While my staff is always very busy, we try to take time out on several Friday mornings throughout the year for training. Having a well-trained staff that is up-to-date on all aspects of our jobs is beneficial both to our employees and to our clients. Recently, we offered training for our staff by the Fort Wayne Metropolitan Human Relations Commission.
Many of us think of the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission only as the place employees go to file an employment discrimination complaint. But, our staff learned that processing complaints of employment discrimination is only one small part of what the Commission does. The goal of the Commission is to ensure equal opportunity to all citizens of Fort Wayne in the areas of employment, housing, education and places of public accommodation.
One way the Commission works toward its goal of equal opportunity is to provide training at places of employment, both public and private. Our training was facilitated by the Staff Attorney for the Commission, Dawn Cummings, and focused on cultural diversity, harassment and fair housing. Ms. Cummings started her discussion by telling us that not all discrimination is bad.
As an example, Ms. Cummings said when she is faced with a decision about which soft drink to purchase, she buys Pepsi because she likes it better. This is discrimination against the other brands of soft drinks, but it is not bad or illegal discrimination. Discrimination only becomes illegal when it’s based on such factors as race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, familial status and sexual orientation.
Ms. Cummings focused much of her training for our staff on the area of cultural diversity. Being aware of and sensitive to cultural diversity is extremely important for our staff since we deal on a daily basis with clients from many different backgrounds. We must learn about ourselves and learn about persons from other cultures to dispel stereotypes, she said.
It is not our fault, Ms. Cummings stressed, that many of us have preconceived notions of persons who are different from us. We may have developed these preconceived notions from our upbringing—from the neighborhoods in which we grew up and from our parents. It is our responsibility now to develop cultural competence and to respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures.
Ms. Cummings said she was not just talking about political correctness such as believing one thing and saying something else. She was talking about really valuing the worth and dignity of everyone. We must be conscious of the dynamics inherent when different cultures interact. We must strive to develop programs and services that reflect an understanding of diversity, she said.
In addition to training our staff, we invited Ms. Cummings to speak with our clients during our Employment Training Class. We wanted clients to learn what they should do if they believed they had been discriminated against in employment based on their race, sex, age, disability or other illegal reason. Ms. Cumming also discussed Fair Housing laws with our clients in the event they were discriminated against in their housing situation or when they were attempting to find housing.
The training provided to both our staff and clients by the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission was extremely interesting, informative and very professionally presented. We are fortunate in Fort Wayne and Wayne Township to have an agency like the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission that does this training at no cost to organizations such as ours. Thank you Dawn Cummings and the Commission staff for the excellent training.
Richard A. Stevenson, Sr.
Wayne Township Trustee
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