The death of Leonard Nimoy this week brought back many memories of the actor’s classic portrayal of Mr. Spock in the original “Star Trek” television series and subsequent movies, as well as his talents as a photographer, writer, and lecturer.
Spock, as personified by Nimoy, embodied many qualities that employers value in their workforce, such as intelligence, logic, and loyalty. But as I was lying awake at night desperately trying to think of some justification for paying tribute to Nimoy–who was, by all accounts, truly a kind, thoughtful, and intellectual man–in a blog about employment law, something else struck me: how “Star Trek” depicted the ultimate diverse workplace, decades before anyone was even talking about such things.
Other television shows in the 1960s were beginning to introduce racial diversity into their fictional workplaces, such as Linc Hayes in “Mod Squad” and Peggy Fair in “Mannix,” but Star Trek took the concept to a whole new level. The U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew included not only an African-American communications officer, an Asian helmsman, a Scottish chief engineer, and a Russian ensign, but also a first officer, Spock, who was not just from another nation, but from a different planet and indeed a different species altogether (well, half of him anyway). With apologies to those who believe men are from Mars and women are from Venus, this was the first truly interplanetary workforce.
While the other diverse members of the Enterprise crew did not (as far as I can recall) really act any differently from their American, Caucasian counterparts such as Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy, Spock was a different story. Being of two different worlds, Spock would occasionally let his human emotions show, but for the most part, he conducted himself in accordance with his Vulcan heritage: cold, unemotional, and of course, very logical. The ways in which his personality and conduct varied from his human counterparts often produced conflict on the Enterprise, as well as comic relief. But ultimately, the other crew members embraced Spock and appreciated the different viewpoint and perspective he brought to their traveling workplace.
Today’s diverse workplaces often deal with similar issues, as employees learn to live and work with co-workers from different cultures–albeit not different planets or, for the most part, species. We have learned, for example, that some employees may dress differently based on the customs of their ancestry. Or maybe that a particular female co-worker from a different background may not feel comfortable shaking hands with a male client. We know that during company events, the culinary offerings should include alternatives for those employees whose cultures do not eat beef or other types of foods. And of course, different cultural backgrounds often mean different religious backgrounds. Thus, we try not to make non-Christian employees feel excluded by having “Christmas” parties or scheduling events during those employees’ important religious holidays, and we accommodate employees’ beliefs by allowing days off for religious holidays, providing prayer breaks, broadening the dress code to allow for religion-based clothing preferences, etc.
Not being a “Trekkie” myself, I can’t identify any specific “Star Trek” episode where Captain Kirk had to pause in the mission of “going where no man [or woman] [or other gender] had gone before” to order a special vegetarian meal for Officer Spock, nor do I recall any instances when Kirk had to call time out from his inter-species romantic liaisons to cover for Spock while he had the day off from work for a Vulcan holiday. But hey, it could have happened. If the Starfleet’s Human–make that “Species”–Resources professionals were earning their keep, they would have made sure that the Crew Handbook addressed the need to accommodate the cultural and religious beliefs and practices of all employees–even the ill-fated, red-shirted, anonymous crew members who would accompany the show’s stars in landing expeditions. And if any members of Starfleet didn’t want to accommodate members of different species, I’d like to think that Mr. Spock would have told them that their opposition was “highly illogical.” After all, when it comes to adapting to changing workplace demographics, resistance is futile.