6 inclusion and diversity reminders from the black guy in the room
this past year or so has really shined a light on how far we still have to go with cultivating inclusion and diversity in the workplace. i’ve talked with many of my friends who work within various industries and they’ve all said the same thing. besides them, there just isn’t much representation at their respective jobs, which comes at no surprise. major brands likes of gucci, prada, h&m, pepsi (i ain’t forgot about ya’ll), burberry, and zara been out here straight trippin.’ and while the evidence supporting the need for change is plentiful, the level of investment in creating tangible solutions that eradicate inequality and disempower historical barriers seems scarce. we, as the minority, are walking into spaces where we’re tokenized and met with the realities of unconscious bias and imposter syndrome on more instances than a little bit. and more often than not, we hear the same excunations (excuses disguised as explanations) as to why the diversity and inclusion numbers aren’t higher. the talent pool just isn’t as competitive? false. you’re doing the best you can to find diverse talent? eh. you just want to be sure you approach the matter with the respect and authenticity it deserves? cool. do that. but don’t spend so much time planning that you never actually do, ya know? because at that point we all lose, ya know?
these are some high level reminders i think each of us, regardless of our line of work, can benefit from. especially as we strive to progress individually and collectively during a time where diversity and inclusion have evolved into business imperatives.
6). diversity and inclusion are not interchangeable.
diversity is indicative of the inherent factors that make us similar and dissimilar. so, think about stuff like race, sex, disability, age, yadayada. and if you’re feeling ambitious and want to shake the table, we can go ahead and toss in religion, education and sexual orientation, too. so long story, short — diversity is representation. it’s the one thing businesses and organizations alike can do to ensure a variety of viewpoints are represented at the table. but contrary to popular belief, diversity alone is not enough.
inclusion refers to the actions put towards embracing those differences and leveraging them for communal growth. it’s reflected in whether or not people feel welcomed, respected, supported and most importantly, valued. without inclusion, diversity doesn’t work.
but many organizations and companies don’t seem to get that. more and more, it seems they are hiring diverse candidates just for the sake of “checking the box.” yet, these individuals aren’t being invited to the right meetings, they’re not being offered seats at the right tables and they’re not being put in positions where they can shape outcomes. no bueno.
i tend to think of inclusion as a mindset. one that requires employees from the top-down to actively provide every employee with the same access to opportunities. because people can’t do their best work when they don’t feel like they can be their best selves.
5). teamwork makes the dream work.
it’s true, we need all hands on deck to push diversity and inclusion initiatives forward. but the first hands raised need to be that of those in leadership. period. too often, organizational leaders underestimate the critical role they play in fostering an environment that is both diverse and inclusive of every employee.
and i get it, with their schedules being bogged down with meeting after meeting, it makes sense that those holding the reigns up top tend to gravitate towards hiring a chief diversity officer or a vp of diversity and inclusion to pick up the slack and make sure the company’s culture remains aligned with their core beliefs. but what leadership across the board needs to keep in mind is that hiring someone to spearhead diversity and inclusion initiatives at their company, big or small, doesn’t free them of their obligation to make sure such initiatives are being carried out in an authentic and impactful way.
questioning hiring practices, evaluating leadership across the board, and actually listening to employees throughout the company are all great places to start. but the ways in which we work together to ensure we are diverse and inclusive will determine where we finish.
4). you have to make a change to see change.
recruiting from the same places and wondering why your company perpetuates a culture of sameness is a sure sign of insanity. and that’s that on that.
3). remember to listen to the quietest voice in the room.
ideas can come from anywhere. but you’ll never find that out if you don’t ensure everyone in the room is given the chance to speak. don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday work that you overlook the fact that one of your peers may very well have something valuable to contribute. and don’t assume that because one of your colleagues is quiet, they’re unmotivated and/or not confident in their ability. because that may not be the case at all. they could be struggling with how to exist in an environment in which they do not identify with the dominant group. and that struggle is realer than real, real talk.
2). it’s not my job to educate you on unconscious bias.
or anything else that relates to diversity and inclusion for that matter. and i have no problem calling you out on it if you try me (respectfully, of course). i know, i know. you may not have slighted me on purpose. but that’s why it’s called “unconscious” bias… because 9 times outta 10, you did it “without knowing.” but the good news is, if you take the time to educate yourself during your down time, you may spare yourself a professional clap back in the interim. everyone wins.
1). and even though it’s not my job, i’ll educate you anyway.
because that’s what real ones do. and although i stand by my previous point that it’s not the job of the minority to enlighten the majority about diversity and inclusion matters at work, i understand that a lot of people are ok with being blissfully ignorant on the subject. and that’s a luxury i’m not afforded as an underrepresented minority.
i know what it’s like to be surrounded by people, both personally and professionally, who look different from me and don’t identify with my experience. so i tend to assume those around me will need a help in understanding how to coexist with individuals who fall outside of their discourse. i’m not saying that’s right or wrong at the moment because that can be an entirely different discussion on its own. but what i am saying is that at least for now, this is reality from my vantage point.