‘Safe Spaces’: Workplace Radicalism with a Corporate Logo

U.S. Bank isn’t just about banking. And Greg Cunningham wants everyone to know that. Cunningham, vice president of diversity and inclusion at the Minneapolis-based institution, is busy traversing the nation, coaxing bank employees to confront their inner racism, sexism and other attitudes that get in the way of a harmonious workplace. “Transforming a culture of 67,000 people is never easy,” he says. “You have to make sure that everyone knows that there is something in this for them.”

Reprogramming of this sort is a trend. Corporations are creating on-premises ‘safe spaces’ for employees presumably at risk of harassment by managers and peers. Advocates tout the practice as fostering teamwork and ultimately profits. Don’t believe them. Under the guise of addressing a workplace morale crisis, such ‘spaces’ actually create rather than resolve employee divisiveness. It’s a variation on that national behavior modification program known as “diversity,” which has nothing to do with a diversity of opinion.

It’s not exactly front-page news that corporations are partnering with radicals to weave multiculturalist dogma into all company operations. The guiding assumption here is that women, people of color, and sexual minorities are “excluded” and “marginalized” by white male-dominated enterprises, and hence require an extra effort by their employers to make everyone feel valued.

This is a straw-man argument. The idea that employers systematically marginalize minorities and women is absurd. Indeed, if anyone is being targeted for marginalization, it is the putative villains in this morality tale – white males. But because companies dread being tagged as “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic” or “transphobic,” they hire or contract with trainers like Greg Cunningham to browbeat employees (especially white ones) with pep talks, psychobabble and veiled warnings. He’s hardly alone.

  • On-Ramps, a New York-based diversity service, explains its purpose: “As you know, diversity, equity and inclusion are fundamentally important to us. Creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for our partners and ourselves is a core value that underlies all the work we do and the decisions we make.”
  • Various members of the Forbes Coaches Council recently compiled a list of ways in which employees can “feel included, appreciated and safe.” One of the priorities was to promote diversity and inclusion.
  • Mekaelia Davis, a diversity specialist with The Prudential Foundation, recently offered this blend of corporate and academic hokum: “Today, sexual orientation, race, class, nationality and other forms of identity has been (sic) embraced as a fluid spectrum. When combined with work place identities like tenure and function – companies are presented with an opportunity to redefine diversity and inclusion around the notion of intersectionality…”

One of the largest of these operations is Legacy Business Cultures, creator of a curriculum called “Safe Spaces: Recognizing and Preventing Harassment in the Workplace.” The program describes its mission: “Starting with an exploration of what genuinely respectful workplaces look like, this program explores the behaviors that lead to consistently respectful work cultures and those that do just the opposite. This leads to a discussion and exploration of the legal obligations (sic) that we all have to co-create an environment free of discrimination and harassment as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

And that brings us to the unspoken reason why companies hire these attitude adjustment services: insulation from lawsuits. For the last few decades, and certainly since the 1986 Supreme Court ruling in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, employers have lived in fear of being sued for creating or even tolerating a “hostile work environment.” Any faux pas – toleration of an off-color sexual joke, a mandate for black employees to abide by the same standards that apply to other employees, a refusal to designate a prayer room for Muslim employees – could result in a suit and a costly settlement.

Corporate diversity is a shakedown racket. Its practitioners exude moral righteousness, often employing cult-ish words like “embrace,” “confront” and “struggle” in their presentations. Underneath it all is a desire for transferring wealth and power. If you are a white male, look out: Someone wants your job.