I think because they're still young and are yet to come up against - or acknowledge - race-related concerns. Companies [I have worked with] have been in financial services, law, law enforcement, insurance, the non-profit sector, education, and health care.
Before I start working with a company, there has to be a clear understanding on each side of what we want to achieve. Then we can analyze the training and talk about its duration and framework.
Do you believe your trainings have long-term impact?
Yes - because of the approach. The goal is to change behavior, not attitude. We are not preaching inclusion; we are asking people to look at themselves and to change themselves at their own pace.
Hubbard & Revo-Cohen, Inc. (HRC) is a human resources consulting and technology firm based in Virginia. HRC's multicultural, employment, and legal experts address numerous diversity-related workplace topics. If you have an issue that you want HRC to comment on, please send an email to email@example.com (Be sure to send it to the attention of HRC). Vault may include your name along with your question in future editions of Human Capital - unless you specifically request to remain anonymous.
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