Prejudice Vs. Discrimination – Which One Matters?

A manager might be  prejudiced, but if this individual does not discriminate, legally it does not make any difference.   We don’t care what people think, we care what they do!   Know the difference between these two unfortunate situations and know what might be actionable if it affects you.  When it comes to prejudice, thicken your skin and when it comes to discrimination know the rules.  Above all…always be the professional!

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If you have read Black Sales Journal before, you recognize that I frequently comment on racial prejudice, racial preference, and the effects of negative racial perceptions.  It is natural to provide comment on these topics as they represent the 8,000-pound elephant in the room and as a result are not discussed openly in most forums.

We spend time discussing how the Black sales professional can successfully use tactics to neutralize racial preference and how we all (all Black professionals) can nullify and improve negative racial perceptions.  We also face the fact that racial prejudice is a different and difficult beast and that we may never change it.   Psychiatrists often characterize prejudice as a deep-seated attitude.  We all are aware that something negative has been cast into someone’s personal life, it can have a permanent effect.

Importantly, we should recognize the relationship between racial prejudice and racial discrimination and how they manifest themselves in sales.

The Attitude versus the Action!

For the purpose of this explanation let’s define both of these:

Prejudice – Unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.

Discrimination – Treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:  racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.

(Courtesy of Dictionary.com definitions 3/5/2012)

So there you have it, racial prejudice is an attitude and a disposition.  It can reach deep into ones fiber, but an individual will never be tried in a court based on this attitude, as it is not a crime.  If a customer has this attitude, they still remain a viable customer for someone, but possibly not for a Black sales professional.  If your employer has this attitude it is unfortunate yet as long as they make objective and meritorious decisions, they are not guilty.   In other words they can be prejudice but not discriminate strange as it may sound.

Racial discrimination is a different animal as it is action oriented.  A distinction made on the basis of race can potentially be afoul of the laws and regulations, and is almost always ethnically wrong.  It goes without saying that racial discrimination is unfair and although a customer is free to do anything they want, in the case of an employer it could be legally actionable.

The Vicious Circle

The relationship between prejudice and racial discrimination is suggested to be ‘circular’; meaning one leads to the other.  You document racial discrimination but you talk about prejudice as someones disposition or attitude.  Racial discrimination might mean that you get no ‘call-in’ prospects, bad territories, or no house (orphaned by another rep leaving) accounts.  Discrimination may be hard to prove, yet there is evidence, especially when you are able to compare the situation on a relative basis between all sales professionals at a location.  Know what extras you get and how well you performed when you get the chances and if you feel aggrieved read Black Sales Journal 3/9/2011 When You Feel Screwed  – Three Steps to Getting Help.

I make the suggestion that from the standpoint of professional sales that we realize that the most important activities that we can undertake are as follows:

  • Look for and expect fairness from the managers that we work for and be prepared to professionally point out inequities, in a professional manner, as they happen.
  • Document important milestones and activities correctly recognizing that it is “not what you know, it’s what you can prove!”
  • Master your company’s performance system (Black Sales Journal 1/10/2011 – Preparing for the Performance Review Discussion).  Always be pro-active and prepared.
  • Document every thing you get and what you don’t get.  Know the prospects, house accounts, and special benefits you get, and document them well.  Especially document the situation if you are not getting any.  You will need to know what others are getting to have a chance of success.  The facts count.
  • Be the expert on you! Know your sales totals, close ratios, and what percentage of your success came from the company giving you prospects or accounts.

When Bad Gets Worse – Racial Harassment

The unfairness of racial discrimination creates frustration and ill will.  Things are even worse when there is racial harassment.  Racial harassment normally comes from the employer and can emanate from management or coworkers.  A strong example of this is the Montrelle Reese vs. ThyssenKrupp (see Black Sales Journal February 13, 2012).

Racial harassment has a primary purpose of demeaning and driving an individual out of the particular work environment.  It is akin to racial bullying and has no place anywhere, especially in the work environment.  Making someone miserable is awful, and anyone who witnesses it and does nothing is full of fault as well.  It makes no difference as to the colors involved.

Know the facts and know your options.  Most importantly, recognize that acts of discrimination, harassment, and bullying may be actionable, but prejudice is not.  It is an attitude.

Additionally, always be the professional.

Your comments are welcome. You can reach me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.com.

Quit or be Fired? The Choice Might be Yours!

Lose Your Job the Right Way

A conversation today in the sales department:

Your Manager – “You are not getting it done.  Your territory is underdeveloped, and we are prepared to go in a different direction.  We are prepared to terminate you effective immediately.”  He goes on to say, “However, if you would prefer to resign we would be willing to extend some benefits that you would not get otherwise.  We would request you produce a letter of resignation and sign a severance agreement.”

You – “I am not sure of what I should do?  I need to think about it.  I will get back to you tomorrow.”

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There is nothing gracious about this moment.  There will potentially be a moment when you realize that you are probably going to be taking your talents elsewhere. Of course it may not be your choice.

Since there is nothing gracious about any of it, you should understand that in most cases as this is not personal, it is business.  Business can be cold sometimes…actually frigid might be a better word.

Let’s talk about a decision that could affect your future.  The implications affect both your current and future employment, and you should know them now as when the going gets rough, you don’t want to be deliberating while steeped in emotion.

Should I Resign?

Most sales professionals will deal with this in their lives at some point.  Whether it is because of lack of ability, weak product, poor territory, out-of-line pricing, or some other factor, it is not uncommon to reach the end of the line with your employer.  The Black sales professional have even a little more to be concerned about as credibility for future jobs comes at a premium.

If you have been on a sales performance program (see BSJ 4/30, Are You on a Sales Performance Program?  Can You Beat it?) you recognize that one of the common features is that there is usually a trigger date; that date which termination is imminent.  On this date you are going to have to make this important decision.

Apart from the obvious reasons for importance, you are faced with some important alternatives.  Here is why it is important:

  • Concerns with Unemployment Compensation –you normally don’t get it if you voluntarily leave your position.
  • Your need for employee benefits – this problem happens whether you resign or are fired.
  • Concerns with credibility and marketability - as it would concern future employers may be preserved. This is not as prevalent in sales, but certainly is true in other occupations.

When you face this moment, you must realize that the sales occupation is a little bit different than many other professions in the fact that terminations are not wholly uncommon.  In almost all situations, the objective of the employer is to quickly end the employment relationship.

At this point, you may want out as well, it is how it is done that is important.  In some states and situations, resigning can rob you of the rights to your unemployment benefits.   These benefits could be your lifeline while you are out of work.

Resigning may give you an opportunity to negotiate the terms of your resignation.  A lot depends on the strength of the ‘case’ against you and how badly they want you out.  Negotiation may be a strong word in this case, but you might be able to get some better terms for your termination.

Should I Get Fired?

Being fired evokes strong emotions.  Obviously it is a still a termination, but it sometimes creates a feeling of powerlessness and victimization.

Aside from the emotional, this termination can have its good and bad points as well:

  • You normally get a severance package. Nothing comes without exacting some price, and in this case it probably will be your right to an employment action of any type.  Remember, once you sign the severance agreement, you are ‘toast’ regarding any action that you may later seek.
  • Most sales professionals don’t get fired for doing something egregiously wrong; they get fired for not producing the right sales numbers.
  • Sales, as an occupation, differs from many other positions in that there is a minimal stigma to getting fired for lack of production or effectiveness.
  • If there is a ‘package’ of some type as an incentive for leaving quietly, you will probably have your noncompete agreement copied and put in front of you as a part of any severance you get.  You may want to negotiate this carefully as your ability to work for another employer is dependent on not having a restriction!

Terminated for Cause?

This is the exception to all of the rules.  If you have done any of the ‘infractions’ that result in a legitimate termination for cause, you could potentially leave with nothing.

These infractions include, but are not limited to:

  • Intentional acts of fraud against the company
  • Stealing from your employer
  • On the job drinking or drug use (as defined by the employee handbook)
  • Intentional breech of company policies
  • Wanton damage to company property

Some Points to Remember

We are talking about sales personnel, and that is a defining point.  I am pointing out the fact that even the best sales professionals find themselves in situations that result in termination.  They move on and find success elsewhere.  It is the way it goes.

When your previous company is contacted regarding your role there, they are extremely limited as to what they will say.  They normally only give the following information:

  • Verification of employment and title
  • Verification of dates of employment
  • Verification of salary at termination

Larger firms stick to these numbers and go no further.  None of this is incriminating.

Make a wise decision based on calculated information.

Always be prepared.

Your comments are welcome.  Contact me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.com.