Dr. Diversity

The security slogan for the post-9/11 age has been, “See something, say something.” When it comes to insensitive remarks in the workplace, the motto could be, “Hear something, say something.”

Karen Hoelscher, an education researcher who studies student identities, remembers being labeled “Dr. Diversity” by her older, male colleagues at the start of her career. Then, she was too bashful and too concerned about tenure to speak up when they made insensitive comments.

Even if a racial joke or discriminatory remark is humorous, it should not go unchallenged. The daily interactions are what make a workplace tolerant and supportive of everyone.

Too often, we laugh at the joke and then later wish we had said something. To avoid that regret, it helps to have a few stock replies at the ready. Hoelscher suggests:

  • “I’ve always thought of you as a fair-minded person, so I’m surprised to hear you say that.”
  • “Please don’t use that language when I’m around.”
  • “I’m sorry – what’s so funny?”

Even if the remark does not offend you, others will be glad that you had the courage to undermine the insensitive comment.


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