I recently read an article that Wawa, Inc. has been sued by a former employee who alleges that she was discriminated against on account of being gay. What was interesting about the article was what she alleged about how the harassment supposedly started.
The employee alleges that she participated in Wawa’s Gay Straight Alliance. She says that as soon as her supervisor was made aware of her involvement with the Alliance that he began punishing her — taking away her flex benefits and changing her work location. The employee also claims that he made fun of National Coming Out Day.
What is alleged in the complaint is a fairly common description of bullying or harassment that we see in complaints. What makes this unusual is that one of the reasons she was allegedly bullied was on account of her participation in Wawa’s diversity program. This program seems designed to combat prejudices and to work towards making a more inclusive environment for homosexual employees.
If this complaint is true, then at least one manager did not get the message that this was an important initiative to the company.
Diversity programs can be met with resistance by some employees who believe that the diversity program is giving minority employees more benefits than them, rather than simply leveling the playing field. Nothing exemplifies this more than the reaction by some to the Black Lives Matter campaign that has been posted in social media. In response to the campaign, some reacted by posting signs like All Lives Matter. Clearly, those who posted these signs felt that to say Black Lives Matter meant that other lives did not matter as much, rather than seeing it as an attempt to address perceived racism against black people. Perhaps if the message was Black Lives Matter Too, people might have understood the message better.
How the message is communicated definitely matters, but it is only one obstacle to a successful program. For diversity programs to truly work, there must be a commitment to them from the very top of the organization. There also should be outreach and training to all employees to explain the initiative, demonstrate that the company will not tolerate discrimination, and combat perceptions of reverse discrimination.