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!

HR & Society: HR Can’t Fix Human Flaws

HR Can't Fix Human Flaws

HR’s job has always been evolving. We have gone from administrative paper pushers to devising strategy that has operational impact to the organizations we serve. Are we headed for another evolution in this tumultuous political environment? I think so, but like many other human-related issues within organizations it isn’t really something HR can fix with a sweeping policy, focus group, or strategy.

Let’s consider a few factors. Before November 9th of 2016 how much did you think about employees’ or co-workers political ideologies? Probably not much, but when you consider that those ideologies could be tied to human flaws particularly the flaws of intolerance and hatred – what policy of strategy are you going to devise to combat that?

Better yet, if you are an HR professional of color who is now met with an emboldened employee who is anti-anything White, Anglo-Saxon, how motivated are you to work with that person and better yet serve them? How about if they verbalize their disgust for gender-neutral bathrooms despite the current regulations in place and several members of your team are part of the LGBTQ community?

Humans are flawed and messy. That makes our work in HR – flawed and messy.

I’m not suggesting that everybody wear their political ideologies on their sleeves and draw a line in the sand. Obviously, nothing would get done if we did that. However, I think we often paint a pretty picture of how things could and should play out without considering what has a real possibility of happening. That is to say that if people are protesting in the streets and having heated arguments/differences both in real life and online that are starting to reveal some character flaws; there is little if anything that any one-size-fits-all diversity, inclusion or HR program you could do to combat that.

The challenge of our work in HR is anticipating human behavior and balancing it with checks and balances through programs and policies. If we’re honest, we have never been able to control human behavior. All we really have success in is creating the best possible circumstances for our workforces to thrive. We have never truly been in control of the outcomes. If you disagree, I will kindly ask you to go back 5-8 years, search any common HR concern and count how many of the topics are recurring from year-to-year.

Where we get better is in rethinking how we approach the recurring and new issues that crop up, with the understanding that how it all plays out is dependent on something completely out of our control – human intention and behavior.

Back to the initial concern of the political environment, the same old policy and focus groups are not going to cut it. Now, more than ever we need to be sharing our experiences as a collective community and brainstorming better solutions. We need to not be afraid to say to the C-Suite that just-in-time training and reactive policy development will no longer do their company any good. This is a time for every HR practitioner to listen more than they speak. It is time to get comfortable with uncomfortable discussions about racism in the workplace, politics, pay disparity etc. I have met way too many practitioners in my travels that all too often have these items on their yearly HR to-do-list, but consciously put them off because it either doesn’t affect them or they can’t be bothered.

If you think what is going on outside the walls of your company doesn’t have the ability to spill into the day-to-day operation, you are kidding yourself.  Your employees need a little more of the “human” out of Human Resources right now.

Here’s how you give them that “human factor”:

  • Do not ignore complaints or concerns raised around employee relation concerns. This has always been true, but right now it is even more important. You need to have a handle on any discrimination, bullying or violent behavior that may be brewing in your organization.
  • Make sure you are advising your C-Suite leaders regularly about the climate within the organization. It is important that the C-Suite and HR are in alignment on how to deal with sensitive matters. Encourage your leaders to be more visible than perhaps they are accustomed to.
  • Communicate with your workforce regularly and let them know you are available. Yes, I know you are swamped and don’t have time for people traipsing in and out of your office all day. However, would you rather that you catch an issue early or when you’re in court? Will you sleep better at night knowing you settled an employees’ concerns or would you rather see them as a number? Regular communication keeps gossip and assumptions at bay. If your employee’s know where you stand they don’t need to wonder or conjure up alternative facts. See what I did there.
  • Time to look at your programs and get some real feedback on its effectiveness. Yes, it will sting if you get negative feedback. However, the goal with any program or training is to actually usher in change. If your goal is to keep the organization afloat during these tumultuous times and keep the workforce progressing on an upward trajectory – you ought to evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.
  • Add some levity to the workday every week. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or be overly time-consuming. What people need is a break from reality. Regardless of what our individual ideologies are, we can all find some commonalities among us. Have a “bring your favorite board game to work day” or an ice cream sundae social. Give people a chance to see the good in their co-workers .
  • *Bonus* Watch the HR department carefully. You can’t have people so-called dedicated to making a difference for entire organizations be simultaneously pumping their fist for all muslims to be banned from the US in the breakroom or be rallying for the KKK off-hours. It is a bit of an oxymoron; don’t you think?

Creativity and heart have always been the answer to most of HR’s woes. There is no better time than now, to put both of them to use.

 

Honest Diversity Conversations Recap: Discrimination & The Hiring Process

Image courtesy of Flickr.com

 

On Wednesday 9/9/15, Steve Levy and I kicked off the first of three webcasts hosted by College Recruiter called: Honest Diversity Conversations. The aim of these webcasts is to step outside of the realm of the typical diversity conversations. We want to open the eyes of business owners and HR practitioners alike to the issues and missed opportunities that exist when we don’t consider the impact of what’s going on in society, their homes and most importantly the impact of our policies and procedures.

Last week marked our second week of Honest Diversity Webcasts. Our focus in the second webinar was on Discrimination and The Hiring Process. It’s easy enough to direct people in their job search. Preparing them for the potential injustices that lie ahead is less prevalent. It is very clear that even in an age of information, many candidates are still unclear about what their rights are and what actions they can take when faced with discriminatory activity.

From an employer standpoint, ensuring a fair hiring process means being able to take an objective look at your hiring process regularly to make sure your intentions match what is in practice. There is also an opportunity for employers to define what success in hiring looks like and measure against it. Without looking at data, it is clear that some employers can make assumptions about the efficiency of the hiring process and/or success of diverse people within their organizations. Diversity and Inclusion practices are not checklist items. It should be interwoven into how you operate in business. You need to be dedicated to ensuring that people of all demographics can be successful in being hired and retained.

In this webcast we discussed the less obvious ways candidates are discriminated against. We also tackled the trend of diversity mentorship programs and answered whether most diversity training is short-sighted. Check it out and join the conversation.

 Register for the final webcast in this series on “Bias Leadership” here . We hope you will join us. 

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.

 

The Real Scoop on How Diverse Candidates Perceive Their Value

As we continue to discuss diversity and inclusion concerns, it is important that companies that are serious about attracting, retaining and promoting diverse candidates understand how we think about our value in the workplace.

From a child, it was drilled into me that my skin color was not a roadblock, but an opportunity often seen as a threat. I was warned that I would have to work a gazillion times harder than any of my Caucasian counterparts to achieve success. To round out my coaching on getting ahead, I was advised to keep my head on, study hard, keep things formal on the job, work hard and it would all pay off.

More than a decade into my career, I see that my cultural and familial coaching has served me fairly well. In speaking to other minority colleagues over the years, I know that they were also told many of the same things growing up and have also found success in those tidbits. It might be sobering to read, but a person’s only barometer for how life works is experience. Having emigrated to the U.S. from the West Indies and South America in and around the 70’s, I don’t have to tell you what it was like for my parents and grandparents to assimilate into the “American way”; let alone garner gainful employment.

The disconnect between what I was taught and my real life experience is and has been startling. For one, I have found that most employers have no clue that their minority employees are carrying all of this. It is like the worst, best-kept secret. Subconsciously, minorities often believe that employers see them as less of a value. That perception has caused me to over-compensate with efforts that have had no real correlation to my success.

When your message as a company is simply “we are an equal opportunity employer” this appears to be more employer semantics that really says nothing more than “we will hire you, because we must”. Furthermore, if minority representation at all levels is scarce; I have more proof that you aren’t truly dedicated to promoting a diverse workforce. All things validating what I have been told.

To further test the validity of what I have been told over the years, here has been my reality:

1) For over 50% of my career, I have been the only black woman either on my team, in the region or in the company I worked for.

2) I have traditionally made less in compensation than most of my Caucasian counterparts. How do I know? People like to talk about what they make, especially when they make a lot of money- so there’s that.

3) More than once, I have resigned from a job because I was overlooked, overshadowed and underutilized in my job. This was in stark contrast to the applause for other Caucasian employees that were not nearly as productive or useful as I was.

4) I went to college, possess several certifications pertinent to my field as well as Master’s credits and have been managed three or more times by Caucasian women and men who not only possess less education than me, but have benefited from my efforts.

5) Lastly, I have had to fight for simple luxuries and leniency that was afforded to my Caucasian co-workers with no contest.

For the most part, minorities have been urged out of necessity to be better than everyone else to get ahead. To some extent, it is great advice. However, it becomes disheartening when being better isn’t the standard for everyone else and doesn’t result in the desired outcomes. It would help companies to market themselves and attract diverse candidates-if they understood how we approach our work in thought and practice. Once you understand, you have to have a genuine willingness for changing these cemented impressions, realities and perceptions.

The end game of diversity and inclusion has to be understanding and execution. If you don’t get that ‘diverse’ isn’t just a buzzword but a broader meaning for different- you aren’t ready to have a discussion about diversity. Companies have to be willing to identify, understand, and embrace the differences that exist among employees before they endeavor inclusion initiatives.

The truth is I have always navigated my career in excellence, because that is my standard. I have done this despite the unfair circumstances I have been met with. I’m not a fan of pulling the race card, but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…you know the rest.  Also, when my knowledge, skills, abilities, and efforts are shelved for the purposes of rewarding other people’s mediocre efforts; it is hard not to see the truth in what I have been told.

As you consider you own diversity and inclusion efforts, how will you ensure that your diverse employees are fairly and equitably supported and recognized for their efforts?

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