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Go Ahead and Have the Conversation

Diversity brings many benefits to the workplace, but not without challenges. Here Inc. Columnists give you actionable takeaways stemming from Obama's speech on race.

There was an anecdote I wanted to use at the beginning of this story. While discussing the Trayvon Martin case, myself, a Jewish man, and my African American colleague had an empathetic exchange about the hardships our people had suffered throughout history. 

I actually asked several colleagues both African American and Jewish if they thought the details of this anecdote might offend my readers. While all of them thought it was a funny and sympathetic story and none were personally bothered-- they all warned me it was risky.

And therein lies the problem.

President Obama suggested people discuss race and diversity in the office, and yet people are scared to approach the topic in a real way for fear of offense or repercussions. Many think that the discussion of race has no place in a business environment. But being colorblind in business, especially for marketers, is simply hypocrisy. The very job requires segmenting markets into cultures, archetypes and, at times, even leveraging stereotypes for the very purpose of market exploitation. It's a veritable minefield.

Here's my takeaway: Be honest, real, and open with people about what you think and who you are. Have the race conversation and be ready to learn. Fear and hatred are only exacerbated by quiet politeness and ignorance.

And here is some more advice for encouraging an open workplace:

1. Check Your Attitude.

Years ago, discovering my wallet stolen, I suddenly remembered a young man had been crowding me on the bus. I'd glanced over my shoulder at him; he was clean-cut and blond so I ignored him. Listening to Obama remark how white people act afraid of black men, I thought these white folks might be as unconscious of their own profiling as I was until it cost me a couple hundred bucks. This mentality can't help leaking over into the workplace as well, unless we have formal diversity programs in place to actively fight it. Attitudes that deeply ingrained won't go away all by themselves.  Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up

Want to read more from Minda? Click here

2. Be Honest About Race, But Careful.

Race has always been a sensitive subject in this country. But now, thanks to social media, people's thoughts and comments on race are captured forever. Take the Twitter account @YesYoureRacist. The account is tragic: retweeting hatred, harsh vitriol, expletives and racism from dozens of people daily in the spirit of exposing them. But nevertheless, it has almost 37,000 followers. Do these people want to ever have a job? Keep their jobs? Run a business? It's hard to imagine what people are thinking when tweeting such hatred. If you care at all about your career, be careful what you post online regarding sensitive matters such as race. The Internet doesn't forget. Dave Kerpen--Likeable Leadership

Want to read more from Dave? Click here.

3. Create a Diverse Team.

Why would anyone shut out the strategic and creative viewpoints expressed by those who are of a different race, creed, sexual orientation, gender or age? We are now part of a global economy with competition on every continent. Employers and employees alike need to capitalize on workplace diversity, now more than ever.  Obama suggests we all ask ourselves if we are judging people based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Strive to create a well-rounded team so that you're not rendered incapable of competing in today's marketplace. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist

Want to read more from Marla? Click here.

 4.  Set an Enlightened Example.

For both race and gender, I have found that simply being amazing at what you do, and being unafraid to ask for what you want will get you far. As a woman, I find that while diversity in the workplace is still not where it should be, it's important to push forward and set the example for the future, for a more diversified workforce.  Carrie Kerpen--Social Skills

Want to read more from Carrie? Click here.

5. Recognize and Celebrate Diversity. 

As we move from an economy that relied heavily on the ability to mass produce items to one built on mass customization and niche marketing, it's within individual diversity that the best ideas will be determined, developed and ultimately nurtured.  To survive businesses must not ignore, but instead recognize and capitalize on what makes each individual uniquely different.  Without this recognition, we choose to limit ourselves to the constraints and solutions of the past.  Diversity should be explored and seen as an avenue to build better businesses, more successful products and stronger internal teams. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

Want to read more from Eric? Click here.

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Last updated: Jul 24, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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