I certainly don’t profess to speak for all minority professionals, but I will say that most of the diverse professionals I know long ago accepted the fact that to “make it,” they would have to adapt, at least at some level, to majority culture. Being the “only one” is not ideal — everyone feels more comfortable around people like them — but it is not usually a blocking issue. It is no surprise, however, that majority professionals underestimate this willingness on the part of diverse professionals to work outside their comfort zones, because most majority professionals have never had to make that choice.
“We don’t have the resources.” This is corporate-speak for “Diversity isn’t that important.” When you don’t have enough resources to achieve a goal, you are really saying the goal isn’t a high enough priority for your organization to fund it. Maybe that’s the right call for you. Maybe not. But let’s at least be real about it. When Staples CEO Ronald Sargent wanted to recruit more minorities, he knew that the effort would require more than just lip service. He also realized that casting as wide a net as possible would bring in some winning candidates and some that wouldn’t make the cut. So he approved temporary funding for more than 50 college students, who worked at the company for a trial period. At the end of the trial period, many students landed permanent jobs. Thus, Staples was able to adjust its recruiting strategies to align more closely with its stated commitment to diversity: “To understand why diversity is so importa
nt to us, you don’t have to look farther than
your nearest Staples store. Our customers — whether they’re shopping in our stores, online, or through Staples Contract or Business Delivery — are a mosaic of different cultures, ethnicities, genders, and ages. So it’s not surprising that we strive for a workforce and a supplier network that reflect the diverse multicultural ‘face’ of our customers.” (From Our Commitment to Diversity, Staples Inc.)
Take a look at what your company is funding for diversity. Is this the proper allocation of resources to prepare your company for the next 50 years? If so, I’ll buy this excuse. If not, you’ve got some work to do in reassessing priorities and reallocating resources. The point is, you can’t use this excuse unless you’ve actually done the homework and factually determined that your limited resources are better spent elsewhere. Do that, and at least you are exercising sound business judgment.
“We hired a diverse senior executive, but that hasn’t moved the numbers at all.” Well, no kidding. Senior executives do very little hiring, so they are not in a strong position to impact the complexion of your workforce. Also, the idea that a “figurehead” minority will somehow move numbers is greatly misguided. Managers will not be inspired to hire more Asian people by seeing an Asian general counsel. And candidates won’t necessarily come to your company just because you’ve got a prominent minority executive. In fact, that strategy could