THE BLOG
08/17/2014 04:57 EDT | Updated 10/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Oh, You Think the Ferguson Incident Could Never Happen in Canada? Think Again

"...I've put my listening ears on" was the response of Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson when asked, last week, why the protest in Missouri had a very different tone and demeanor to the police presence of the previous evenings. This response is the key to dispute resolution and harmonious diversity.

Unless you are intentionally ignoring the news you are aware of the fact that a unarmed, innocent 18 year old man was shot to death. He was black, the officer that shot him was white. The police force that this officer is a member of has only three black officers in a population with 70 per cent African Americans. Many Canadians are sitting back smugly stating how horrible and thank goodness that would never happen here, but if you believe this, you live in a bubble. Just look at what happened at York University last week. A hate filled piece was distributed by an anonymous group arguing the school would be better without people of different cultures. Hate isn't geographical, it is universal and based in fear of differences.

Every city, state, province, business and government in North American needs to face facts, the issue isn't diversity. Look at the demographics. We are diverse, the issue is inclusion. You can't have a culture of trust if you don't listen and include others views and try to understand their cultural beliefs. People only feel included if they feel value and if you are of a different culture in North America it is increasingly difficult to feel valued, whether you are of a different ethnicity, gender or age.

The issue is most people want to cook with the only ingredient they know, the past. The world is diverse, we are in a global economy, if your diverse workforce isn't heard they too will riot, they might not loot physically but they will become a disturbing element even unintentionally in your workforce.

My research has proven that people who are "different" process information another way because of the experiences that shaped them as they grew into adulthood. Think of how different the young man who was shot experienced his "formative years" from the officer that shot him.

Roadblocks to opportunity are created when people's fears override their desire do the right thing. Since I began this research in 2008 fear among employees has dropped to 9 per cent for non-diverse employees and 6 per cent for diverse employees. So if you are African American you process experiences in the workplace differently, than Caucasians. A young man I will call Kevin who was enrolled in our 13-week sponsorship program was taught by his parents to not look leaders in the eye. He thought that his job was to quietly do what you were told. Kevin grew up in Missouri. His employer, in another state, took this as a sign of weakness, or worse laziness. In my program he was assigned a peer who, using our curriculum (a virtual playbook for inclusion) learned that he wasn't aligning with the culture of the corporation.

He had to change, but he needed to learn the rules, his peer educator taught him the rules. He learned how to listen in alignment with the company, look people in the eye, take notes. He was also taught to take time to respond to emails or if you didn't know the answer, don't answer. In the company's culture this was a big "no no" and gave the mistaken assumption that Kevin was lazy. His peer taught him that he needed to respond immediately to emails when he had an answer; he also needed to let people know if he didn't have an answer.

Kevin, with his peer educator, was moved through the five stages of cultural: engagement, awareness, satisfaction, experience, belief and value.

These stages and his innate understanding of them are why Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson has been successful in allowing peaceful protests. He created awareness of the need for change, he walked through the crowds and said "talk to me, I will listen to you". He did listen and people were satisfied they would be allowed to protest. He shifted the protest experience, he took away the armored vehicles and let people's voices be heard, especially in media interviews, including a brilliant interview with CNN's Don Lemon. He believed and therefore engendered belief because during interviews he told the truth instead of pushing a key message. He described the fears of his 20 something children. And finally he provided value; he stopped the violence and let people express their anger and loss.

Now imagine if the police officer had been taught or even made aware of the fact that people process information and a playbook is required for building trust and respect.

It isn't legislated, it is experienced.

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