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!
Diversity is on the tip of everyone’s tongues right now. The interesting thing about diversity is people generally give it attention at the 11th hour when missteps and poor practices have already done damage. If some new regulation calls for diversity and inclusion training , diversity mascots experts are dusted off and asked to provide just-in-time training to show compliance.
As HR practitioners and more importantly business owners, we must all agree that a just-in-time or post-incident training is not a solution to ensuring that we foster inclusive workplaces. Whereas we have been trying to mitigate the instances of intolerance, harassment and exclusion in the workplace – we now have events and circumstances outside of the organization forcing us to have more timely discussions with staff.
The volume is turned up on racial and bigoted rhetoric. Politics are all the buzz as we move towards nominating candidates for the presidential race in the U.S. Through it all, tensions are high online and off. Do you think for a second none of this has the potential of spilling into your workplace?
If you think not, you’re not watching closely enough. More than ever, your employees need to know where you stand and how you expect them to conduct themselves. Times of controversy call for compassion, understanding and real-time diversity conversations.
Here are some tips for implementing these conversations:
1)Be timely and consistent in communicating. It doesn’t matter whether you are addressing concerns internally or externally- you will need to be timely and consistent. Waiting too long to address diversity issues of the moment- can elicit trust issues and undermine your ability to authentically connect with your staff.
2)Make it clear where you stand and what you expect of your employees. I once worked for an organization that allowed the confederate flag to be hung in the offices of leaders. Just a short twenty years ago, this same organization had employees hanging nooses in the offices of African-American employees. To date, it isn’t abundantly clear that they support a diverse workforce and it isn’t implied because it says so on their webpage. I share this to drive home the fact that you have to walk the talk. Diversity and Inclusion is not just a policy or beautifully-written EEO statement. Diversity should be a part of your organization’s moral fiber. Your employees deserve to know where you stand and what will and will not be tolerated.
3)Keep it simple. Keep it real. Have you ever taken stock of the gestures and faces your employees make before you or any other leader starts speaking in a training or meeting? Employees are like your customers in many ways. They hate contrived messages. It pains them to watch you squirm through a conversation on race knowing that you don’t even believe the words coming out of your own mouth. Keep your message simple and be real. You have to trust that you have fully-grown adults working for you- that are capable of engaging in open dialogue on diversity, inclusion and other difficult topics.
It is our legacy in HR to create policy, procedure and programs. With pressures for businesses to show and prove their dedication to social causes – it is very clear that HR and the business have stock in managing the moral reputation of the company. Using these tips are just the beginning to the effort you need to put into a sound diversity and inclusion strategy.
In my latest “Ask Czarina Live”, I talked about what happened to MAC Cosmetics when they let a diversity debacle go too far. Check it out below.
Have questions about how to take this one step further?Contact me. I’ll answer you in a future “Ask Czarina” video.
On Wednesday, 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.
One of the questions we didn’t get to was:
“Speaking of the racially-fueled riots in cities around the US, we can imagine most companies being tight-lipped about what was going on. In your opinion, does the company have a duty to address social issues of the moment?”
Allow me to answer. Remaining tight-lipped about the racially-fueled topics of late is both a mistake and missed opportunity. When 9/11 happened 14 years ago, there was not a person that I encountered at work or after 5pm that did not want to discuss what happened. I suspect that was the case because we were so blind-sided by the event. However, I also believe it was a constant conversation because it was not just an attack on one demographic; but an attack on people from all walks of life.
The fact is unless an event affects the majority we tend to ignore it or minimize it. Likewise in HR, we tend to ignore racial undertones, sentiments and even discriminatory speech until it is a bigger problem. In my opinion, companies have a duty to speak up about atrocities in society. However, I’d like to add that it is really a matter of preference and what you want to be known for. If you care that your employees see you as a company that genuinely cares about the trajectory of the human race; you may be inclined to tackle this. Conversely, if you don’t see current events or news headlines as connected to your business this may not be something you would address. Either way, all of us in HR must remember that silence is as much of an answer as a carefully crafted one.
If any of these recent events directly affect any portion of your workforce, they will remember your laughter and never-ending chatter during the typical and often-times nonsensical water cooler discussions. They will also remember that you said nothing- if that is what you choose. Both are equally damaging as we live in a time where social responsibility is an expected business competency.
Compliance and legal considerations aside, we work in the human side of business where it is inherently required that we ensure the well-being of our employees. It is our duty to see that people can come to work everyday as a whole person affected by the elements of life and society without judgment.
Steve and I had a spirited conversation about everything from HR not having the guts to have these conversations to why most diversity programs lack on this webcast. We hope you will join us for the remaining two webcasts. You can register here.
Check out the webcast replay below and join the conversation.
Want even more? Check out my preview of the “Honest Diversity Conversations” webcast series on “The Voice of Jobseekers” Podcast here.