Stephanie Holmes: Creating Respect for Viewpoint Diversity

Philanthropy Roundtable recently spoke with Stephanie Holmes, founder of BrighterSideHR. Holmes works closely with business leaders on a wide variety of employment matters and enjoys helping employers navigate human resources issues. In addition to other services, BrighterSideHR offers training around labor and employment laws, including diversity and inclusion courses. In developing this content, Holmes consulted with dispute resolution experts and corporate leadership training professionals.

Q: Please introduce us to BrighterSideHR. What is it and what is its purpose?

BrighterSideHR LLC provides human resources consulting and training to employers of all sizes. We help employers maintain a productive, compliant and optimistic workplace culture. Our approach is unique in that we focus on employee conduct at the workplace, as opposed to imposing any particular ideology on employees. We cultivate respect for viewpoint diversity and value employees as unique individuals. In addition to offering general advice around HR policies and strategy, we help employers approach diversity and inclusion in a way that not only mitigates legal risk but promotes unity among employees.   

Q: Tell us your story — how did you get involved in this space?

I’ve been practicing labor and employment law for about 14 years. I started my legal career at a large, international law firm and then worked as an in-house employment counsel for a Fortune 500 company for almost a decade. In the past couple of years, I became particularly concerned with the approach of many human resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) departments throughout corporate America. While well intentioned, I believe the impact of measuring diversity almost exclusively by race and gender and creating work environments that stifle viewpoint diversity is doing more harm than good to both businesses and their employees. 

From my perspective, the mainstream approach is creating legal risk for employers and causing division among employees — the exact opposite of what HR should do. Indeed, the content of some mainstream DEI training programs is putting employers at risk for claims under Title VII, the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination, or equivalent laws. Depending on the approach, there is risk for hostile work environment claims based on race or gender, for example. I wanted to help employers take a better approach to diversity and inclusion, one that values diversity of viewpoints, appreciates the unique skills, experiences and background of each employee and cultivates a workplace environment of grace, kindness and respect.

Q: How do you help your clients apply the lessons of BrighterSideHR at their workplaces?

One of the ways we do this is through our workplace training curriculum. We have designed a half-day interactive seminar that combines legal considerations with courses to improve professional interactions and inclusiveness. Our courses focus on compliance, culture and conflict resolution:

  • Compliance: We take a two-track approach here. One session is designed for leaders and focuses on how to achieve compliance with discrimination and harassment laws, in addition to offering best practices for management in handling common workplace scenarios. A separate session is geared toward employees and reviews discrimination and harassment laws as well as provides practical examples of how to respond to common workplace scenarios.
  • Culture: We offer three courses on creating a brighter workplace with kindness and civility, becoming an empowered employee and adopting leadership tips for valuing employees as unique individuals.
  • Conflict: This course helps employees respect others’ viewpoints and promotes harmony within the workforce to achieve unified goals.

Q: How is your approach both similar and different from the typical DEI approach?

I think the intent of both approaches is to achieve a workplace where every employee is treated respectfully, and they each aim to achieve a healthy work culture. My approach to that end, though, is distinct in several ways:

  • Given my background as an employment lawyer, BrighterSideHR’s diversity training curriculum includes a review of discrimination and harassment laws, and all course content is filtered through a compliance lens.
  • We do not make any assumptions about employees based on their race or gender (or any other protected category). Instead, we encourage seeing and valuing employees as unique individuals, both from a legal and performance management standpoint.
  • We encourage respect for an employee’s personal political viewpoint, personal values and/or religious beliefs.
  • We focus on addressing employee conduct at the workplace, as opposed to pressuring employees to adopt any particular ideological viewpoint that is unrelated to their job responsibilities.  

Q: How do you achieve diversity?

I believe diversity is best achieved by embracing a diversity of perspectives, and by focusing on the uniqueness of each employee — appreciating different skills, backgrounds and experiences.

Q: Which questions do you typically ask an organization before pursuing training with them?

Two of the most important questions involve gauging an employer’s perspective on viewpoint diversity and his or her opinion on measuring diversity beyond protected categories. It also is helpful to understand the company’s current approach to diversity, relevant company policies, any prior training efforts and whether the organization is facing any specific challenges.

Q: What is your advice to those operating at a senior level of a company who are interested in pursuing training?

I think it’s crucial for senior leaders to be involved in these efforts — employees are the most important asset of an organization, and workplace culture can have a significant impact on productivity. I would encourage senior leaders to be thoughtful and proactive in how they want to define diversity for their organization and be prepared to respond to both internal and external questions about their diversity and inclusion efforts. The more clearly their vision can be known and communicated to employees, the better the outcome, as employees will know what to expect. It is also important for leaders to be aware of the training content of any vendors used to help ensure philosophical consistency.

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