Just Us/Kwame Salter

Columnist

Diversity: Are We Serious?

Based on my recollection, Diversity initiatives have been around in some form or fashion for over 50 years. While affirmative action was the precursor to Diversity initiatives, neither achieved its stated goal of creating a diverse workplace. I have racked my mind to try to find another highly visible and publicized corporate initiative that could fail repeatedly — and yet keep getting rebooted. Sure, these Diversity initiatives have provided jobs and impressive titles to several talented Black and white female employees. Yet, truth be told, the objective of significantly transforming the workforce profile of corporations has not materialized. These newly minted VP’s and Senior VPs of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) are bright and hardworking individuals with a prior commitment to making the workplace more diverse and welcoming.

UrbanTreasure

 

Too often, these individuals are taken off the traditional career path to become the face and the flack catcher for both supporters and detractors of the Diversity initiative. The Diversity Office usually consists of the Diversity leader, shared clerical support and maybe some level of support from other parts of the organization. Ironically, often the reporting relationship of the diversity chief is not to the CEO but to a span breaker in the Legal or HR function. Still, the reality is that Diversity and Inclusion are enterprise-wide cultural change initiatives. As with any change initiative, Diversity/Inclusion faces resistance from within the organization. Organizational culture shift is more than a notion. This is especially true when it comes to changing both the complexion (no pun intended) and profile of the workforce.

Any culture shift will necessitate the reallocation of power, values, and resources within the organization. Typically, in the case of Diversity and Inclusion resources such as monies for travel, employee resource groups and staffing are earmarked for the initiative. However, the existing power structure and values of the organization remain intact. Any DE&I initiative still must rely on hiring managers to do the right thing when it comes to identifying, recruiting, and hiring under-represented employees. Ironically, the very people who can prosecute the DE&I initiative are most often the ones who balk, derail and resist. They resent being told to even consider hiring people of color and women. Suddenly, the issue of being qualified becomes the central topic of discussion. The juxtaposition of minority and qualified takes on a different meaning. It is as though they are being asked to consider unqualified applicants of color. It feels like a white applicant is assumed to be qualified while the applicant of color must be ‘certified’ as qualified.

The word “qualified” functions as a form of micro-aggression and a potential barrier to improving the workforce Diversity profile.

Given the above, the underlying question that remains is how serious is the enterprise about making Diversity and Inclusion a reality and not just a public relations eye wash? Is DE&I a serious strategy or simply a scam that organizations trout out when they are called to task? Where are the key performance indicators? Who individually and collectively will be held accountable? How are the so-called diverse hires treated after they start work? Is the position of chief diversity officer a career path dead end? What imperative drives your company’s DE&I initiatives? Is the company driven by a moral, legal or a business imperative? Or is your company driven by all three imperatives — moral, legal, and business? While each imperative is valid and important, it is the business imperative that is the most impactful. People of color are very brand loyal and generate trillions of dollars in spendable income. Having people working at a company who look like them and have a shared experience is both an effective selling point as well as a powerful recruiting tool for the organization. If done right, a company’s DE&I initiative can create a consumer franchise of minority customers that are loyal and dependable.

For DE&I to become a strategic initiative, I would propose the following short list:

Use the Executive Management Group (Direct reports to the CEO) as the DE&I Advisory Committee

Reward results over effort by recognizing diversity champions like we do outstanding sales personnel

Identify the Chief DE&I position as a rotational assignment for the best and brightest — including white males who know where the pressure points are in the organization

Turn DE&I into a Center of Excellence for ideas, support, and training on the Power of Differences

Use workforce data in a proactive way versus as a blunt instrument to embarrass line leaders

Accept the fact that minds and hearts may not change, but behavior must comport with our public statements

Remember the three D’s: Diversity, Development and Deployment. In other words, once you build a critical mass of protected class employees, make sure that development is intentional. Finally, placement or deployment is critical to an employee's success. Where one is assigned can improve the probability of success or guarantee failure.

In closing, we know that corporations reflect the larger society. However, socially conscious companies are often the tail that can wag the dog (society).

Weapons of Mass Destruction

“Be impeccable with your word.”

In his seminal book, The Four Agreements, Don Miquel Ruiz maintains that to offset the toxic programming of our society, we must make four agreements with ourselves. According to Ruiz, the agreements we must make with ourselves to free ourselves from societal programming are as follows: (1) Be Impeccable with your word; (2) Don’t take anything personally; (3) Don’t Make Assumptions; and (4) Always Do your Best.

Ruiz maintains that we are taught to accept things dictated to us by our parents, society, and the culture we are raised in as a child. He states that everything we accept as ‘the way it is’ is an agreement. These unexamined agreements are sometimes helpful — but, often, they are harmful and stunt our emotional and psychological growth. The concept of race and racial superiority is an example of a harmful agreement that has been foisted upon us. We are taught and unconsciously agree to the idea that the color of one’s skin genetically determines intelligence and ability.  In other words, their state of poverty and lack of mobility is just “the way it is.” Of the Four Agreements we must make with ourselves, being impeccable with our word is needed today more than ever.

The words we use can liberate, motivate, demean, or demonize a person or a group of people. Words today have been weaponized. Name calling, trolling on social media, and cursing are accepted as par for the course. I see young women and men using the F- Word like it is a semi-colon to break up a series of sentences. Similarly, both the N-Word (applied to African Americans) and the B-Word (applied to women) have gained renewed currency both within the affected groups and by those outside of the respective groups. I have heard and reject the lame argument that when used by the in groups that these are ‘terms of endearment.’ Poppycock. Regardless of the tonality and inflection used, these words carry with them a certain disdain. It appears that the one word that rankles most whites is being called a “racist.” Why?

 

Have most white Americans avoided being infected by a culture that teaches them subtly and often overtly that “those people” are not their equal? Did most so-called white people escape the programming around racial stereotypes and hierarchies? Is the bigot spewing hateful words the real racist? Or is the racism so deeply embedded in our culture that no one can escape —including the targets? I have maintained that reverse racism is the process of teaching the targets of racial animus to hate themselves. To hate their hair, their lips, their nose, and their dark complexion, etc. For to be an anti-racist (regardless of ethnicity) one would have to have rejected the programming, be programmed differently, or make an agreement with oneself to reject labeling themselves or an entire group of people as inferior. While being impeccable with our word is necessary, it is not enough. Most importantly, we must examine our thoughts. As a popular poster states: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions...” And, as we have witnessed lately, these actions can be deadly in a literal sense. Words as weapons cannot be legislated away — they must be consistently monitored and eliminated from our thought processes.

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