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Diversity in the Workplace- Lessons from Don Cherry

So much is written on diversity in the workplace so it is often disheartening to see intolerance tolerated but at what point is there intolerance versus opinions and freedom of speech. In reality freedom of speech when representing an employer is tough as opinions of individuals can assist or severely hurt a brand’s reputation. Diversity in the workplace is powerful as it opens people to think differently and really challenges the way people do things when people are different. I recently worked in an environment where my skillset and views often differed from many of the other management team I worked with. I was also the only male on the management team for a large portion of my stay (another male temporarily filled a role for a maternity leave) and I was excited to be in another environment. My skill set allowed me to provide value almost immediately as I often my thought process differed from many of the other leaders as I came from a project management and process improvement background and much of the leadership came from the creative side. I am not saying they did not understand project or process management and I did not understand design or creative thinking but and our default way of approaching solutions to problems was often fundamentally different. Diversity really challenges people in the workplace and opens up there thinking and often challenges them. Inserting diversity into this team I definitely think helped the group but I will say there were times that I clearly was prejudiced against as well as the other male at times as comments were often made saying “oh boys”, or “it is cause you’re guys” and even told we were “mansplaining” at times- I did not think of anything of it at that time but started to understand acceptance of diversity goes farther than ethnicity as if any of this was said on race or disability or a man saying something like this to a woman it would not be accepted. Diversity brings many positives into workplace as ideas and decisions are often discussed and decided with more due diligence but also can bring more sensitivities as individuals are less alike and often agreement is more difficult to derive and it is important to understand and support consensus. (I will get into what consensus is in another post).

Currently, factors in the world today have led to a fairly sensitive environment where individuals representing employers do not necessarily have free speech as they represent the employer sometimes even outside of work as damage can be done to an employer if speaking even when not in work hours. So I would like to take a little bit of time to explore some recent developments and analyze some of the decisions taken in protecting brands as objectively as I can in regards to protecting diversity. Recently we have seen some comments made by Don Cherry that led to him being let go from his role in Coaches Corner. I am not writing to analyze Cherry’s comment but on the situation – the polarization and the comments made and the responses of individuals have really shown the divide and how polarized people are of their opinion and unwilling to listen. I am not here to defend or judge Cherry but I understand Sportsnet’s decision as a business and the risks to the brand and the decision to part with Cherry. Cherry did not apologize but did say he could have used different wording than “you people”- this is probably the first year I did not wear a poppy the truth is I was not out much and in a weird way had difficulty buying one I did put in some money into a veterans bin where poppies were but with a little one didn’t want a pin on me when holding a 9-month-old. I will be honest I felt guilty when and almost was unsure when I was out if I would be judged due to me obviously being ethnic after Cherry’s comments. What I am saying is Cherry’s comments did have an effect on a group of people if they like to admit it or not.

I have an outlook that people are inherently good and Cherry’s comments even though not out of character as he has made some controversial comments in the past. Many people will point to Cherry and say his comments were racist or bigoted and that he should have been let go. If we do look at this issue and people are honest with themselves Cherry said something that may have been controversial and even racist but for years he has been put in a box to entertain people and paid to say controversial statements. I have tuned into Coaches Corner before and in reality, most of it was to see Cherry’s opinion on controversial topics. The question is it fair for a company to elicit controversial responses of an employee and then terminate them when they step too far? I am not sure of the answer but the employer is often clearly as much at fault for not setting the culture and allowing Cherry to have years of what many would call discriminatory comments. The question is are we to blame as well the viewers who tune in and in reality sometimes help promote these comments? Cherry has in the past made disparaging remarks about European hockey players, French- Canadians,  indigenous groups, There are many people that are against Cherry vehemently and others that are supporting Cherry but many of the really polarized have taken this issue and brought many societal issues that they feel passionate about to express their political views at the forefront and really using Cherry as a martyr. Some of these same individuals have now consistently been claiming that white male Canadian’s are being treated as foreigners. I apologize but this is definitely stretching this issue as much like Obama being asked for a birth certificate you do not have to feel that at times you need to validate your national pride in Canada.

For 34 years Cherry was on the CBC where tax-payers dollars were used to support his views which definitely did not support diversity, “you people” and “come here” are difficult to defend but still if you continue to poke a tiger you eventually get bit. The poppy literally is a symbol to me of fighting intolerance and bigotry and it was weaponized by Cherry many feel to incite the same intolerance it stood against and was fought for. I truly respect people that know Cherry personally such as Bobby Orr and Terry Ryan that have come to Cherry’s aid. I do believe some diversity education for Cherry would have been great but I will get into this further in my next post on Thursday where I will further analyze some of the polarization and the dangers of this to not just the workplace but society. The one thing I do know is I am not sure is if what happened to Cherry was truly fair as he was compensated handsomely to be abrasive and state controversial things that some of his viewers were thinking. This time with the changing demographic he read the crowd wrong and paid for it. (He probably could have said something else bigoted and been fine). What we can learn from this is clear- when you represent your employer make sure you represent them with dignity and class, diversity is growing and is powerful. Finally, I feel I am in no position to judge Cherry but the power of mediums and media that are public-facing are powerful and can often be a double-edged sword.

Please check out my next post on Friday as well as I continue to speak to this topic and will integrate Jess Allen’s comments and Colin Kaepernick into some of what diversity the workplace and targeted marketing and branding.

Fahim Moledina is the Principal Consultant for Opti-Syn Consulting and is a business leader with expertise in project/change management, finance, lean/agile methods, as well as marketing and sales.

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