A Lesson on Social Media, Baseball and Diversity Training

By Mark F. Kluger and William H. Healey

Gather the whole family because this week we have a lesson for employers and those impetuous, quick fingered tweeters. For some of us, baseball has always provided invaluable metaphors for real life and last week’s all-star game added another.

All-star pitcher, 24 year old, Josh (don’t be a) Hader, got his clock-cleaned in the game, giving up 4 hits and a 3 run homer; yet that disaster paled in comparison to the firestorm he faced off the mound. During the game, some Hader hater retweeted the player’s racist, homophobic and misogynist tweets that he originally tweeted when he was 17 (and using a different Twitter handle). Got lesson 1? The internet is forever, so kids, don’t think that your nasty comments or efforts at humor will be undiscoverable many years later when you are looking for a job. And employers, you already know the tools available to you to check out your applicants and employees. See our previous pieces: http://klugerhealey.com/awesome-new-ways-to-investigate-applicants-and-employees/ and http://klugerhealey.com/using-social-media-to-hire-and-fire/.

Not surprisingly, following this year’s trend of high profile training, MLB immediately announced that Hader would undergo mandatory sensitivity training. In February, WEEI, a Boston radio station cancelled live programing for 12 hours to conduct training for its employees after a host used a stereotypical Asian accent to mock Tom Brady’s agent. Of course, the station would not likely have done so if he mocked Bill Buckner’s agent (hoping audience old enough to remember 1986 World Series). Twelve hours though? Even we can’t talk for that long. Starbucks also closed 8,000 stores in May for sensitivity training after a manager called the Philadelphia police on 2 black patrons waiting for a business meeting.

For all employers, it is important to consider whether sensitivity aka diversity training will have an impact on your workforce or is just useful to calm negative public opinion. Back to baseball. In 2006, Ozzie Guillen was ordered to attend sensitivity training for a homophobic slur he made about a reporter. According to then pitcher John Rocker, who had a similar situation in 1999, “The guy told me when I got there I had to show up to make it look good for people, so after about 15 minutes I left…and it satisfied the powers that be.” Times have changed and so has baseball. This time, three days after the all-star game, Hader spent several hours in his first session with Billy Bean, MLB VP of Social Responsibility and an openly gay former major leaguer–seemingly very different from Rocker’s experience.

Employers must understand that the diversity of the U.S. workforce and the consumer population is changing drastically. Recently revised census data has confirmed that by 2045, whites will be a minority in the country, with Hispanics at 24.6%, Black/African Americans at 13.1%, Asians at 7.8% and multi-racials at 3.8%. This should come as no surprise though because this year, the number of white seniors has surpassed white children. For those under 18, the cross over into a white minority will occur in 2020, and for newcomers in the workforce (18 to 29 year olds), current minorities will be a combined majority by 2027. These changes cannot be ignored.

Josh Hader’s experience last week may provide us with some valuable insight. He made a number of tearful public apologies, each time, surrounded by his black and Hispanic teammates, showing their support as he blamed his prior tweets on immaturity, ignorance and a lack of exposure to diversity. Professional baseball changed him right out of high school, he claims, as he became teammates with players from all over the country and world. That exposure, he says, made him a different person and his teammates agreed. A microcosm of the real world, over 40% the MLB player workforce is of color. According to Hader, joining forces with those from other cultures made him more open-minded.

As the inevitability of workforce diversity approaches the rest of the country, which the data so clearly demonstrates, training and preparing employees, particularly managers, to cope with these changes will be critical to maintaining a cohesive workforce. The avoidance of public embarrassment and/or employment litigation can be other super valuable benefits of effective, proactive training.  Our diversity training program, which we have fine-tuned over almost as many years as Hader has been alive, has helped many employers to stay ahead of the curve.  We’d  be glad to conduct it for your employees.