New Bellingham consulting firm offers multicultural awareness lessons for businesses

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 18, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - A new consulting firm is offering a service to local businesses that want to improve multicultural awareness in the workplace.

Kim Harris recently started Distinctive Voice Consulting as a way for company staff to have conversations and answer questions about race and culture in a non-judgmental setting.

Harris, a graduate of Western Washington University, said she started the firm because she felt there is a need as this area becomes more culturally diverse. She can put together presentations based on what company officials believe needs to be addressed. A variety of other topics can be discussed, including sexism.

According to data from the Washington State Office of Financial Management, Whatcom County's minority population (not including the Hispanic population) was 23,080 in 2010, up from 14,501 in 2000.

Whatcom's Hispanic population in 2010 was estimated to be 15,756 in 2010, up from 8,687 in 2000.

Workplace problems often come up inadvertently, such as jokes that touch on culture or race.

"Usually this happens quite innocently; the person doesn't realize they are offending a co-worker or customer," Harris said. "By talking about the difficult subject of race and class in a gracious and safe environment, I believe I can accomplish my goal one training at a time."

While specific issues can be addressed, the consulting firm is also available for companies that want to head off potential problems before they happen, she said. Management needs to have the conversation, she said, because many times it happens through a lack of awareness.

"Sometimes it's just a matter of people not knowing those questions that are insulting," Harris said. The question "What are you?" is an example, she said.

Plus, taking steps to ensure a bias-free workplace has its benefits, she said. It can mean less employee turnover and more positive customer interactions.

"The bottom line in business is to make money, and this can help," Harris said.

Along with multicultural awareness, Harris offers a variety of other services, including event planning, staff development training and press releases. For details, give her a call at 360-920-8114.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Business Blog at bellinghamherald.com/business-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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