The Wu-Tang Clan of HR: An Inclusive, Hip Voice Isn’t Always Inclusive

Laurie Ruettimann Diversity, Laurie Ruettimann

A few months ago, a reader reached out to me with a big concern. She’s African American with a strong background in IT, and she felt that far too many corporate websites were getting it wrong.

Here are excerpts from my conversation.

“Too often, the verbiage and the culture seems very down (e.g., using black cool and cultural markers) and approachable; however, there are no black people in their leadership. So it reads like a bunch of hipsters co-opting of black culture.”

So it’s not okay to call your all-white, all-male advisory board the Wu-Tang Clan of the HR tech industry?

“That reads as hipster or casual racism. Where it’s cool to act black or like black things, but not interact with or hire us.”

What if you have one black guy on your leadership team?

“There’s a tendency to use African American Vernacular English (AAVE) on quite a few corporate blogs and in hashtags on Twitter. In the tech industry, that’s lethal.”

Lethal? Interesting.

I’ve noticed how new companies try to use hip and cool language, but I am old. It always seems like people are trying too hard to appeal to youth culture. Most of the people I know are too busy arguing about the Oxford comma to pay attention to AAVE.

God knows I’m not African American, but I was raised in a neighborhood where African American Vernacular English and Urban White Trash English were not that different. When is someone her authentic self and when is she being an insufferable racist, yo?

One more thing to note: I live in the South, where everyone picks up the Hillary Clinton southern accent upon crossing the Mason-Dixon line. Something about being south of North Carolina turns most white politicians black. It’s weird.

“Anyway, this is complicated and hard to explain and I’m probably not doing a great job. But it’d be nice to see more diversity & inclusion.”

This is great and very helpful. I get it. It’s easy to co-opt other cultures for fun and profit without actually including anyone who actively lives in that culture. This is an important reminder for writers, bloggers and content marketers.

“I want to presume that HR and marketing professionals want constructive feedback from a perspective they lack because I’m sure they’re lovely, amazing, kick-ass people who maybe aren’t aware of how certain language reads to certain people.”

That’s true. Most marketing and recruiting professionals would want to know if certain language is lethal and works against them when trying to communicate and employer brand and hire C++ Developers and whatnot.

“I want tech executives and HR professionals to know that I definitely look for poc/woc on company websites—specifically in leadership roles.”



What do you see?

“It’s the cliché  where the only women are office assistants or other low-level positions.”

Or HR?


There you go.

Here’s my take-away: For those of you who write for corporate websites and blogs, it’s important to think about how you might be affecting a certain voice to attract your version of millennials. And you might want to think about how your content works for you and against you when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

And if you write job descriptions, it’s always good to get another pair of eyes on your copy—especially eyes that have seen the world through another perspective.