[an error occurred while processing this directive][an error occurred while processing this directive]
Ask the HR Expert Ethics


Dealing with bad behavior, poor job performance of a minority employee

My question pertains to the degree of tolerance companies exercise when dealing with the bad behavior and poor performance of a minority employee. An employee recently approached me, the HR Director, with the following scenario: A minority colleague has had multiple run-ins with other employees and management, has displayed numerous outbursts of anger, has sent harassing e-mails to co-workers, has abused the dress code many times, constantly shows up late for work, and frequently calls in sick. She is also lacking in specific knowledge of her job. Calls and e-mails from throughout the organization have brought this to management and HR's attention numerous times. Other employees in the company who work with this individual wonder why she is still employed here and feel that this problem is not being addressed fairly. They feel that perhaps the legal department is fearful of letting her go, that her behavior and poor performance are being tolerated by the company for fear of being sued. How protected are minorities, especially when an individual's performance and behavior are so poor? And how should we in HR respond to an employee who raises the question regarding how protected minorities are?

The answer to "how protected are minorities?" is, "It all depends." In an ideal world, bad behavior and poor performance of minorities would be addressed in exactly the same way as they are addressed with other employees. In practice, a few things make this easier said than done.

You mention one of them, fear of being sued. The threat is real and can strike terror in the hearts of managers. Many managers are also leery of giving honest feedback to minorities because they are afraid that if they are critical of a minority, they themselves will be labeled as prejudiced and biased. Research studies have shown that managers do evaluate minorities more negatively than similar co-workers even when the work quality is the same or better. So some good-willed managers lean over backward to be supportive to minorities because they understand that in the past evaluation of minorities has generally been biased. Some managers report having difficulties knowing whether their negative reactions to a certain behavior is a matter of style or a performance issue.

Unfortunately, holding back on negative feedback and progressive discipline is no favor to the minority employee. It just means the minorities are, once again, disadvantaged as they miss out on the learning and coaching that is needed for professional development. The solution is not tolerance of poor performance. Rather, managers should translate their concerns into extra care with the disciplinary process. All facts need to be checked out and the process of discipline should be by the book. If there is a well-functioning performance management system in place, it is much easier to deal with problem employees of whatever background. I have found that in many, perhaps most, organizations the performance management system is inconsistently implemented. Also, almost every manager needs extra training in giving feedback. Once managers have been through a basic leadership program it is all too often assumed they will confront poor performance. Not so. More training is required.


Back to top

Diverse teams, inclusion, and ROI

As an HR manager with a purview of the entire company, I feel strongly that a return on our investment in diversity is not just in the numbers, the oft-touted metrics, but in getting people from diverse backgrounds to work together, thereby optimizing the performance of the overall organization. Do you agree that this is a central issue in validating the case for diversity, and if so, how do I get senior management to see beyond numerical quotas?

I agree with you that diversity is far more than a numbers game and also that an important part of the case for diversity comes from improved organizational performance. When diverse teams work well together, they are more productive. Just having the diverse workforce doesn't guarantee any ROI. It is when the diverse workforce feels included that performance improves. That is why inclusion has become the new buzzword in organizations.

It is important to remember, however, that the numbers still matter and are part of the case for diversity. First, diverse workers bring a better understanding of diverse customers that can lead to better customer service and more effective marketing to diverse customers. Secondly, organizations with a diverse workforce have an enhanced ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest talent from all identity groups.

Now, how can you get senior management to see beyond numbers and quotas to the issue of inclusion? Just preaching to senior management is doomed to failure. What will be effective is data demonstrating the return on investment from your efforts to create an inclusive environment. What is not so simple is developing metrics to do this. Nextel Communications assessed the impact and determined the ROI of their diversity efforts using a scorecard based on the Kirkpatrick and Phillips model. Developing metrics is the road to success.


Back to top

Promoting your diversity program internally

We would like to promote diversity in the workplace. How do we best do this without appearing patronizing or drawing attention to our minority employees?

In today's increasingly competitive economic and global marketplace, a workforce that includes highly motivated employees who reflect the diversity of today's marketplace is both an asset and a competitive advantage. As the marketplace becomes increasingly culturally diverse, corporate America must now regard valuing and managing a diverse workforce not solely as the right thing to do, but from a perspective of enlightened self-interest. Creating an environment that attracts, retains, fosters, and values the best people of all backgrounds while encouraging the maximum contribution is now a business imperative.

The greatest asset of any company is its workforce. That asset must be managed and given the same strategic importance and priority as any other corporate asset. A diverse workforce offers substantial business advantages. It gives companies a competitive edge, increased employee productivity, customer loyalty, shareholder confidence, and a positive public image. It offers advantages to employees as well. As they interact with people who are different from themselves, employees will learn to be more tolerant and flexible.

For help in establishing a diversity program, consider retaining outside expertise. Find one or more top-notch diversity workforce consulting firms to assist the company in understanding and addressing the myriad of issues associated with diversity. Beyond ethnic and racial lines, diversity crosses age, gender, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, and physical abilities. Such a firm can help with developing a comprehensive internal diversity program that includes an audit to identify employee attitudes and opinions on a variety of work-related issues, to establish benchmarks to measure success, as well as to serve as an invaluable resource in the creation, implementation, and ongoing evaluation of the company's diversity initiative.


Back to top

Diversity expenditures in large firms

How much should a Fortune 500 company spend on diversity? How much of that should be spent on outside consulting efforts?

In reviewing global companies with best diversity practices such as Xerox, Raytheon, MetLife, Texaco, Shell Oil, and Avon, diversity is viewed as a critical component of their business success and not merely an HR function. These companies commit significant dollars to their diversity initiative. Diversity is implemented in the context of their overall business plan with an ROI. Most of these companies have an established Office of Diversity and a comprehensive integrated strategy that includes marketing and sales, recruitment, inclusion, and retention, internal communications, diversity supplier development, and corporate philanthropy.

A few years ago, Ibis Consulting Group conducted a study of directors of diversity at 24 firms of significant size, about three-quarters of which were Fortune 500 companies with revenues of at least $10 bil. or had 5,000-200,000 employees. More than three quarters of these firms reported a salary of more than $100K/year for the diversity director position, and the majority of the firms had two or three additional diversity staff as well.

Another major area of diversity spending is recruitment, where many firms are allocating significant dollars to attract a workforce that reflects the levels of minorities found in the general population. As noted above, other major areas of spending include internal diversity training programs and diversity assessments, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollars depending on the size of the organization.

There are other compelling business reasons for diversity expenditures, too. Many companies now find that in order to secure contracts, especially government contracts, in competitive bidding situations, they must demonstrate a commitment to diversity. The buyers require assurance that the vendor's workforce will mirror the population they are targeting or servicing. Diversity, Inc. magazine cites a recent case involving hospitality leader Marriott which, when bidding on a contract in Pennsylvania, promised that its managers would be 20 percent people of color and 35 percent women, and that non-management staff would be 43 percent people of color and 49 percent women. While there is no direct dollar amount attached to these diversity numbers, without them, Marriott ultimately may have lost the $500 million dollar project.

How much a company spends on outside diversity consulting efforts depends on a number of variables, such as size of the company; its top management, including the CEO's commitment to valuing workplace diversity and inclusiveness; and whether diversity is considered part of the core values of the company. But as the foregoing suggests, the largest and growing firms long ago gave up viewing diversity expenditures as a nice-to-have and instead see them now as a must-have.


Back to top

Tracking diversity-related job applications

We want to track diversity-related profiles of job applicants in our effort to diversify our staff. We don't have an application, and all hires are by cover letter and resume, so we are guessing about race, age, and other factors. Is it OK to track these factors in a spreadsheet, or could we get in trouble?

Yes, it is okay to track these factors. As a matter of fact, tracking is encouraged. However, the guessing game could get you in trouble. The assumptions you are making are based on the applicant's name, address, school attended, number of years in the workforce, etc. I would caution that you should discontinue this practice.

If you have the capability of accepting resumes electronically, you might consider an automatic response that requests, for tracking purposes only, that the candidate self-identify. This would eliminate the guessing game.

If you do not have the electronic capability of responding to resumes, you could develop a simple postcard or letter that asks the candidate to self-identify. While this might delay your recruitment process, it would yield more accurate and reliable data.

Be prepared that your tracking might reveal that qualified diverse candidates are applying but are not being hired into certain departments or areas of your company. Should this be the case, after you look at who's applying, you should look at who's doing the hiring.


Back to top

Where diversity resides in the organization

What does an HR practitioner do in an organization in terms of diversity? Who should be the custodian of the process of diversity, the HR or line managers? What support should the HR practitioner give in the implementation of diversity in the organization?

This is a very interesting question and one many organizations struggle with. While "diversity oversight" may be someone's specific focus, a part of someone's job title, or tied to a manager's performance evaluation, it cannot simply be a function.

Your question also raises a common question of where should diversity sit. Does it have to cascade from the top down? Can it flow from the bottom up? Should it sit in HR or report to the CEO? How do you measure the effectiveness of diversity strategies? If you have a dedicated diversity person, isn't this their responsibility?

A diversity practitioner is likely to be the one developing strategies, initiatives, training, and assessing your diversity needs, while measuring goals and outcomes. Or, as you termed it, he or she may be "the custodian of the process." This person may initiate change interventions, but success will depend on the support and buy-in of others.

Companies make a huge mistake when they send a message that diversity belongs to a particular position, a particular person, or a particular department. To be successful and inclusionary, diversity must be woven into every thread of the organization. Everyone in your organization should be considered a diversity practitioner or agent, and they should be taught how to enhance and support the diversity efforts of the company. If they are not, then diversity will become exactly what the HR practitioner title implies - a practice and not a culture shift.


Back to top

Do you have a question for our panel of NEHRA HR experts? Submit it here.

Check out the latest Ask the HR Expert articles

Ask an HR Expert
Submit HR questions

Expert Bios

Benefits and Compensation

Jeff Arnold
Watson Wyatt

Judi Casey
Boston College Center for Work & Family

Bill Coleman


Katharine Esty
Ibis Consulting

Colette Phillips
Colette Phillips Communications

Deloris Tuggle
May Institute

Employment Law and Immigration Law

Mike Brown
Seyfarth Shaw

Susan Cohen
Mintz Levin

Carolyn Fuchs
Looney & Grossman

David Henderson
Nutter, McClennen & Fish


Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Human Resource Solutions

Harry Sobel
Sobel & Raciti

Recruiting and Retention

Tracy Burns-Martin
UMass Medical School

Mary Ann Masarech

Louis Rubino
Rubino Consulting

Workforce Development

Michael Andrew
Strategic Impact Learning

Judy Feuerherm
Right Management Consultants


[an error occurred while processing this directive]