Executive Order on Diversity Training Gets A Lawsuit

Today, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund initiated a lawsuit against President Trump, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, and the Department of Labor over Executive Order 13950, otherwise known as “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” Purported to keep un-American concepts like white privilege, implicit bias, and any subject that may cause someone to feel guilty out of diversity training for federal contractors, the EO guts these fundamental concepts from training designed to make our workplaces more inclusive. Coming from a President who failed to condemn white supremacy when given the opportunity at a presidential debate, the EO does not hope for an end to discrimination and harassment or even bring Americans together.

The lawsuit is based, in part, on the First Amendment. As you all know, the First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging the freedom of speech. Here, the EO prohibits some kinds of speech by federal contractors in their diversity trainings. The lawsuit looks like it has merit on this point. But, it will take some time to work its way through the courts.

Quite frankly, the EO was designed to end diversity training. Period. And, it has been effective. An October 13 New York Times article described how human resources departments have been quick to scrap plans for training. The State Department and USAID – the agencies charged with sending Americans to all corners of the world to represent our interests and help struggling countries – ended their diversity training.

Even the biggest pro-business group out there, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, thinks the EO is a bad idea. Along with over 150 groups, the Chamber sent an open letter to President Trump asking he withdraw the EO. Like the Chamber, the Business Roundtable said the EO was “already having a broadly chilling effect on legitimate and valuable” training that makes workplaces better.

Note, the EO only affects new federal contracts entered into after November 21 and quite possibly will be immediately withdrawn if former Vice President Biden becomes President on January 20, 2021. It’s possible that as the lawsuit progresses, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund will request an injunction to prevent the EO from going into effect. Stay tuned!

Diversity training that addresses concepts like harassment, microaggressions, and bias is essential to creating workplaces that are inclusive, innovative, and effective. Before you press the breaks on training for your org, consider what message that sends.

Begging for Leadership

Story time! When I walked into U.S. Embassy Lusaka, Zambia, I walked into an employee benefit nightmare.  Our locally engage staff (nearly all Zambians) were told one thing about their retirement benefits, but then received something much different and much lower.  While my manager had been working on this for a bit, it was squarely my problem to deal with and I was immediately taken as the enemy by much of the staff.  I had to manage up with all my might and advocate for employees while I could not tell them how hard I was trying.  I towed the company line of “this is what the benefit is until we can get it changed.”  Once it got changed and benefits massively increased, management got the glory.

This is what HR does or at least should do every day.  We work hard on behalf of employees while sharing management’s words.  It’s a thankless job often with zero glory, but when employees reap the benefit of our hard work, a swelling sense of pride comes over us.  When it doesn’t, everyone suffers.

For me, this is why it is critical to have an industry association that gets how tough it is for us and is willing to take on the burden rather than following business organizations like sheeple. An association that both represents us to the world, but also advocates to help us make life a little easier for the employees we serve. Sometimes taking hard positions even if it could cost our employers more money or take away some of the shortcuts we’ve been used to for so long.

For the past three years, I’ve watched the Society for Human Resources Management fail HR, saddling up to an Administration desperate to take rights away from our LGBTQ community, strip our workers of their ability to work, and ignore or “all lives matter” our Black and Brown colleagues. I’ve voiced my concerns to SHRM directly at Special Expertise Day before SHRM National 2019, I’ve spoken with representatives, I’ve asked folks to contact their representatives, I’ve tweeting my concerns repeatedly, I’ve spoken to Board Members. I believe I’ve done everything in my power to make change inside the organization. So, it’s time to go outside of it.

I prepared a Change.org petition asking for the bare minimum from SHRM:

  1. SHRM says “Black Lives Matter.”  SHRM can hold all the diversity summits, symposiums, webinars it likes, but until it recognizes that Black lives actually matter, all of that work means little. 
  2. SHRM advocates for the LGBTQ community.  SHRM did not file an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to find that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under Title VII.  SHRM has not expressed even a whiff of concern as this Administration as advocated that business should be fire or not serve our LGBTQ friends and colleagues.  SHRM said nothing as the Administration issued a final rule stripping our friends and colleagues of health benefits.  Instead, SHRM’s president enjoyed watching the State of the Union with Congressman Mark Walker of North Carolina – a man adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage.

This petition does not ask for an ouster in leadership, it simply asks for some leadership. For our Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, LGBTQ friends and colleagues, silence is violence. We should not be silent anymore. After all, as a very good friend once said, “You shouldn’t be in Human Resources if you don’t believe in human rights.”

If you would like to join the hundreds of folks who already have, please click here.  Thank you.