I am the only white male that works at my restaurant. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It wasn’t a conscious choice, nor is the particular makeup of my crew the “best” or “right” way to be. But it’s how the chips landed when I placed hiring the best people as my target. In Washington, D.C., in the restaurant business, if I went into the hiring process with even a slight preference toward my own gender, national origin, or race, I’d do my business a great disservice.
At my restaurant, my small staff has people from the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, France, and Ethiopia. We have 8 men and 8 women on the team. We have team members who are Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, and Protestant. We have team members who are Latin@s, African-Americans, Black (not American, thus not “African-American” – you’d be surprised how confusing that terminology is for people), and then there’s me, the token white guy! We have people who were born here, people who emigrated here illegally, and people whose papers are in order or in process. We have people with kids and people without kids. We have an openly gay team member. We have team members in interracial relationships. We have people for whom English is easy, and those for whom English is a work in progress.
Yes, I work in a Benetton ad.
Diversity isn’t just some liberal buzzword. It’s actually a best practice in business, and in life for that matter. Here’s a few reasons why:
Everyone has someone to relate to.
Want to know who files claims with the EEOC? People who are pissed about the way they were treated, and felt like the company didn’t address it when it was brought to their supervisor’s attention.
But take it one step back: who feels that way? People (a) who get treated poorly by someone at the company, and (b) who then have no one to talk to about the situation (or no one who’s effective, anyway).
When the workforce is 90% one kind of person and 10% another kind, you can bet that someone in the 90% will feel emboldened to treat someone in the 10% less than kindly.
An example: If my staff was 14 white males and 2 females of color, what are the odds that one of the white dudes on my team would say something stupid to one of the women? The fact that my team is diverse makes the likelihood of a bad culture that allows discrimination, harassment and the like much less likely to gain a foothold.
But beyond that, if someone makes a stupid decision and engages in illegal behavior in this arena, most potential victims (in this case, other than me) have at least one coworker with whom they have things in common. As a business owner, I have a vested interest in keeping this dynamic alive – not only does it reduce the chances of (a) the culture going bad AND (b) a stupid move blossoming into a full-blown federal case, it increases the likelihood of getting the information on the matter to ME, the decision-maker-in-chief.
And one more thing – because I serve guests face to face as the way I make 95% of our revenue, the fact that my workforce mirrors my guest pool makes good sense. Not only do we speak multiple languages fluently (English, Spanish, French, Amharic), we look and sound like just about anyone who walks in the door. That’s more valuable than I can quantify.
More opinions, more backgrounds, more information = better decisions.
I’ve been in the restaurant business for a long time, but you can rest assured that there’s nuance that I miss. Completely factoring out race, religion, ethnicity, language, gender…I still miss random details. And I’m a detail hawk…I can spot a light bulb at the wrong wattage from 100 yards away.
My job is to make correct decisions. I almost always have less information than I need to make a perfect decision.
One way that I give myself a leg up is by recognizing that I have blind spots. Every one of us does. But if my job is to make a perfect decision, and I know there are angles that I can’t see because I’m me, how awesome is it that I have solid relationships with representatives of a lot of other viewpoints and knowledge bases?
Reinforce that your viewpoint is just one viewpoint, and not the “correct” one.
I’ve worked with crews that look exactly like me. That’s a quick path toward thinking your worldview is “correct,” and everyone else’s is “wrong.”
I’ve also worked with crews where everyone is of one race or background except me. And for me, that was a quick path toward painting with a broad brush, reinforcing stereotypes and feeling like I had to constantly remind myself that I was still just looking at a small sliver of humanity. But I fell victim to a lousy mindset on more than one occasion, no doubt. That team sucked, and it wasn’t because of their race, gender, or anything else. They were just a bunch of shitty workers (with a few glaring exceptions, who I took with me when I left).
My viewpoint, my politics, my ethnic norms, my privilege, are all just one set of each of those.
Here’s a good example: I’m not a liberal whack-job because I think I’m incapable of advising Black folks on how they should feel about police brutality. As someone who works all day, every day with people of color, I recognize that I’m incapable of fully understanding their experience, and as such I respect that if they say they feel a certain way, they do.
Compare that with the way some of your friends and family dismiss police violence as a result of “not following the rules,” or say they’d be more likely to listen to the protestors “if they’d stop breaking laws.” It’s been my experience that some of the loudest voices against equality have very few relationships with people of races and religions other than their own.
Or as one of my team members said the other day, “how many Muslims have the people in some random town in Alabama ever even seen down at the Walmart?”
It’s hard to hold onto prejudice when “they” start having names and stories. It’s hard to hate “them” when you’ve been through rough days, rough projects, rough shifts side by side with them.
If you want your voice to matter, and you have an interest in not just proving yourself right, but in actually being right…here’s my advice: create actual relationships with people who look, sound, and pray nothing like you.
So that’s all I’ve got for today, kids. If you like what I have to say, please like and share my post, follow my blog, put a picture of me by your bed, or name your first born after me.