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?