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Looking beyond the legal definition.

By Nancy Bartosek

Employees needn't be members of a protected class or the victims of overt hostility to feel they are in an unfriendly, unwelcoming environment. So businesses need to look at workplace hostility with expanded vision, says Christine Riordan, professor of management in the Neeley School of Business at TCU and a leading authority on labor-force diversity.

"A situation doesn't have to reach the level of legal status to be costly," she said.

The good news: "Employers can take many practical, proactive steps to prevent or address the factors that contribute to perceptions of hostility in the workplace," she said.

Here are steps companies can take:

- Strive to recognize all forms of discrimination, including those that are overt, subtle and unintentional.
- Implement strong, clear organizational policies and practices explicitly encompassing all forms of discrimination and harassment, not just those that are legally actionable.
- Organize training programs in multicultural interpersonal skills, and in recognizing and eliminating biases and stereotypes.
- Hire workers who display multicultural tolerance, and terminate employees who persist in behaving inappropriately.
- Require those in authority, from top managers to unit supervisors, to intervene in cases of discriminatory or harassing behavior, and to exhibit the desired behaviors.

Riordan, Melenie Lankau of the University of Georgia and Julie Holiday Wayne of Wake Forest University co-authored "It Is All in How You View It: Factors Contributing to Perceptions of a Hostile Work Climate," a pivotal chapter in Diversity Resistance in Organizations. The book is scheduled to be published in spring 2007 by Lawrence Erlbaum.

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