“Now, this is a simple acronym. HERO. Uh, at Diversity Today, we believe it is very easy to be a HERO. All you need are honesty, empathy, respect and open-mindedness,” said Mr. Brown, speaking to the employees at Dunder Mifflin on the television show, The Office (Diversity Day). For those of you who have not seen this TV show, it addresses many serious issues, such as intergroup relations and diversity. If you have seen this show and you’re rolling your eyes at me, please bear with me – I have a point.
While it may seem ridiculous to use a comedic television show, that can be very offensive at times (read: most of the time), as my primary example of addressing diversity in the workplace, I think it is exactly the kind of example we need. On a surface level, The Office serves as comedic relief for most people, but when you stop to look at the issues it addresses, such as diversity, it actually sheds light on many issues within the workplace. If Michael Scott, the Regional Manager, was not so dramatic and ridiculous, many of these issues might be completely glazed over or not recognized as serious as they are in real life situations. It seems like today’s world needs to be shown very directly what goes wrong in order to recognize that an issue exists (See: #MeToo movement).
In reading about Diversity Training (2012) in the textbook, I was reminded about the Diversity Day episode of The Office, in which Corporate mandates everyone go through diversity training during work hours. The text (2012) states that these trainings are “meant to foster interactions between members of different groups (cultures, classes, genders, sexual orientations, etc.) and encourage critical thinking about diversity and its influences.” I chose this particular topic because, as we’ve studied thus far, the nature of applied social psychology is more than just observing societal patterns and behavior – it’s about intervention. There is so much discrimination within the workplace and I think that these kinds of trainings are absolutely necessary to bring about enlightened change.
The show does a great job of representing what a regular corporate office might look like in terms of majority and minority groups. A majority of the employees at Dunder Mifflin are White and heterosexual, but there is at least one gay man, as well as a Black man and an Indian woman. There are several theories that can be applied, but for the purposes of this week’s studies, you can clearly see both contact hypothesis and social dominance theory at work here. Michael Scott is infamous for his outrageous comments that can be very racist, sexist, etc., but on a deep level you can tell that he really cares about all of the people in the office (except Toby). Though it may outwardly appear otherwise, I think that having the experience of working with a (albeit, slightly) diverse group of people, Michael Scott’s actual, underlying prejudices and biases about other cultures and minority groups decrease over time, based on his direct contact with these people.
Furthermore, though each employee does not always get along with each other all of the time, they do come together as a team when it counts, thus social dominance theory. Even though they are basically sworn mortal enemies, (in another episode) Dwight still manages to protect Jim and pepper spray someone who is about to attack him. Though this might, admittedly, be the only time Dwight does anything remotely nice for Jim, it is the underlying issue of the intergroup support that is the basis of social dominance theory at hand here.
Television shows, like The Office, that have characters who display such obviously racist, prejudiced and sexist behavior, truly highlight the problems we have in America’s workplace, but also show the ways in which we can improve as a society. Mr. Brown’s idea of honesty, empathy, respect and open-mindedness would do a world of good. To quote Michael Scott: “You may look around and see two groups here: white collar and blue collar. But I don’t see it that way, and you know why? Because I am collar-blind.”
(It’s okay if you just cringed – I cringed writing it.)
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.