Let me tell you a story early in my career. I was a junior programmer at a large Australian accounting software company. They were announcing that day that the company needed to downsize some of the developer teams. A number of team members gathered near my desk to discuss how "one of them" was let go from the company. Turns out the employee they were discussing was gay and they were discussing how much more comfortable they were without that employee at the company.
For me this event had a massive change in the way I deal with my colleagues, I would never come out to them, never be my true self. People would often ask if I had a wife or siblings and I would often just give them vague answers back. If they did find out I was gay unfortunately in some circumstances people would assume I couldn't code or manage a project.
Although the situation has gotten a lot better in the last 10 years unfortunately there are still many cases of this happening, especially in the transgendered community.
This unfortunately isn't the only defining event of my career but I can say that companies are now being conscious of the culture they produce to avoid "one of them" situations from happening. Companies are now seeing that all employees are just humans, with their own strengths/weaknesses/goals/desires and that as an employer we should be focusing on being more inclusive.
Part of the inclusion process is understanding the human factor, get away from stereotypes, focus on the fact people are humans, evaluate people fairly based on how well they do the job and not on other unrelated aspects of their life. Remember there are human traits that transcend gender or sexuality, such as the persons skills, personality and team dynamic, and don't fall into the trap of thinking someone's gender or sexuality relates to the employable attributes.
What to take away
- Try not to use diversity quotas, get engaged in diverse workers, and individually encourage people you might think are a good match to apply. Multiple people at Microsoft joined due to encouragement from peers.
- Have policies in place that you stick with. Have a set of policies for your event or workplace that specify what to do if one participant discriminates against another. Have it fair so that you can act quickly. You might want to be diverse in your approach but your participants may not.
- If someone speaks up don't start a blame game. Just work through rationally through the facts. The quickest way to make feel someone feel disadvantaged in a minority is to not give them empathy or at least be perceived in acting. I've been in situations where I've had colleagues complain about behavior of a colleague and it appeared no one acted.
- Be careful about the jokes you make in public. I've had workplaces where a lot of homophobic jokes were being made without malice. I felt uncomfortable in this situation and years later they told me they wouldn't of made those jokes if they knew I was gay. Just don't put yourself in the position of having to apologize and keep thinks professional.
- Treat everyone as human, consider everyone has different backgrounds anyway and treat them as equals. Focus on the work and what needs to be done rather than someone's personal life.