Throwback Thursday: Target and its “Multicultural Tips”

Most companies espouse the virtues of diversity in the workplace and make a concerted effort to recruit people from diverse backgrounds and also showcase their multifaceted workforce. However, just because a company chooses to hire workers of different ethnicities, that doesn’t mean they necessarily understand how to respectfully treat these workers or that the workers know how to treat each other. Case in point: last July, three Target workers, Robert Gonzalez, Bulmaro Fabian and Pedro Garcia-Ayala, came forth to sue their employer for discrimination based on a document that described how to treat Hispanics that made liberal use of stereotypes and on the behavior of their immediate superiors who were said to use racial slurs. Although last month Target and its corporate lawyers were able to get California courts to strike the suit from the record as the plaintiffs did not file the suit in the right courts, this Throwback Thursday, instead of striking the tips from our memories, we’ll revisit them in hopes of showing companies what not to do.

The document which surfaced last year was issued to Target managers containing “Organization Effectiveness, Employee and Labor Relations Multi-Cultural Tips.” Below are a few of the noted “tips.”

a. Food: not everyone eats tacos and burritos;

b. Music: not everyone dances to salsa;

c. Dress: not everyone wears a sombrero;

d. Mexicans (lower education level, some may be undocumented);

e. Cubans (Political refugees, legal status, higher education level); and

f. They may say ‘OK, OK’ and pretend to understand, when they do not, just to save face.

As you can see, the tips themselves seem conflicted between reinforcing stereotypes and trying to discourage even more cartoonish stereotyping. The offensive nature of the former is evident, and the latter is offensive merely for mentioning what should be common sense. Naturally, the workers took their grievances to human resources, but their efforts were thwarted by their bosses who promptly fired them.

Originally, Target stuck to the company line in their statements regarding the incident, citing only their commitment to respecting individuals of diverse backgrounds. This is particularly alarming for the company considering they recently began a concerted effort to target the growing Hispanic sector with their marketing. After heavy public backlash, Target has issued an apology while distancing itself from the document, saying it was the work of one distribution center and not a corporate training document.

Sensitivity to different cultures is of the utmost importance at all times, especially when pursuing a new market, as Target was doing with Hispanics. There may be individuals out there unaware of what constitutes a stereotype and companies may feel compelled to educate their workforce on this fact, but it need not reinforce the stereotypes. The same can be said of how to handle situations where different cultures interact. It’s not just about representing the company well; it’s about respecting people as human beings whether on the clock or off.

This Throwback Thursday’s takeaway: learn from target, and make sure your employees and managers ditch the offensive stereotypes.

Cover Photo Source: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

Kaz is a Junior Executive at SJG. He earned BAs in English Writing and Business Marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University and is currently pursuing an MA in Advertising at The University of Texas at Austin. Outside the office, Kaz consumes gobs of media including but not limited to books, magazines, music, movies and television.