Can we get real about diversity at work?
It’s the same tired line we hear across major companies: “we value diversity”. We know actions speak louder than words, but often times, their words are the majority of what we get.
Promises, commitments, group panel discussions, and little progress or action toward goals of representing a diverse workforce at their company. It feels like the solution hasn’t quite been nailed down; most major companies still lag behind BLS statistics for the majority of underrepresented groups.
What do we do? Continue to speak up? March out in protest?
I’d like to propose an alternative solution that might help us get further. Before I do, a bit of background into this thought process:
Companies are notoriously bad at multitasking. Tunnel vision locks them into a state of paralysis where their loudest “flavor of the week” is what gets attention currently. Because these items aren’t considered until they feel backed into a corner, they often don’t get more than a week or so of review and hardcore consideration.
Emergency planning sessions are called and executives are presented with fancy PowerPoints on the 7 steps the team is ready to take to turn around diversity and inclusion at the company.
This approach sucks. The results do too. The responsive solution is one that falls short on strategy and shows the obvious necessity for the employer to act versus a genuine interest in wanting to make a difference.
Due to the constraints of these rushed plans, a feeling of hollow effort with poorly executed follow through is typically what we see. Leaders tout the latest and greatest efforts of the team to band together and step up to prioritize this very important initiative (because the voices speaking out got loud enough).
My proposal is different than this method and relies on us to share in the solution, rather than hoping some random company is equipped to fix any of this.
Because our means and intentions are in the right spot (along with our hearts), we’re able to come up with meaningful solutions that can be measured, improved upon, and actioned without needing to worry about shareholders or PR.
What am I referring to?
Think about this. If we repeat what the problem is to the company, we’re giving them the power over the solution. If we tell the company what the solution is, we hold the power over how we solve this.
I’m all about getting corporate help and influence to tackle big problems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one person sitting in front of a keyboard typing this out.
What if we gathered a massive group of people, from all walks of life, to come together and share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns? Take aggregate data from these surveys to come up with crowd-sourced solutions that were realistic, actionable, measurable, and likely successful.
Once we, as a group, gather information, discuss solutions, we could start to storyboard them. Uncover potential gaps we overlook due to biases or blind spots. Really put the solutions to the test with scenarios ranging from the almost certain to the outer peripherals.
If we take this, and demand this from an employer, it’s a much different message. Not only have we called the shots on what we think is the best solution but we’ve taken accountability for our part in influencing diversity and inclusion. There is no doubt companies may push back in certain areas, but they aren’t getting to start from scratch: we gave them what to start from already.
This level of power isn’t something often presented to companies. It takes too much work and time to assemble a massive action plan and study like this to companies. What’s more, it’s extremely expensive as well given the resources likely necessary to tackle such a problem.
This opportunity is too important to pass up or ignore. We must as a culture decide what we choose to value and how we choose to make change when reality isn’t lining up with the things we value and prioritize.
The responsibility lives with us as well. It isn’t enough to simply identify a problem. We must speak up with solutions to support how we might fix the problem. If you saw someone getting in a car crash, it isn’t considered helping the victims if you tell your friend you saw a car crash or you tell the driver who caused it that they caused a car crash.
Be part of solutions and sit in the driver seat when you’re involved in something important. Lead with the answer and the question becomes second to what is really important.
Now – a work story that was shared with me. We’ll call this person Alan.
Alan met with a hiring manager to discuss a new role he was going to be recruiting for. He knew the hiring manager as they had met before, but this job was a newer one he wasn’t as familiar with. The discussion was scheduled for 30 minutes, but these often only take 15 or so.
The hiring manager explained the ins and outs of the role along with the ideal candidate. Years of experience, essential duties, and education were covered. By the end, Alan was feeling good about understanding the profile of the ideal candidate.
Toward the latter half of the meeting, the hiring manager mentioned, “oh yeah, and I’d like for this hire to be female.”
Alan sighed; this is the exact reason there are problems with diversity and inclusion in workplaces. The idea that the hiring manager wants to hire a female for this role as some sort of prerequisite experience is completely inappropriate.
The hiring manager’s heart was likely in the right place: wanting to support a diverse workforce that was representative of the larger talent population, but the hiring manager was going about it in the completely wrong way.
Often times, this can demonize inclusion efforts by opponents who claim they’re racist and exclusionary. The truth couldn’t be further from these claims, but slip ups like this must be addressed and corrected.
“Being female can’t be a requirement of the role or be something we post in the job description.” Alan replied. He went on to explain to the hiring manager the importance of language when discussing hiring underrepresented talent.
This was a small slip up but is too indicative of the larger challenge in large companies. Their communication to employees which often leads to misunderstandings of how we implement our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. It will be a lot of work. It will be for the greater good. We must take action above and beyond demanding more diverse teams. We must spoon feed the companies we work for with the solutions we believe to be best. Give them the answers instead of waiting for them to tell you the answer.