If you were doing what tens of millions of others around the world were doing yesterday, you logged on to the internet, clicked on this link, and then argued with whoever was with you about the color of a dress. That’s right — the color of dress (please click on the link and I promise it will make sense, kind of). Here’s how the conversation between me, my wife, and my daughter went:
Daughter: “What color is the dress, Dad?
Me: “White and Gold! You think I’m blind??
Wife: “You really see white and gold?? Its obviously blue and black! Quit messing with us!”
Me: “You ‘re accusing me of messing with you?? You two are playing with my head. I’m going to bed!”
Conversations like this played out all over the world. Workplaces divided. Families argued. Celebrities weighed in. Sports teams seized the moment, with the Baltimore Ravens tweeting “We see purple and black, if you were wondering.”
So why am I blogging on this? Because the great dress debate is not dissimilar from issues that are often raised in claims of workplace harassment. Once person’s “innocent comment” is someone else’s “hostile environment.” For example, an employee may remark that a manager is a “slave driver.” Someone else may refer to a co-worker as a “cotton-pickin’ idiot.” To some, these are innocuous remarks. To others, they are racially-tinged comments that harken back the America’s ugly history of slavery.
What does this mean for employers? I see at least two take-aways: (1) managers need to be very careful about what they say in the presence of employees, taking special care not to use remarks that could be deemed offensive; and (2) when someone complains about a remark that you may perceive to be innocent; do not be dismissive – rather, pause to reflect on what it would be like to hear that remark when viewing it from that recipient’s perspective.
Now it’s time to go back and persuade my wife and daughter that the dress is obviously white and gold!