Diversity, Inclusion & Equity extends far deeper than rhetoric. We engage in safe, polite discussion about how to make our workplace environments more diverse, inclusive and equitable while valuing differences, and welcoming everyone regardless of those differences, and so on… We’ve all heard the normal conversation.
While it’s a nice tune, it doesn’t take into consideration the deep undertones of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, implicit and explicit bias that have been woven into the fiber of our workplace culture – so much so that it has had some of us living in an alternative universe every day of working lives. We are the individuals at your company that are willing lead initiatives to attract and retain a diverse pool of candidates and employees, and advocate for more career pathing with every intention of impacting the environment and drive change. But we will rarely talk about some of the experiences that leave us with a healthy amount of skepticism that things are likely to change unless the focus is shifted to a cultural reset of sorts.
We are realistic about how deeply seeded the issues are that prevent organic inclusion and acceptance in the first place, because we are experienced enough to know that Diversity, Inclusion and Equity remains a heavy lift. We may appear to our colleagues to be socially well adjusted, adaptable within the space that we are in, and able to move comfortably in many political circles within the workplace. In truth, not a day passes without a reminder that our presence and acceptance is marginal at best, as you will soon read. We are resilient, if not numb, and we are skilled at keeping threats in front of us. We rely on self-affirmation and are cognizant of our surroundings even when they have been deemed “safe.” We come with a series of experiences and short stories that span our career that have left our rose colored glasses crystal clear and un-tinted when it comes to all things diversity. The following are just a handful of mine. In the fairly recent past I have:
- Been unwittingly handed an interoffice envelope by an Admin containing blackface pictures of my colleagues clearly not meant for my consumption and obviously taken after I’d left a work function that I’d organized.
- Been enjoying suite seats sitting next to my boss and by all accounts, my “friend” at a game between the Warriors and the Clippers, to have him jump to his feet and scream out “ f*&#ing monkey!” at one of the black home team players for missing a shot.
- Been denied a promotion because “this role will be responsible for consulting and persuading CFO’s and C-Suite executives and they typically are more comfortable taking advice from people that mirror their demographic?”
- Had my new boss say to me “I’m here to support you, if there is something you don’t understand, don’t feel bad, I know that sometimes African-Americans have cognitive challenges, don’t ever be afraid to come to me, you’ll never be punished for asking questions.” I was in a senior role at the time.
- Been told by a particularly candid HR Generalist after inquiring why the relocation package that I was offered was so much less than what others in my role had been offered when transferring internally, “Well, we have what I call the diversity relocation package that I have been instructed to offer to people of color, and then we have the standard relocation package that I have been told to offer everyone else. But now that you have asked, I have been told I am obligated to offer it to you as well.”
- Been chased around my desk (literally) by a C-suite executive with a fascination for “Black men with rich dark skin” who routinely asked questions like “is it Black all over? Can I see your bare back …?”
- Been told that in a performance appraisal, “you sometimes have a flat affect. You need to smile more, because you’re dark skinned you can come across as threatening and menacing, it can make people uncomfortable. People like it when you smile anyway.”
- Had a colleague say, “I thought all this time you were married to a white woman, someone told me that your wife was super nice and had her own business and was super stylish, I just assumed she was white.”
- Been offered a role as the head of Diversity and Inclusion but told “your primary duties would be organizing potlucks and cultural crafts days, and we’ll see how that goes.”
- Been the HR Manager of a facility that employed predominately young white females and been asked by an executive “As a Black guy, how can you stand the temptation, for you this must be like being a fox in a hen house?”
- Been asked by colleagues, “Did you receive your private school education abroad through some sort of disadvantage youth program?” “Who paid for that?”
- Been consistently called by the name of two other Black men that worked in the building, one being 10 years older a foot shorter and a good 100 pounds lighter, than me with snow white hair. the other gentleman nearly a foot taller, 15 years younger with the build of a bodybuilder.
- Been consistently paid far less than my white counterparts for the same work. This one is so common that I no longer consider it a disparity. It’s just how it is.
So don’t be misled folks – in matters of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, we have our work cut out for us. As you plan your approach to addressing this renewed social consciousness, take time to understand everyone’s experience, so you will know where to begin.
William has held consulting and strategic HR roles at Virginia Mason, Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente, and Williams-Sonoma. He has a proven track record for building employee satisfaction through building leadership competencies and strong collaborative HR partnerships with leadership teams that focus on the staff retention and fostering cultures of engagement. William regularly shared his insights and experience though for a number of Talent publications including Fistful of Talent, Career Crossroads (CXRWorks), and The HR Gazette and believes that an organization’s human capital is their most valuable asset.