A Business Curse Word For The Ages: Diversity

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

 

I’ve spent the better half of my career immersed in work environments that had to keep a watchful eye over things like diversity & inclusion. The work felt like something I should be proud of — seeing as though it is predicated upon providing equal opportunity to people who have often been outcast based on everything from race to physical disability. At the same time that I was busy being proud, I found something interesting among my HR peers and other internal partners. This interesting tidbit was: Nobody “really” cared about diversity and inclusion.

Sure, we had several funded and active programs to quote, unquote “level the playing field”. We met regularly to look at how we were making strides with our Affirmative Action Plan and goals. For good measure, our leadership would even make it their business to make a very poignant and seemingly genuine speech at our African-American Affinity Group Scholarship Dinners or our coveted Black History Month Celebrations.

Still, very few in the organizations I’ve both worked for and heard about via the anecdotes of similarly-situated colleagues truly cared about diversity. It could be read between the rolling eyes, I witnessed when white hiring managers were forced to pull together a competitive slate of candidates instead of hiring their friends or others from their network. It was evidenced, when in one company I worked for — the administrative pool was 80-90% white and left us consistently having to answer to our partners in the Diversity Group about why we could never manage to hire more people of color with such high availability and capability numbers.  It became blatantly clear that no one cared, when even in HR, people of color were better educated and had stronger backgrounds than the bulk of the white professionals working for the company – yet we had to consistently answer to these people who had no clue. The disdain, jealously, and surprise oozed as I watched my white counterparts half-smile or as others call it “smized” with wonderment in their eyes as I spoke up for myself in meetings. The kind of “who hired her, she’s so articulate and smart” looks, but I digress.

I spent over 10 years in HR and really never met a person that wasn’t of color who truly cared about Diversity. Scratch that, even people or color gave up on the promise of diversity in time when they realized the purported efforts never matched the actual outcomes in real life. It in turn made me want to fight for the people I served more. It is the reason that I not only revived the otherwise defunct, African-American Affinity Group at my last job, I also ran and got elected to President in the group while working in HR (which had never been done and was frowned upon). When it came time to work with a national organization to help reformed youth who ended up in the prison system and I knew it was simply a superficial endeavor on the part of my then-employer — I raised my hand to manage the program. There were no shortage of hurdles I had to overcome in getting these stellar gentlemen hired for a program that was allegedly supported from the top. Oh, but somebody tell me again about how ‘diversity’ is so important.

Somebody, anybody share that statistic we have all run into the ground about how teams and organizations are more “innovative”, “productive and “profitable” with a diverse team and leadership behind it. Now that I have effectively left “The Matrix” that is Corporate America, I see why both the concept and application of diversity is troublesome for so many companies and the people that run them.

Here are some thoughts and questions I have:

1)  When we really break down why any diversity, inclusion and or anti-discrimination laws exist we must automatically return to the root cause of it all which is the anti-color sentiment on which the U.S was built and continues to run (a.k.a slavery, Jim Crow Laws, Segregation, Mass Incarceration of POC etc.).

2) If it is truly part of the founder or CEO’s moral and ethical fabric to have an “appreciation” or “love” of all human beings and their unique contributions, why do you need a group or department or a law to guide your efforts to not only include all human beings; but see that they are given a  a fair chance to be hired, developed and afforded equal access to opportunity?

3) How is it that companies have Affirmative Action Plans that get diluted and minimized to quotas in which they hire just a few POC, females etc. to appear diverse enough to keep their government contracts; but still leave some cushion for the latitude they crave to hire their golf buddies, neighbors or family members (who possess little to no requisite skills)?

“Diversity” is like a curse word in business. What it screams to CEOs is that you cannot just hire people who walk, chew, think and look like you. For the most part, they all want clones of themselves at every level of their company and the only time it even strikes them as plausible to look beyond themselves is when they can’t find the acumen they need to be profitable in their sea of clones. You shouldn’t have to be coerced or convinced to hire someone different if you are truly for all people. Diversity meetings shouldn’t have to happen every week or every month if you genuinely care and champion it. Moreover, the government shouldn’t have to regulate how you do business by dangling the carrot of money in front of you to not discriminate and provide equal opportunity. The fact that all of the practices I just mentioned are so pervasive, let’s me know that less of you care about diversity than you are willing to admit.

Before you go building that new diversity program or hiring that new Director of D&I, I would highly suggest you think about why they are needed in the first place.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with my friend, Mark A. Dyson host of The Voice of Jobseekers Podcast along with another friend, Chris Fields, Owner of Resume Crusade. We discussed many of the double and triple standards I discussed in this article. If you are interested, take a listen below and share your thoughts in the comments. We appreciate you!

TED at IBM Recap: 3 Women Sparking Big Ideas and Activation

ted-at-ibm-2016

I had the esteemed privilege of attending TED at IBM last month in San Francisco. Admitedly, I was prepared to be impressed by their usual roster of inspiring speakers making strides in every field from technology to healthcare. However, there was something more at play at this year’s TED at IBM. I got the sense that IBM, the company wanted each of us to walk away with something more than what we had in previous years. My takeaway was the following: Although things in the world aren’t right at the moment, don’t fret as there are people working to solve the ills of society and more importantly we all have a duty to contribute in the same fashion. While IBM made no specific reference to politics or endorsements of any one candidate, their request that we all refrained from capturing pictures and posting to social media; in addition to the messages each of their speakers brought to bear sent a clear message as to which side of humanity they are on.

If nothing else, 2016 should have taught each of us that the huge global challenges we face are both diverse and emergent. Take speaker,  Dr. Laxmi Parida for instance. Her talk at this year’s TED at IBM was about her work as a Computational Geneticist where she is analyzing the genes of crops to ensure our food is safer and sustainable. She shared with us that most of the calories we consume today come from just 12 plants. Dr. Parida went on to share that biodiversity in the tropics has dropped 60% and that the likes of favorite fruits like Avocado are under threat. Most notably, she warned: ” We are a global village. As scourge affects one part of the world it quickly spreads to the others.”

We take for granted everyday that we have certain necessities like food, water, housing etc. What if none of those things exist one day or exist in crippling shortages? Some of our fellow citizens of the world know this reality all to well. While we empathize with their plight we don’t often take a moment to consider whether we will be met with the same shortfall in our own lives.

As luck would have it, I ended up on the same plane and seated next to Dr. Laxmi Parida going back home to NY. You would never know she just delivered the talk of her life sitting next to her. She was humble and friendly as we chatted and shared a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. My kind of gal.

Next up is a particularly moving speaker by the name of Villy Wang. When we talk about empathy and putting ourselves in the place of another- no name stands out more than Villy Wang. Upon listening to her opening remarks for her talk at TED at IBM we all heard about her childhood which appeared to be marred by her fear and hatred of African-American people. You see, Villy was raised by a immigrant single mother in NYC who was one day unexpectedly mugged by some black teens. As we all cringed listening to this story, a bright spot immediately emerges as she explains how her own disdain of stereotypes against Asian people caused her to want to understand other minorities (particularly, African-American people) and the biases they faced. The more she examined other minorities the more she came to see the economic and social disparity faced by minorities. As a result, she started BAYCAT – a social enterprise designed to teach youth for low-income and underserved communities to capture untold stories to create social change. She brought one of her students with her to TED at IBM who she asked to stand for applause. There was not a dry eye in the theater.

Having compassion for one another begins with the genuine interest in not only listening to what others have to say; but understanding and acknowledging their reality. Villy lives this and it came through in her talk.

Some more inspiration…

What does the development of chemotherapy drugs have to do with curing the ills of governments? Apparently, the two are very connected if you ask Charity Wayua. Dr. Wayua is from rural Kenya. After earning her PhD in developing chemotherapy drugs from Purdue University she returned to Kenya to use what she new to cure the ills of the Kenyan government. Her goal was no simple task. She wanted to improve government services designated for small and medium businesses.

As result of Dr. Wayua’s use of cutting-edge technology and the utilization of methodologies used to cure cancer to cure inefficiencies in the Kenyan government, she was able to shift Kenya’s rank on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Data Bank from ranking 113 to 92. She noted that initially she believed the Kenyan government was corrupt. However, she has revised her thinking since working with them realizing that they were not corrupt in the way she first believed. Her belief is we all have a duty to roll-up our sleeves to create the change we want to see in our governments.

As we face our own dealings with corruption here in the U.S., this is a great reminder that we all have what it takes to be the change we wish to see in our government.

I could write so much more about the power of the speakers at TED at IBM, but it would never end.

What I took with me is this feeling of hope and obligation to refocus on that which is bigger and more pressing than my immediate needs. The world needs each of us to do our part whether in our own communities or at scale to cure the ills of society while making life better for others. It is time for us to use the spark within us to activate things that add value to humanity rather than detract from it.

This is a call to action I can get behind. What ideas will you “spark and activate” in 2017?

Race Relations and The Workplace: The Role of Human Resources

Disclaimer: This post was co-written by Steve Levy of the uber awesome, Recruiting Inferno blog and Janine Truitt, Chief Innovations Officer of Talent Think Innovations, LLC and Founder of The Aristocracy of HR.

If you haven’t recognized the surge of conversations and bickering about race lately you have either been ignoring it or have living under a rock. For most people, having a discussion about race relations is the equivalent to standing in a public place with twenty people where there is a remarkable stench, but no one wants to be the one to say aloud that the room stinks. Talking about race stinks, but it has to be done.

Despite the front-page awareness brought by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Gardner in Staten Island, NY, there’s one place that has yet to directly embrace the discussion.

The workplace.

For all the sensitivity training mandated by corporate Human Resources with their PowerPoint decks and contrived “can’t we all just get along” group exercises, practically all diversity and inclusion sessions can be boiled down to lyrical statements such as these from the Diversity and Inclusion in the VA Workforce presentation from Department of Veterans Affairs:

Diversity is the mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles, perspectives, values and beliefs as assets to the groups and organizations with which they interact

The “melting pot” theory of American society has evolved, instead consider a vegetable soup metaphor

Members of various cultural groups may not want to be assimilated, they want their tastes, looks and texture to remain whole.

These present a sanitized and easy-to-deliver message that diversity and inclusion can be learned by all employees in a few hours.

Yet they never mention the phrase, Race Relations.

In some instances, participants are even asked to shout out words and phrases that further marginalize the recipients, like:

Jews are great with money; Blacks are great at sports.

Feel better now? Great, now get back to work and make some money you silly goose…

The bigger question is where has all of our diversity and inclusion training gotten us? As HR people, have we had the truly difficult conversations surrounding race or have we just chosen to do what’s comfortable for everyone involved – the 50% solution?

I can comfortably say we have done the latter. We’d much rather have employees overhear the whispers in cubicles or the clandestine rumblings about race at the water cooler than to have an open and honest discussion in the context of our corporate mission and values.

When we speak about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, we usually give it the backdrop of tolerance. We can’t make people love one another but is tolerance of one another enough? Our sentiment is that just as parents teach their kids about racism so does a company “teach” its employees how to treat those from other races within the company.

However, you can’t have bigots “protectively” draped in the veil of Human Resources prancing around your organization. It doesn’t work to insulate racially insensitive behavior because as we are witnessing, racism always manages to rear its ugly head. Take Sony Pictures: None of those fools saw a hacking of their emails coming and so they happily cracked racial jokes about the President of the United States along with bashing other notable artists. Where was HR?

It will be interesting to see if and how their HR department deals with the racial joking in the context of any policies they have on the books. The likely scenario will be that the public will play the role of HR and “force” Amy Pascal to resign because the public remedy of chopping off the head of the stinking fish – at the expense of fixing the deeper reason for the stench – carries more weight to company “leadership” than addressing the issue as a violation of a company policy which of course is predicated on the presence of an actual company policy that deals with racially charged actions.

Working in HR, we have found out that policies stating that there is “Zero Tolerance” for discrimination and/or racist discussion in the workplace are bull. While most companies have them to cover their behinds, HR issues such as internal inequity run rampant with minorities making disproportionately less money than their white counterparts (want more? search for “do minorities earn less”). Zero Tolerance policies notwithstanding, employees in general are free to spew their racial epithets company-wide, because they can without any significant repercussions. Heck, kindergarten children who point “finger guns” at other classmates are suspended more frequently than employees sending around racially-insensitive emails!

We have a major issue in the US around race and it has been fermenting in business and the workforce for a long time. You can thank race relations for your EEO-1 reports, for your Affirmative Action Plans, and for all the data you have to collect to prove your applicant pools have adequate ethnic and racial representation.

The world is laughing at us.

As our colleague and friend, Ron Thomas recently said in his article “Breathe Deep” about the world’s view of business and HR: “Every race imaginable, every language imaginable and everyone is too busy with their lives to get caught up in this racial mindset. We are too busy doing business to get caught up in this US kind of thing.” His point-of-view is framed by his relationships with business leaders in Dubai where he currently lives and works.

Here’s a thought…

If it is explicit (meaning in policy and action) that racism and/or discrimination will not be the basis for any business decision in company “X”, employees have three choices, (1) they can resign and find a company where their bigoted ideas are supported; (2) they will act accordingly and ensure that all people are treated fairly; (3) or they will be fired. Zero Tolerance should really mean Zero Tolerance.

However, anti-racism policies alone are not sufficient to solve the core problem. The real issues are Action and Accountability. Given the events of gross police misconduct in Ferguson, MO and on Staten Island, NY, are HR and C-suite leadership any more encouraged to offer corporate solutions for addressing race relations in the workplace? It is important to throw both company leadership and HR out in front because it stands to reason that the current model of HR wouldn’t write a policy or create education that will change this racial trajectory if it isn’t supported by leadership.

Much of the undercurrent of annoyance and fury surrounding the recent killings of black men in the media are not just about the killings, but how it is rooted in a build up of injustices felt in every corner of society by every category of a workplace EEO-1 report. Monochromatic leadership with monochromatic workforce planning when combined with the fear or inability to discuss complex socio-economic issues has led to an uneven playing field when it comes to the differences of upward mobility and opportunity for both whites and blacks.

We’ve steered clear of the word minorities as it is an all-encompassing “safe word” that frankly allows us in HR to downplay the impact our policies, procedures and ideals have on specific groups of people. With Diversity and Inclusion training, task forces, affinity groups, and even people of color on Boards of Directors, it sure sounds like we’re being inclusive when in reality the sanitization and compartmentalization produces even further misunderstanding and pushes conversation farther back into the closet.

Both of us have very strong ties to law enforcement; we’re quite aware that the job is dangerous and we do worry about our friends and family coming home every evening. We also know how hard-working, conscientious, and fair most of them are. It’s a small percentage of police officers who cross the lines into racist action, much in the same way we suspect that a similar percentage of companies create a culture of racism with divisive C-level leadership and non-existent HR oversight.

While “leaders” have created the problem, within the workplace, HR should have the knowledge, influence, and ability to change the deeply ingrained culture that is responsible for enabling the racism. Our thesis is that racism in the workplace continues to undermine the very purpose for why we exist in organizations and in so many instances HR has taken the easy way out.

It is time for a change.

When the death of black men in Ferguson, MO, on Staten Island, and in stairwells takes place so easily, then it really does become time not for a national discussion of race in America but a national call to action and change of culture. Surely we’re not naive to believe that either discussion or action will eliminate bigotry but since we’re in a profession that purportedly cares about the workplace, it is time to mobilize a new Human Resources to create new deliverables about Race Relations.

The workplace is not a community that sits on an island cordoned off from society but is in fact a microcosm of society. HR has failed either by fear, ignorance, or some bizarre take on professionalism to address racism in the workplace. If employees are the heartbeat of the company, then for certain HR is the pacemaker – and it’s time for some serious surgery.

People are now marching on the streets across the country – and it’s calling attention to racism in America but it’s time for HR to march into boardrooms. It’s time for HR to lead the discussion on racism at work, not as means for attaining a certificate of completion for diversity training but with a goal of creating a culture and all the necessary elements to root out racism in the workplace. It’s time for HR to look its recruiting and retention practices to see if we’re “bringing” racism into the workplace with bad hiring and “promoting” racism with bad management.

If all this talk about racism makes you uncomfortable to think or speak about, think of your “valued” employees who endure these racially-charged emails, water cooler jokes, and I-know-why-you’re-here smirks because you failed to create a culture that supports the value they bring to your company. If your talent chooses to leave or you can’t attract the best and the brightest because your company’s HR policies, procedures, and people aren’t fair and supportive, do you know what that makes you?

Unemployed.

 

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