A recent luncheon presentation concerning diversity and inclusivity in the workplace sparked a good deal of conversation within our organization. Frankly, any subject that spurs positive dialogue can be beneficial. Via has had a policy that stresses our position regarding discrimination of any kind for a long time. Take a look at our Vision, Mission and Core Beliefs at the front desk—it clearly states what kind of an organization Via is to anyone entering the building. However, as the world continues to change and people of differing backgrounds and orientation join our workforce, it makes sense to reflect both on the differences and common bonds of our humanity.
It is not always easy to recognize how to be truly respectful and sensitive to the needs of others. I realize that this might then result in being overly cautious, especially in the workplace. However, one need not alter their core beliefs to treat a coworker or a guest with respect and dignity. The conversation caused me to reflect on some very simple advice I received in school. This admonition was not based on federal rules and regulations, nor any signs, symbols or policies of an employer—it was simple, straightforward, and highly effective. It would also come to guide my thinking and the interactions that I would later have. The advice was: “treat others as I would expect and prefer to be treated.” You may think that this is hokey or overly simplistic, but I would challenge that no official policy nor sign can improve outcomes if we are unwilling to commit to this basic guideline.
We may be able to identify moments in life when we felt marginalized or threatened in some way. It likely became nearly impossible to work, or enjoy simple aspects of life. This is the result of discrimination and bullying and the implications that may persist. This should not and will not ever be tolerated in our organization.
Via has for many years had a strong policy of inclusion to ensure that our workplace is safe and welcoming. In response to active discrimination, state and federal governments have established laws and requirements to address such inequity, including identifying classes of people who were being actively discriminated against and who needed protection under the law. An affirmative declaration was necessary. While laws alone cannot change a person’s heart, they do state clearly what is and is not acceptable in the workplace, and hopefully society as well.
Lists, though helpful for clarity, can also have an unintended consequence of excluding another group of people until such time that they are included and protected under the law. Since this is what we are trying to avoid here at Via, I request that we all take the time to read and recommit to Via’s Vision, Mission and Core Beliefs, as well as our Equal Employment Opportunity and Unlawful Discrimination Policy. Though in place for quite some time, this policy is uniquely relevant and timely. I also ask that we commit to that simple advice that I referenced earlier—the only behaviors we can change are our own. Thank you for all that you do to make
Via the unique place it is!
Frank Bruno, CEO
At a December Lunch and Learn hosted by Via’s HR department, Ash Bell, gender inclusivity coordinator for Boulder County Area Agency on Aging, presented on gender identity and orientation. Ash focused on the historical discrimination many LGBTQ individuals have experienced requiring the need to hide identity and live dishonestly. Pertinent to Via is that many are now older adults and among our client populations. While there have been vast changes in the cultural acceptance of variations on gender identity, the presentation stimulated Via to look inward as to how we were communicating a welcoming and accepting environment for gender variance among our employees and those we serve.
This month we celebrate the Martin Luther King Holiday which honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality and who led a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make a colorblind society a reality. In light of this holiday, it seems particularly relevant that we consider all forms of diversity as essential to a healthy and accepting workplace and to reiterate our commitment to inclusivity. Via is a safe and respectful place to work. This means we respect all aspects of people including age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion/no religion, national origin, language, education, marital status, body size, political affiliation/philosophy, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or variance, physical and mental ability, social-economic status, genetic information and HIV and veteran status.
As the grandmother of an African American boy, I have personally experienced different forms of subtle and not-so-subtle racial discrimination towards him or us as a family. Nikolai’s father is from the Dogon tribe of the Bandiagara Plateau located in Mali, West Africa. His mother, my daughter, was a Peace Corps volunteer in a Dogon village when Nik was conceived. I distinctly remember my concerns for the yet-to-be-born mixed race child living in what I perceive as a racist country. Nikolai is now 15, yet I keep at my desk an email from his third-grade teacher sent following Nik’s presentation on the life and work of Martin Luther King. The teacher’s email, entitled I have a dream, reads….
“Martin Luther King Jr. was in our class today! He even sported a mustache and narrow, black tie. He successfully brought tears to all of the adults’ eyes when he told the class what he really remembered from his famous speech in front of Abraham Lincoln – (Nik/King) said: ‘What I remember most is when Martin Luther said his dream was to see little black and white children holding hands.’ OH! From the mouths of babes.”
With Nik in my life, I have had to examine my own racial discrimination. It’s been illuminating and allows me the opportunity to look at all forms of discrimination I might hold. I work on this every day. Please join me in working to ensure Via’s promise of an inclusive and respectful workplace is a reality.