Author Archives: Neal Semel

Affirmative Action Guidelines

One of the misunderstandings about Diversity and Inclusion, is the role of affirmative action. I think of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity policies as some of many tools for managing WORKPLACE diversity. Simply put, Affirmative Action seeks to correct historical discrimination and Equal Opportunity Policies sought to prevent workplace discrimination. While these are tools to manage diversity in this setting, they are limited, especially by the exclusivity of protected classes to the individual jurisdiction

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Restorative Justice and The Power of All

When speaking of Diversity Matters’ Diversity Works: the Power of All. A community based venue for exchanging ideas, information and opportunities, we often stress the benefits of round the room facilitated exchanges to build linkages between organizations and the communities they serve and to allow the organization to learn about the cultures that exist in their communities. As I often stress that diversity and inclusion management is always about meeting the needs of the individual and the organization, this becomes a chance also for the communities we serve to also learn about the culture and operations of our organizations and institutions as well.
Another application of Diversity works the power of all is as a component of Restorative Justice. According to the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy (OPOTA), Diversity encourages sensitivity: The ability to consider the feelings of others and address people in a respectful and non-offensive manner.
In this context, Diversity Works: The Power Of All, can be a valuable tool. While often, Diversity and Inclusion focuses on Differences. It is essential to learn to work with and appreciate cultures different than your own. Often, in that pursuit, we fail to recognize and embrace the similarities we share. In the absence of this recognition of our similarities and acknowledgement of our shared humanity, empathy is not possible.
In order for restorative justice to occur, we cannot just simply mete out punishment for acts of discrimination or violence targeting a community or a member of a community. It is essential that the perpetrator, understands and feels the impact of their actions.
By participating in Diversity Works: The power of All, both parties in a conflict can come closer to this appreciation in a safe space with moderated conversation. Both perpetrator and victim, can gain valuable insights into one another’s reality by exploring culture, rituals, values, even food, music and art.
By simply sharing physical proximity and engaging in conversation over food and drink, a great deal of learning and relationship building is possible.

Belgium National and Local Police United States Embassy and Department of State

News Coverage of CVE Press Lunch with Abdirizak Farah and Neal Semel (05/07/2015)


De Standaard (05/08/2015): “don’t become too focused on the number of Syria fighters.”


“Whether there is one person who leaves his homeland to go fight in the Middle East or there are hundred, the problem is just as bad. A father, mother, or sister is affected. An entire community in fact, and especially: it shows that someone does not feel accepted, so he feels he has no reason to be here.” Abdirizak Farah, a Policy Advisor in the Department of Homeland Security, does not look at the problem of Syria fighters by focusing on the numbers. There have hardly been any youngsters from the US who have left for the Middle East, especially compared to Belgium. Farah is in our country this week together with Neal Semel a diversity expert from Columbus (Ohio) to meet with police, local civil servants, and social workers. They have visited Brussels, Vilvoorde, and Antwerp. “The figures on foreign fighters say very little,” Semel agrees. “We can always learn of the techniques here and try to transfer them on how we address things,” says Semel. “For us it is for example self-explanatory to not focus too much on language. There is no to impose on an immigrant what close he has to wear or how he has to speak. If they feel that it would help them to learn the language of a country they will do so spontaneously—because it helps them to integrate. It does not work to impose it. You have to find ways to make migrants feel at home without having to change themselves.”

ATV (evening News 05/07/2015): “Antwerp police receives diversity training from two US experts.”




Journalist: “’Diversity is real’. That’s the message that Abdi Farah and Neal Semel gave today to Antwerp police officers and social workers. The two Americans are in Belgium for a series of trainings on how to address diversity and extremism.

Farah: “There has been a significant focus on youth. It is always difficult being a young person, no matter what community you’re from. We have been trying to do our best to provide some kind of avenues of regress, some kind of an outlook for young people and to provide some information on how to get a job, How to get ahead, how to build a career.”

Journalist: “Columbus, the city where Semel comes from is a multicultural city, just like Antwerp with similar challenges.”

Semel: “If we don’t feel comfortable in our community, it is a natural reaction to look for acceptance somewhere else. And I believe a lot of young people, in particular that are embracing this kind of movement of fighting oversees and such, are really expressing that they don’t feel like they belong and they don’t feel valued. And I think the more we can find a place for them and make them part of our community, the less threat we are going to have of that kind of behavior being appealing to them.”

Journalist: “Semel travels around the US with this message and is now hoping to bring some change here in Antwerp too.”


De Gazet Van Antwerpen (05/08/2015): “Obama gains some knowledge in Antwerp”



“Two de-radicalization experts visited Antwerp yesterday with a number of praiseworthy messages and some surprising insights. “Your police officers remain normal people too,” they noticed.

There seem to be some differences with police officers in the United States. “With us, police officers come from all possible cultures or religions, but once they join the police, those differences disappear. Their identity then completely merges with their function. There are even some who prefer not to mingle with the people. The police we have met here have a broader perspective and remain themselves more, detached from the uniform. That’s impressive.”

This specific culture is definitely linked to the repeated police violence against blacks, but they do not want to expand on this. They are Neal Semel, and equal rights expert from Ohio and Abdirizak Farah, a civil rights advisor with the Department of Homeland Security, the US agency that with its 230,000 employees covers all security and migration competencies.

Soon, the Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA) and Chief of Police will discuss the US approach to CVE in New York and Washington. The Antwerp head of de-radicalization had on a previous occasion already traveled to the United States to gain knowledge. After this visit, the US Embassy in Brussels had proposed to bring the two experts to Belgium for workshops with the police, city agencies, and organizations. They gave two in Brussels, one in Vilvoorde, and on Thursday they were in Antwerp.

That both are clear examples of President Obama’s new America, was clear from the talk afterwards. “You fight extremism by giving them a sense of belonging, that they mean something: it is called ‘empowering local communities’.” They do not understand the ban of headscarves, whether it is in schools or at counter. “Freedom of religion and the right to free expression of your beliefs are inalienable rights, aren’t they? People of foreign origin have to integrate, “but they come as they are” says Semel. “Are they wearing a hijab? Let them wear a hijab.”

Abdirizak Farah entered the United States in 1996 as a homeless refugee from Somalia. He is an enthusiastic and diplomatic speaker, but when he talks about the boat refugees, there is fire in his eyes. “I know people who have drowned during the crossing. A friend of mine is a successful businessman in the US. One of his brothers has died in the Mediterranean. Who knows what he would have achieved. I am a Senior Policy Advisor now.”

Farah says that he has never spoken Somali to his children: “When you work hard, you get opportunities, no matter where you’re from.” But he also does not want to tell others that they have to do things the same way. “You speak the language you want at home with your children. Nothing is more important than your own values and the freedom to express them.”

But what do you do with the proportionately large number of Syria fighters in Belgium? “We do not want to comment on the concrete situation here, but one achieves results in de-radicalization by persisting, by time after time returning to communities and individuals. You should never hold a society responsible for the act of a few. There is also not one single profile that you can apply to all extremists. Eventually people from all cultures and religions want the same thing: a better life for themselves and their children.” The two seem to find it almost difficult to admit that there are also tensions surrounding migration in the US.

Neal Semel and Abdirizak Farah were also impressed by one other thing. “Your tolerance for homosexuals and transgenders. The grand Place in Brussels is decorated for Gay Pride. This is unimaginable where we come from.”

The Power of All



A comprehensive Diversity-Inclusion Program

Expand your capacity to serve an increasingly diverse customer base by fully utilizing the power of multiple perspectives.

“Companies competing in today’s fast-paced global market tend to favor the broadest definitions of diversity – ones that encompass differences in gender, racioethnicity, age, physical abilities, qualities, and sexual orientation, as well as differences in attitudes, perspectives and background.”

Harness the potential power of all the diverse people in your organization.

The Power of ALL is a comprehensive program that can be presented in its entirety as well as stand-alone segments customized for the audience. Programs may be designed for conferences, key-note speeches, workshops, in-house training, continuing education requirements, university-based programs as well as a series of on-site lunch and learn programs.

A diverse group of instructors use brief lectures, case studies, selected references, examples, self-directed assessments as well as guided applications.

Agenda Overview
1. Organizational systems – promoting diversity through inclusion in human resources policies and practices, diversity councils as well as team building

  1. Multi-cultural communications – understanding where people “are coming from,” and tools to involve all in meetings, decision-making processes, problem-solving and success building
  2. Diversity-Competent Language in Business: How the right words can make a difference – applying culturally-competent language in a variety of applications such as one-to-one conversations, memos, letters, conference calls, electronic mail, video conferencing, intra-net
  3. Building a talent bank – identifying strengths, using appreciative inquiry and matching talents to tasks
  4. Diversity awareness and application – reducing stereotypes, enhancing understanding and removing barriers to working with multicultural associates and customers.

Content Description

  1. Organizational system promote diversity via human resources policies
    and practices, diversity councils, team building

o  The business case for diversity

o  Company values

o  Formal and informal systems including diversity councils

o  HR policies & practices

o  Teams – permanent and ad hoc

o  Learning Resources: The Business Case for Diversity

  1. Multi-cultural communications and R*E*S*P*E*C*T

understanding where people “are coming from,” and tools to involve all in meetings, decision-making processes, problem-solving and success building

o   Conducting “modern” multiculturally-aware meetings

o   Using technology to manage global connections

o   Building consensus and implementing plans

o   Adapting to different communication styles

o   Giving and receiving respectful feedback

o   Learning Resources: Emotional Intelligence Works, Transcultural Communication in Nursing and Multicultural Meetings Survey

  1. Diversity-Competent Language in Business: How the right words
    can make a difference – applications for culturally-competent language
    (written & oral)

o  Update your language continuously — it’s not just P.C.

o  Put diversity to work electronically — online & e-mail tips

o  Overcome the pitfalls of spoken language

o  Learning Resources: Diversity Inc FACTOIDS and Style Guide

  1. Diversity Awareness and Application: Cultural Diversity builds understanding
  • Comprehensive definition of diversity
  • Stereotypes & other barriers
  • Multicultural & religious awareness including genders,generations, faiths, countries, etc
  • [1]Diversity-competent language
  • Build a talent bank

Overview: One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is creating a match between associates’ talents and the work tasks that need to be accomplished. This session includes tips on how to discover talents, interests and skills and connect them to job performance. For those concerned about retention and succession, an investment into a talent bank can have enormous pay off’s.


o   Strength identification & promotion

o   Appreciative Inquiry

o   Matching talents to tasks

o   Succession planning

o   Learning Resources:

Gestures in Different Cultures

What we’ve been taught about respecting people, particularly those from different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds just doesn’t work well for us today. We must consider each person as an individual and give respect based on what is important to him or her. For example, when greeting a person, Neal Semel explains that he waits for the other person to initiate the greeting which may be a handshake, a kiss, a nod, a hug or simply a word of greeting. ­ Thanksgiving around the World. Similar festivals to the American thanksgiving are celebrated in other countries such as China, Korea, Canada, Rome, Egypt and Greece.

In all Muslim and most Asian cultures, it is considered very rude to present or receive an object with the left hand. The right hand is always the hand of choice…. When inviting people from other cultures to follow you or to sit down with you, do not use the index finger to point to the location…. Never assume that someone from another culture wants to shake hands at all. This is a peculiarly Western greeting. Handed-ness in all Muslim and most Asian cultures, it is considered very rude to present or receive an object with the left hand. The right hand is always the hand of choice. In Islamic culture, the right hand is used for taking food, a communal event during which one scoops one’s viands with flat bread from a common bowl in the center of the table or mat. Scrupulous hand-washing is absolutely required before meals. The left hand is used for hygiene and toileting and is considered inherently filthy. This is one reason why the right hands of thieves and other criminals are punitively amputated. Not only does this present a major inconvenience to the miscreant, but he or she is thereby virtually excluded from any social interactions.

Although the rationale is not exactly the same in Asia, the right hand is considered more polite because usually more adroit and dominant. However, when presenting or receiving a very important gift or document (a business card or guest gift), both hands are used to register one’s careful appreciation of the object. (You say you are left-handed? Use the right hand, anyway. In these cultures, children are strongly encouraged to develop skill with the right hand regardless of natural tendencies.)

Top of mind never place your hand on the head of an Asian, even that of a young child (unless invited to do so). The crown of the head is the residence of the soul in Buddhism and Hinduism. Such a gesture may offend or even frighten away the soul — a life threatening situation.

Hand Signals When inviting people from other cultures to follow you or to sit down with you, do not use the index finger to point to the location. Such a gesture is used to direct or beckon animals. Rather, stand aside a bit, bow slightly to the individuals, and with a low, sweeping motion with the back of the hand, indicate your wish that they accompany you to the seating area. (Similarly, when hailing a taxi in a major city where many cab drivers are foreign nationals, never show the raised palm of the hand. This is considered an aggressive gesture. Rather, hold out the back of the hand at thigh level, about 18 inches from your leg. The driver will usually stop for you immediately.)

Do not use the familiar American “OK” sign or the “thumbs up” sign with people from non-American cultures. These can express rude sexual connotations — even sexual insults — in many societies. (A Westerner “thumbing” in an African country was beaten nearly to death by a car full of passengers who thought he was being offensive.)

Do not slap a foreign national on the back, especially an Asian. This is considered aggressive and invasive behavior.

The “hail fellow well met” intention fails to translate. Shaking Hands Two basic rules: (1) Never assume that someone from another culture wants to shake hands at all. This is a peculiarly Western greeting. (2) If you are a male, never attempt to shake hands with a woman from another culture unless she extends her hand first. The same might be said for non-American men, but it will not be so offensive (read invasive) to offer your hand to a man. Women may touch each others’ hands gently and warmly. In many cultures, the “macho” bone-crushing grip of Western men translates as aggression. Many Eastern and Middle Eastern men may just brush the palm of your hand with a very gentle pressure. Although this may seem effeminate to Western men, it is seen as genteel and well-mannered (non-aggressive) to other cultures. Practice this with friends and notice their reactions!

Playing “Footsie” The sole of the foot is considered “dirty” in most cultures. To expose the sole of one’s shoe to a person (sitting across from you) is tantamount to “mooning” the person. Very disrespectful! This may require crossing the legs in a manner that keeps the sole of the shoe pointed toward the floor, rather than the typical leg-crossing of most Western men that rests the ankle or calf of the crossing leg on the thigh of the other leg. Did you know that in Hmong culture (a mountain group from Laos settled largely in Wisconsin and other Northern states), if a woman taps the top of a man’s foot with her foot, she is indicating that she is available for sex? Who knew!! Never place your foot or leg in such a position that someone would have to step over it. This action is inconsiderate at best — rude at worst.

How to Run a Multi-Cultural Meeting

(1) TIME: How should time be scheduled? For example, avoid prayer time, holidays or fast days?

  • Minimize conflicts with major holidays and fast days. Check an interfaith calendar.
  • Consider prayer times and schedule accommodations including break times as well as a place for people to pray.

(2) COMMUNICATIONS: What are different communications “styles” that may be evident, such as silence denoting respect, avoidance of conflict, indirect eye contact, etc?

  • Know the audience’s demographics in advance. For example, find out if you will you need language translators or assistance for those with auditory limitations.
  • Be sincere and kind in your approach. Be attentive, exchange ideas and smile.
  • When addressing difficult issues, show respect to all present. Group guidelines may be helpful when the subject matter is likely to elicit conflicted responses. For example, Our primary purpose is to learn and have interfaith dialogue that furthers our mission: to build a multi-faith community which fosters harmony, appreciation, and respect among different faiths. We do not make political statements outside of the above described mission, nor judge, criticize or attack a religion, a person, or a country.
  • Be aware of body language and tone of voice. For example, handshakes are not accepted in all cultures and in different Asian cultures the slight bow is the cultural norm
  • Enhance everyone’s listening ability by allowing time for silence.
  • Use “soft” eye contact rather than staring.
  • Program flyers should be at least bi-lingual (English and another language that is likely to represent the participants.)


(3) PARTICIPATION: What can/ should the meeting moderator (leader) do to encourage all to participate and avoid disrespecting participants?

  • The moderator (as well as group members) needs to be sensitive to cultural differences and guide discussion with that sensitivity. For example, if there are many cultures represented in the group, consider spending a few minutes discussing various norms regarding time, participation, silence, disagreements and seeking clarity. For example, ask if there are any group/ community practices or customs that need to be respected.
  • Encourage an atmosphere in which each person can participate. A skilled moderator/ facilitator may stimulate discussion by inviting participation and searching for common ground ideas. • Agree to let participants finish their statements and avoid interrupting each other. The moderator may set time limits and respectfully enforce them. For example, say the following: “We want to allow everyone to speak so kindly limit your remarks to five minutes for this particular subject
  • Create opportunities for everyone to participate particularly for those who may not be comfortable speaking in a large group. For example, arrange separated discussion groups for just men and just women, particularly for those cultures that maintain gender separation. Other natural groupings may relate to topics or positions.
  • Handling religious, cultural and political differences requires delicacy. The facilitator may say something like this, “I guess on some issues we should agree to disagree, for example, on the issue of ethnic profiling.” A controversial topic like this does not need to be avoided even though it could produce a passionate reaction. It is not a matter of disrespect if someone speaks his/her mind in a considerate manner.
  • Lead by example. Avoid pointing out differences that might embarrass individuals, such as unique clothing or hairstyles. Avoid making public announcements about individual needs such as seating arrangements or food preferences.


(4) REFRESHMENTS: If food is provided, what should be used or avoided?

  • Your best friend is the caterer or event planner at the restaurant or meeting center. Be sure they know your food needs. Make sure they are aware of hidden ingredients such as pork products in gelatin and alcohol in some flavorings such as vanilla.
  • The meeting planner should ask about restrictions of attendees on the reservation forms which should include allergies and dietary health concerns.
  • People like choices. For example, lots of fruits and vegetables are universally appealing and healthful. A vegan option is appreciated by some people.
  • During certain holidays and seasons, consider some options as follows: fish should be available during the Lenten season and on Fridays; matzos during Passover.
  • Include the menu on the promotional materials. Don’t surprise the caterer or the attendees when people arrive.
  • Use signs on the food that include words as well as graphics, for example, a pig picture could distinguish pork ingredients.
  • Drink options should include fruit juices as well as tea, water and coffee. If you serve alcohol, keep it clearly separated from other drinks and foods.
  • Consider separate tables for meat and dairy products.


(5) SEATING: What physical arrangements should be considered, for example, an option for men and women to be seated separately?

  • The safest seating arrangements allow participants to select their locations. Some religions physically separate men and women.
  • If you are using roundtable discussions and/ or asking people to re-locate themselves, give them choices.
  • Handicapped accessibility is a must (including ramps, wide unblocked aisles and special seating needs.)
  • Don’t break up couples, friends or families who arrive together. That could make them uncomfortable.
  • Leave enough space between seats so that people aren’t touching each other.


(6) EDUCATION: What meeting-related skills would you like to improve, for example, facilitating meetings, communicating with people from different backgrounds, avoiding offensive or stereotyped language, etc?

  • More programming on multi-cultural awareness for meeting planners including how to communicate with people from different backgrounds.
  • Develop facilitation skills regarding how to phrase questions and seek clarity.
  • How to develop meetings guidelines.


(7) Other suggestions:

  • Use signs with words from different language groups, such as welcome, thank you and good bye including American Sign Language. Also use easily understood graphics for directions.
  • The moderator should be ready to step in and stop inappropriate behaviors. Have an agenda. The facilitator ought to keep participants on topic. To enhance teamwork, do some things together such as travel or attend special events of mutual interest such as a museum exhibit. Then, hold the meeting in that location.
  • Include examples and graphics from different cultures as part of the meeting content and in visual aids.

Diversity Friendly Meeting Tips

  1. Know your audience including their language, ethnic and religious backgrounds, genders, disabilities and ages. For example, if necessary, schedule breaks around prayer times. Make sure the aisles allow for mobility accessibility (space between aisles and tables.) Use names rather than pointing to people.
  2. Prepare for emergencies by testing routes prior to the meeting. Look for lighted and accessible exits, evacuation routes, audible and visible emergency warnings.
  3. Have assistants available to help those who will need it during and after the meeting for access to refreshments, rest rooms entrance and exits.
  4. Use a comprehensive calendar with major religious holidays. Understand observances including prayer, food and fast days.
  5. Provide options for food. Become educated about special food needs such as vegan, diabetic, Hallal and Kosher food requirements.
  6. Make sure your materials and audio visual aids work for all participants. Prepare your written resources in advance to have sufficient time for those with disabilities and/ or those who need language translation.
  7. Create a diverse committee to assist with all of these matters.
  8. Have fun without offense. Require presenters to avoid offensive content and language. Your diversity committee can assist with communications concerns.
  9. Develop meeting guidelines that show respect for all, that reflect your organization’s values, focus discussion on content and outcomes rather than individual or group criticism.