By Dr. Maria G. Hernandez
Latina Cubicle Confidential™
It happens to all of us at some point in our careers. Someone at a meeting or in a hallway conversation says to you, “maybe this isn’t something a person like you would understand …” or “you can’t do this, it’s beyond your abilities”.
Ouch, you have been officially “dissed”.
What should you do in the face of disrespect or worse, outright discrimination? Your first impulse may be to give the person “that look” and say “Excuse me? What gives you the right to speak to me like that?”
Unfortunately these remarks will escalate to a point that ultimately you may regret and worse, won’t get you close to your professional goals. Your response however, must take into account the source: Is this your boss, a co-worker, a customer, or someone in another department? Each situation requires a different kind of response because of the different levels of influence they have on your career.
Let’s first take the easiest one to address: a customer insults you personally about something they want or need while shopping for a product.
If you work in retail then you know that customer complaints are one thing and outright racial slurs are another. If a customer is shouting inappropriate remarks at you, then it’s best to say, “Let me call my manager to assist you.” Major employers know that they are obligated to protect you from customers or even vendors that create what is called a hostile work environment where employees are the target of racial or sexual slurs.
Most employers will train staff about specific steps to take that may include calling security for assistance. If you are the store manager, your best response is to say, “It’s clear we aren’t serving your needs, but I’m sorry we don’t allow this kind of language in our store. I will need to escort you out of the store now.”
When a co-worker is disrespectful or offensive, ask yourself if this is a person that has some measure of influence over your career. If they have little or no credibility with your boss, it may be best to walk away — if no one else takes their word seriously, why should you?
However, when that co-worker is capable of undermining your credibility to others, you must act. The first requirement is to put them on notice: I’m very uncomfortable and dissatisfied with your remarks and I expect this to stop now. Either we discuss this among ourselves to resolve it or we take this to our supervisor for review.
If you end up taking it to your supervisor, make sure you are prepared to stay professional and bring the facts before them to see you in the best possible light. It also helps if you bring clear, workable solutions to the table to address the underlying conflict.
When it’s your boss who is making offensive remarks, clearly you need to confront him or her in private. The conversation opener is to say, “I’m offended when you say these things to me. Are you aware of how offensive these comments are?”
It’s the one chance your boss has to redeem him or herself and claim ignorance or surprise. If they do so, accept the apology knowing that you have put them on notice that you won’t tolerate being insulted. If they cannot agree to change their behavior then you may need to state — it looks like we need to have human resources mediate this and I will contact them on our behalf.
Keep in mind that if an employer threatens to retaliate, your next step is to contact your county office of civil rights for help. The last thing to do is to allow inappropriate behavior to continue.
Your future income and opportunities for advancement depend on the right response.
Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. For more information, visit Latina Cubicle Confidential™.