I have trained thousands of people throughout the United States, South America, and the United Kingdom; had personal conversations and conducted in-depth interviews about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Two simple but extremely complex words are at the core of all of my diversity and inclusion conversations: loss and fear
If you think about the riot in Charlottesville, Virginia,—it was about fear as white supremacists yelled, “you will not replace us.” And in our local communities, we are tired of the constant fight around loss. Loss of economic development, healthy food, and access to healthcare.
I see it constantly as companies put strategies in place to hire a skilled, diverse workforce. Here is a recent conversation that I have had countless times.
Me: What do you think of the company’s goal to hire more diverse employees?
Employee: It feels like a quota system to me and my team.
Me: How so?
Employee: My team feels like white men are going to either lose their jobs or won’t be hired because of diversity.
Me: But you know that’s not true. No one will be hired or fired based upon their diversity. I think the company has done a great job of explaining their strategy to attain this goal. Why do you think your team chooses to see it different?
Employee: Here’s the deal. If a white guy, and say, a black woman are applying for the same position and everything is equal as far as work experience, skill sets, background and that all stuff—the position will now go to the black woman because of a diversity quota. It’s hard to compete with that.
Me: Now, let me ask you a tough question and it’s going to make you a little uncomfortable but that’s why we are here. This has happened repeatedly to people of color more times than we will ever be able to count. Furthermore, you can count the people of color in this office on one hand. We also both know that, overwhelmingly, positions have gone to white males in most instances throughout history. Have you or your team had any concerns about that?
Employee: I understand where you are coming from, but I guess what I’m saying is that we want fairness in the process.
Leveling the playing field
Diverse individuals, even those with degrees, are often not hired. What diverse people want is a level playing field, so they can compete. The employee mentioned above and I discussed that neither he or his team are responsible for the years of inequity experienced by people of color (or those that fall into an underrepresented category) but that they can be allies and help us dismantle those systems. Furthermore, as white men, they can help to put processes in place for change. We must get away from the thought (and practice) that the white male has no place in conversations about diversity and inclusion.
It affects everyone and we all must be engaged. Why? Because we are all driven by fear. People of color, LGBT people, and women fear being treated unequally and being continually marginalized. White people, especially men, fear living in a society where they are no longer the majority and what that will mean for their families both personally and professionally. Millennials fear their ideas are not being respected because of their age while older people fear not being relevant in our technology-driven world.
Ultimately, we are all scared of a system that treats us unfairly and processes that leave us unable to make a decent income, live in affordable housing, or give us access to healthcare and healthy food. We have the same fears and because I know this, I know the ‘us versus them’ dynamic continues to hold us back.
How do we fix it? Stop being scared! The heart of the matter is, unsurprisingly, showing heart. We confront our issues with unconditional love. Not the touchy-feely kind, but the total acceptance of humanity kind. Get in where you fit in because we ALL do.
Black Enterprise Contributors Network
The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s and not necessarily the opinion of Black Enterprise.