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My Issue with Companies’ Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

I’ve written at length my experience as the sole black woman in the office for most of my career and my frustrations with this sad reality. However, I’ve found it necessary for black women like myself to talk openly about our struggles. That is why, in large, I started my blog!

Black professionals often talk about feeling isolated when working on company teams where co-workers who look like them are few and far between. Many of the black women I’ve spoken to, including myself, share our growing resentment of trying to assert your individuality while remaining keenly aware of the need to positively represent an entire race.

Now, in my experience, I’ve found this experience is due in part of companies’ insincere efforts when it comes to diversity and inclusion, what the corporate world calls D&I.

I’m not going to talk about the various microaggressions black women face on a daily basis at work– I’ve already written about that already. However, I will talk about something that has really been bothering me; the tone-deaf approach many companies take when it comes to diversity and inclusion efforts. Simply not actually including the thoughts and feel of professionals of color.

Not only is it tone-deaf, but such efforts can leave many especially employees of color feeling like nothing more than token hires to satisfy some company’s or manager’s diversity quota.

So, what is diversity and inclusion and why so many companies absolutely SUCK at it?

To start, the meaning of words actually do matter. It’s called diversity AND Inclusion NOT diversity OR inclusion! In my experience, many companies are so concerned with getting diverse hires they forget to include them once they are in the door! For them, it’s more about the image of diversity and inclusion than actually including diverse people. In my opinion, inclusion trumps diversity. What’s the point of working at a company if you don’t feel accepted, appreciated, and supported? To any diversity and inclusion managers reading this, you can’t fake this, the environment must truly encourage employees to bring their authentic selves to work each and every day. Also worth mentioning is that D&I effort must include holding our white counterparts responsible, avoiding gas-lighting and fighting discrimination. Employees, especially employees of color, know when we are being jerked around.

Second, companies need to rethink their approach to diversity and inclusion training. Why are we forcing employees to sit in boring seminars that don’t accomplish anything but allowing managers/companies to pat themselves on the back? I often found myself slowly dying in these trainings, listening to white men talk to other white people about diversity as they clearly reveal that they know nothing of the subject matter. It shouldn’t be this hard and some companies understand how to more easily and effectively integrate diversity and inclusion in the office. How? Don’t underestimate the power of celebrating things like Women’s History Month, Black History Month, or even cultural holidays (such events need to be organized by members of that culture/gender/racial group).

Lastly, and this is by far the most important, honestly examine your company culture. I am very suspicious of companies that are centered in major cities with varied demographics, but yet the majority of their workforce and leadership is white or white men. And trust me, I know plenty of companies like this, both in my home city of Milwaukee and other larger cities like Chicago. To me, this lack of diversity reads as intentional and given my experience in human resources, I often found, managers have a habit of hiring employees of similar backgrounds, including race and gender. These hiring habits create an isolating environment for diverse professionals. Nothing will change until the culture changes.

Again, to any diversity and inclusion managers/strategists, please ask yourself the following questions before trying any D&I plan.

  1. What is the public perception of our company in the communities we wish to recruit from?

  2. How do our current diverse employees feel about the company? How can our D&I strategy meet their needs and those of the company?

  3. Are we willing to include our diverse employees and their voices in our plans? Are we willing to do the work of inclusion?

  4. What does inclusion look like for us? How do you plan to develop an environment that encourages inclusion?

I can go on, but these questions need to be asked and answered before a company progresses with anything. Why?

The answer is simple, because diversity WITHOUT intentional inclusion is worthless.

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