Rita Pettiford’s Guide to HR and Diversity

Rita Pettiford is a human resource expert with over two decades of global work experience with different companies in different industries. Recently, Rita returned to one of her alma maters and gave a managing diversity class at Rutgers Business School-Newark a talk centered around diversity as it pertains to HR. The following are a few key points which she emphasized:

  • Speak Truth to Power: When a person who holds a position considered to be above yours, from a hierarchical perspective, asks you for an opinion or thought, your response should always be truthful. It does not pay, in the long run, to try to answer in a “what you think they want to hear” fashion. Answering in a manner other than truthfully only serves to stifle you as an individual in the organization. Concerns and issues that you or others may be encountering will never see resolution unless truth is offered, especially when asked. Of course, this is all to be done in a respectful and workplace-appropriate manner.
  • Keep Your Cool: You will come across many who are different from you in the organization in which you wish to work. You will definitely come across at least one person whom you will find it difficult to work with, for whatever reason. After being in a myriad of conflicts ranging from having to remove someone from the organization to having another person wanting to fight her, Rita strongly recommends that keeping your cool should be the number one thing to remember in times of distress. Situations should always be dealt with, however firm, but your calm demeanor should never be absent. This serves to avoid escalating situations and preserving your overall image in the organization.
  • Say it! Some People Don’t Know: In Rita’s example, she had a coworker who would call her “Ri” and immediately require her attention the moment Rita walked in the office. Rita did not enjoy either of these things and decided to inform her coworker that she would rather be called her full first name and would greatly appreciate it if she could get her morning coffee before delving into the day. The coworker apologized and expressed how she did not intend to offend or insult Rita at all. The two got along great after that conversation. Often, conflicts with a coworker can be resolved rather quickly as they are misunderstandings or stem from incorrect assumptions. Realize that not everyone thinks or has the same habits as you. If have concerns, say it. In most cases, the other person is unware of what he/she is doing.
  • You Can’t Know Everything: When dealing with others of different cultures or backgrounds than you, no one is expecting you to know every single mannerism, norm or what constitutes disrespect in each and every scenario. The best you can do is simply be sincere and apologetic when you commit a mistake, which you undoubtedly will. Be in the state of mind that you will commit a mistake and know that situations are often magnified when there is a mad dash to cover up a mistake.

Where these points were specific in a class regarding managing diversity, these points are not only contained to a classroom. We encounter diversity everywhere. Since many people spend a large amount of their day in an office or within an organization, learning to interact with those around you helps you to be more productive as well as less stressed. Our days are taxing enough without the added weight of a conflict with someone with whom we interact on a daily basis.

Ashley Morales is a Marketing Intern at C2G Partners while attending Rutgers in Newark, NJ.