Is it offensive to ask someone for their opinion based on race/ethnicity?


This is a serious question just seeking the opinions of HR people. I've just completed my orgs harassment training. In one of the scenarios of the training, the company was launching a new product, and the manager asked an African American woman for her opinion based on her culture. Assuming she was in the meeting because she is a product or sales executive. I'm paraphrasing, the language used was not ideal but it's not really related to my inquiry. The woman was offended and said she wasn't comfortable speaking for all black people and that she had been singled out.

What I'm trying to think about/understand is, isn't it the company's job to do research and get input on how their products would do in specific markets, with specific racial/ethnic groups, how to price and improve them, etc. Is it only offensive because this woman's specific job isn't a research consultant whose job it is to gather this information based on research, surveys, focus groups, etc? I mean obviously, no single person or even a researched group can speak for all people. Was the offensive part asking her in her role as a sales or product executive? Now in my decades of work I have seen many people offer their opinions freely based on their gender, race, religion, ethnicity, "As an XXXXXX person this is what I think", but I understand offering it is different from being asked.

Thanks for your input


Just because she works at the company doesn’t make her the default, token ambassador for her race and she isn’t there to teach any time someone needs specific insights. Kinda creates a terrible dynamic where she now has these extra “responsibilities” that she can’t say no to because then it’s a “what’s the point of having diversity on staff if they don’t help us solve diversity problems!?!”

If you want to do research and focus groups, do them correctly.

Like many social interactions, it really depends on context. One of the benefits of having a diverse workforce is having access to an array of opinions and points of view. But before you start asking someone questions that begin with "As a black woman," it's very, very important that you have already established a rapport with this individual demonstrating that you respect her opinion based on her professional experience before anyone else. And I think it's also important to make sure that you don't make one person the "expert" on whatever group they happen to belong to as this might make them feel isolated.

I am disappointed when I hear rhetoric that being white means everything you say is automatically wrong. This kind of language reminds me of men who complain that they're afraid to say anything around the women they work with. Poppycock! Balderdash, I say! You really don't need to be so fearful. The vast majority of your coworkers are reasonable people who have no desire to get you into any trouble for no good reason. What kind of things do you want to say but are afraid you might get into trouble?

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