how companies can build more equitable workplaces … and what’s getting in the way

Yesterday I printed an excerpt from Authentic Diversity: How to Change the Workplace for Good, by diversity and inclusion expert Michelle Silverthorn. Michelle was kind enough to talk with me about the work she does to help build more equitable companies. Here’s our conversation.

Alison: Hi Michelle.

Michelle: Hi Alison, thanks for having me. Shout-out to our shared connection, my D&D buddy, and the most awkward of captains, Jennifer Peepas.

Alison: We love Captain Awkward here! Well, let’s get right into it. In your work with companies on making workplaces more equitable and inclusive, what are some of the biggest obstacles you encounter or witness others encountering?

Michelle: Let’s see. The number one obstacle is a lack of investment from management. In fact, that’s number one through 400. The C-suite, the CEO, the VP of Sales, the Head of Operations, whoever it is who needs to explain that the culture of this workplace is one of equity and inclusion. And that leader can be of a 15,000 person company, or a 15-person team. That leader needs to set the example from the start that we will do everything we can to ensure that every person who enters these doors has an equal chance of success. That leader needs to articulate the reason we are committing to this. Whether it’s the business case or the people case or the justice case, say something more meaningful than, “It makes our workplace stronger.” Why do you care? Why should your managers care? Why should your employees care? And why should your employees of color believe you when you say this matters to our company?

Now that you have leaders on board, let me tell you the second obstacle I see. Workplaces don’t know what problem they’re solving. They have no idea what their goal is because they don’t know where the issue lies. Most of my work is diversity trainings so the first question I will ask a new client is, “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” And so many just don’t know. They’ve been told they need to have a diversity training but don’t know what it should address. One of the things I do in my planning sessions is I work with them to determine what the underlying issues are, for example, whether it’s community, or belonging, or communication, or promotion, or bias. Even if you start with one problem, that’s a dozen or more people whose work lives will be better because of it. Think about that anytime you start feeling overwhelmed by how much work it is and whether it makes a difference. It is a lot of work and it will make a difference.

Alison: I think a lot of people are stuck on the idea that it’s enough to just hire a diverse workforce, not realizing that they also need to do major work on their organization’s culture as well — that they need to focus on equity, and on identifying and dismantling racism in their systems, structures, policies, and practices. And it’s a hell of a lot of easier to just focus on diversity in hiring, so no wonder people find that more appealing. How do you shift people from just thinking about diversity to thinking with a broader equity framework, and to be willing to do that harder work?

Michelle: I love to show data, and one of the data points I show are the large numbers of diverse professionals hired at the entry-level, and the abysmal numbers of diverse professionals at the leadership level, particularly the cliff that exists in the middle and senior management roles. Many companies want to solve their diversity problems with hiring. Which means many of my discovery calls are from hiring managers. But where are the calls from the sales managers? The marketing managers? The product managers? The customer service managers? This work cannot be HR’s alone, and it certainly can’t just be the recruiting team’s alone. Which department has significant turnover of Latinx employees? Which function only has a promotion class of men? What work do Asian team members not have access to? Once you hire this diverse workforce, they still need to work in the organization. Which is why I say again and again that it starts with leadership. As a leader, you need to look at your team and identify where the inclusion and equity challenges lie. What promotion trends are you seeing? What departure trends are you seeing? What mentoring trends are you seeing? Who is getting the quality work? Who is not?

There’s that and there’s also this. It’s hard to critique a system that you are a part of. If you have benefitted from an inequitable system, and you also are unable to see that you have benefitted or to see the inequity, then it truly will be simpler to say the problem isn’t our workplace. It’s not our work structures or assignments or management style or evaluation styles or promotion requirements or my own internal stereotypes and biases that I have about someone else’s ability to succeed. It will be simpler to say, “The issue is we aren’t hiring enough Black college grads.” And then to say after three years when they leave and you did nothing else to ensure they stayed, “Well they just weren’t good enough to succeed here.” If you can’t see the problems with your workplace culture, then we aren’t going to make any progress.

Alison: Is there a common misstep that you see almost every company making? Or one thing that most companies would benefit from doing immediately?

Michelle: How much time do we have? I can think of a lot, and that’s why I talk about the Old Rules of Diversity in my book. But one that I have thought about a lot over the past year, especially since George Floyd’s murder, is focusing only on those who refuse to participate in the work.

Let’s say you have a group of people in a room and every one of those people has the physical ability to see. The room is dark. You want to turn on the light so they can see. You turn on a light. Here’s what equity work is like. Some eyes will hurt when you turn the light on, and they will need to be coached or trained to adapt. Some will blink and adjust quickly. Some have been waiting anxiously for light. And some eyes will stay closed and never open and then will write you emails about how angry they are that you turned a light on.

There will always be people who want to keep their eyes shut, no matter how much help you give them. Who want to shout “reverse racism” and “BLM is a terrorist group.” Who will never ever believe that they commit microaggressions or that there are systems in place that prevent success of marginalized groups. How much are you willing to prioritize them?

Because you can spend a lifetime trying to change someone’s heart and mind and convincing them that turning on the light is beautiful and all the good that will happen when you do and all the benefits it brings and then wait years until they believe, while everyone else sits in darkness. Or you can turn on the light and still do all the other persuasion work as well. Changing behaviors is not just about hearts and minds. It’s also about putting policies into place that people will adapt their behaviors to. And honestly, the difference between success and failure, is the leaders who are willing to turn on the light, and the leaders who want to leave everyone in darkness, including those who are screaming on the inside.

Alison: That’s great framing. One thing I’ve seen way too often is that managers’ own discomfort with race ends up harming employees of color, even when the manager thinks they’re doing the right thing. For example, they might manage a woman of color who needs some coaching on her work, but the manager doesn’t feel the same rapport with her that they feel with their white employees and/or they feel awkward coaching someone of another race on problems with her work … and so they let work issues go that they really should be addressing … and so that employee doesn’t get the same coaching and support that her white colleagues get … and as a result, she ends up not performing well and doesn’t advance. Sometimes she even loses her job. And from the outside — including to the layers of management above that particular manager — it looks like, “Well, she just couldn’t cut it” … but that’s not at all what happened. What can companies do to ensure that kind of scenario isn’t playing out on their teams?

Michelle: It starts with having those managers acknowledge this is a problem then doing some self-reflection on why that is. I spend the first half of a lot of my trainings, talking about the why, whether it’s stereotypes, racism, sexism, homophobia, a mistaken belief that you are color-blind, a fear of confrontation, a preference for your in-groups, or a lack of exposure to identity groups different from one’s own.

Then on an individual level, say, you can train the person feeling unequipped to deliver quality feedback on how to improve at it. Identifying language that should be used, questions that should be asked, approaching from a learner perspective as well as an instructor perspective, building the trust between the manager and the person of color.

But that’s not all the work. Do a work check. Is this person getting access to the same quality of work as their peers? If not, then fix it. Do a mentoring check. Does this person have one or more people who can speak to their work product and advocate for them? If not, then find that person for them. Do a compensation check. Does this person’s work output match the compensation they are provided as compared to others at their level? If not, then fix it. As the manager or as the manager of the managers, you need to ensure that intentions and impact are equal. Is your intent to treat the person equally? Then determine if you actually are.

Alison: A lot of companies gave lip service to racial justice last year during the BLM protests but since then haven’t done much in the way of meaningful change. For readers working in those companies, what can they do themselves to hold their employers accountable to those promises? And also, for readers working in companies that are far away from being open to an explicitly anti-racism framework, are there things those readers can still do to improve their workplaces for marginalized employees?

Michelle: If you are willing to hold your company accountable to their antiracism pledges, thank you! I tell this to folks a lot. I am a Black person. I did not create racism and I cannot fix racism. And so many Black professionals are exhausted from having to carry this burden alone. So welcome aboard. Let’s get to work.

First, what was the commitment? What did your company say they would do in June and July? Who was put in charge of the effort? What are they doing right now? What resources are committed to it? What targets are they achieving? What executives are pushing it? How public is their work? What deadlines have they set? Go put some specificity to those broad actions. No company should get credit for committing to work that they don’t actually do.

Second, what is your commitment? Looking at your own sphere of influence in your workplace, what antiracism actions are you taking on your own? Be objective about what you as an individual are doing with your work assignments, your client choices, your mentoring, your upstanding, and your own individual racial reckoning.

Third, how can you replicate that with others? Share with your own team and leadership what actions you are taking so they can too. Again, a lot of companies feel like workplace inequity is Too Big A Thing. It is a big thing but it is not Too Big a Thing. You can show your company that by demonstrating what you are doing and following up with them to see how they are replicating the work.

Now that’s for those of you who are in the minority of companies that stood up and said, “Here, and no further.” And that’s also for those who, maybe your company didn’t go all the way in, but still have some initiatives in place. Everyone does start somewhere.

That said, I know there are folks reading this whose companies are 100% resistant to any kind of diversity work. I know because those folks email me too. Here’s what I say. You can show your leaders the data. You can show them competitors. You can talk the business case. But that’s not where I like to start. I like to start where I start the New Rules in my book: “Tell them about the people.”

Tell them about the people who are not succeeding. Who are feeling left out, and overlooked, and discriminated against, and who your company is failing. Who want all the lights to be turned so they can be seen as well. Who you as a leader are failing. And then once you have them listening, propose a way, just one way, to start. Even better. Have them design an idea. That’s why I do design sprints with my clients. You get great ideas when people start innovating solutions, and you get solutions that they believe in and they can advocate for. It’s not a way to finish but it’s certainly a way to begin. Remember. This is a long road but it’s worthy work and it will change lives for good.

Buy Michelle’s book:

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hi. This post is about racial justice. White commenters, please do not center your own experiences or feelings here, which includes not derailing the conversation on ways you feel you’re also oppressed or have to adjust your behavior to meet conventional professional norms; that is not comparable to what people of color experience in mostly white workplaces.

    Thank you.

  2. juliebulie*

    A few years ago, my employer made a big point of talking about diversity and inclusion. We received multiple emails about it each week. It was all just hot air. But after this horrible summer, they stopped talking and started listening. I feel that it has made a huge difference.

      1. juliebulie*

        They organized a few sessions where employees (mostly, but not exclusively, African-American) recounted various racial incidents that they had been subjected to on the job at our company – bad behavior from coworkers, our clients, even restaurants where they had business lunches.

        It was a real eye-opener. I’m grateful to the company for encouraging them to talk about it instead of hushing it up. It is easy to think that we understand something just because we have some generic or abstract knowledge of it. It’s very different when you can look into a person’s eyes and feel it.

  3. Bopper*

    I forwarded the previous post to the leader of our North American area who is from Sweden… I know he was deeply affected after the George Floyd killing/BLM protests…Black people in our company had a discussion with him about “The Talk” and he never knew.

      1. Anononon*

        I think Bopper means that the leader had never heard of “The Talk” before speaking with them, not that he didn’t know about the discussion.

      2. The Original K.*

        “The Talk” refers to the talk that parents of Black children have with those children about how to stay alive when dealing with police. I assume Bopper means the leader didn’t know that such a talk existed.

  4. OrigCassandra*

    Thank you. This is very helpful. I’ve put in a request for my departmental library to purchase the book.

  5. I edit everything*

    Thank you for doing this work! It’s easy to say the words, harder to take meaningful action.

  6. Kat*

    This is really interesting! I might pick up this book even though I am a very low level employee with no ability to really induce change. I wonder if my employer would be able to identify the problem they want to solve? I am pretty sure that my department couldn’t. We’ve had a lot of trainings and workshops and seminars around diversity and inclusion – some of them quite good! – but it feels unfocused which I think leads some folks to feeling overwhelmed.

    1. sacados*

      So true. Talking about how important the whole “what specifically is the problem you’re trying to address” aspect is — it’s so eye-opening, yet also incredibly obvious when you think about it.
      Cause the reason these workshops etc so often end up being fairly toothless and ineffective is because they’re too unfocused. So it turns into an “Okay, welcome to our 3-hour Inclusion Seminar, now let’s discuss how to solve racism!” Which … yeah. Not going to be super helpful in the end.

      1. lemon*

        yes! i feel like two things usually happen in these kinds of seminars: lots of sharing from BIPOC about individual incidents of racism/microaggressions and/or a white person succumbs to white fragility and suddenly the whole meeting is about making them feel better.

        As a WOC, I totally get that there can be a kind of healing power to sharing those incidents with others– that feeling of like, “i’m not crazy, that actually was an effed up thing that happened!” But personally, I feel like…. I’ve processed that and want to move towards the next step: taking action. I want to know that I can do to stop this from continuing.

        And, of course, having to stop every meeting to cater to someone’s white fragility is super unproductive, and just adds to that feeling of helplessness, that feeling of being unable take action, to do something.

    2. meyer lemon*

      One of the great points in this interview is that whatever level you’re at, you can probably find some concrete steps to take, or to suggest to someone at a slightly higher level who seems receptive. I like the idea of taking a nebulous and overwhelming problem like racism and injustice in the workplace and breaking it down into pragmatic steps employees can take to make a difference. Definitely going to get a copy of the book.

    3. Forrest*

      Do you have an racial justice staff network? Or an allies network? Do you have a union? Are there any opportunities for lower-level staff to feedback on how you’d like the organisation’s culture or practice to change, or a suggestion box or anything? Could you feed it to your manager to take upwards? Just trying to brainstorm ways you can let your leadership know that there is an appetite for change. You might not be able to make organisational change, but maybe there are ways you can be one voice saying, “hey…”

      It’s also super scary as a lower-level employee to think about saying, “I would like to see more action on addressing our diversity problem”! But I think part of the big message that I’ve absorbed is that white people NEED to take those risks. We need to look for allies and networks outside of work as much as possible: do what we can to prepare ourselves to take the risk, but then DO IT, and relieve our colleagues of colour from having to do it.

      1. Kat*

        Thank you for this comment. You are correct – I need to do more to support positive. I did try to join our department’s DEI committee but it was full so they aren’t taking new members so I should look at other campus groups. My employer does seem to take diversity and inclusions seriously, which I appreciate. How effectively they will be able to address it remains to be seen.

    4. Captain Marvel*

      I’m a pretty low level employee too, and ever since my employer has told everyone that they going to get serious about tackling diversity and inclusion problems I’ve been asking more questions about what we’re doing. From what’s been said, it’s not really doing…anything concrete.
      So as part of my review I asked if I could be more involved since it was something important to me and now I’m the admin for the diversity group. Not really what I had in mind, but at least now I can ask my boss why we’re not doing something I feel could be valuable.

    5. Thoughtful*

      I feel this.
      I remember feeling frustrated that my college had a “Dean of Diversity,” but all he seemed to do was organize photo ops and scholarships.

      Whenever had students had a problem like inaccessible materials or classrooms, or a racist / homophobic professor, or surprise expenses that low-income students couldn’t afford, nothing got solved. Frankly, a lot of marginalized students dropped out, and it became clear that the administrators were only pretending to care.

  7. MarMar*

    Great stuff here. One thing I struggle with is how my friends and colleagues don’t see opportunities to be anti-racist that I feel are super obvious.

    My friend (who I don’t with with) was in a work chat where a couple guys were dropping a lot of dog whistles. The lone black man in the group brought up that he felt uncomfortable, but then apologized for “making a big deal out of it” when no one backed him up. It never crossed my friend’s mind to get involved, and that was super disappointing to me.

    1. c_g2*

      Are you white? If so as a white person here’s one way I like to approach this.
      Did you talk to your friend about how they could handle that differently? I’ve been in social groups where I’m the more knowledgeable one on anti-racist work (I’m no expert of course). So I just kinda walk them through the conversation and I give them scripts.
      I.e. you could tell your friend: when X (in this case the black guy) says he was uncomfortable with ___. Y (your friend) you could’ve said “hey X it’ ok that’s a valid point” and going forward say to the other guys if they repeat the dog whistle “that’s not appropriate/that has racist connotations/etc” and even talk to management so X doesn’t have to.
      It’s tiring to be the one educating people, especially white people who’ve never really acknowledged race before. But we’re all on our own journey. I just remind myself that I — a white person — should do this rather than a POC when possible.

    2. English, not American*

      As someone who has never been very socially astute, do you have any examples of these kind of dog whistles?

      1. c_g2*

        There’s a book I’ve seen recommended called Dog Whistle Politics that covers it.
        Politically dog whistles are pretty broad statements so it can’t technically be applied to only 1 racial group — connotation-wise it does though. More common ones include law and order, welfare queen, tough on crime, and the war on terror.

        1. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Thanks for the recommendation, I’m adding this to my to-read list. I didn’t know what “dog whistle” meant in that context until the last couple of years and it has been eye-opening to learn what they are.

      2. WonderWoman*

        There are so many, and it varies depending on the person being targeted and the country in which the company operates. But here are some in the US:

        *remarking on a Black person’s speech, even as a compliment like, “you’re so eloquent.”
        *comments about Jewish money or power
        *asking Asians where they were born/where they are from
        *telling someone they’re not like the other people from their minority group
        *assumptions about a person’s abilities based on their race, like: “They’re good at math because they’re Asian.”
        *assumptions that a person’s success is tied to their race, like, “They got into [school] because of affirmative action” or “They were hired for diversity.”

        Not a dog whistle, but I’ve also seen a lot of instances of soft racism in which someone tries to prove how not racist they are by attempting to appeal to another person’s race, like: “You’re Mexican? I LOVE tacos. Let me wax poetic about tacos at you while you stand there awkwardly. . . ” Note that this is very different from actual dialogue over a shared mutual interest. (So it’s not that you shouldn’t talk about tacos with someone who is Mexican, it’s that you shouldn’t assume every Mexican person wants to discuss tacos with you. This might be obvious, but . . . well, it’s not for a lot of people.)

        1. English, not American*

          This is helpful, thank you.
          I’ve put my foot in my mouth before with questions about surnames. I have a foreign name, so to me it’s like “hey, we’ve both got foreign names, how connected are you to your name’s country of origin because I’m not at all to mine and this is an interesting topic to me” but people have definitely heard it as “I am trying to imply that you’re not from this country despite you clearly being local”. So naturally I’ve stopped asking the question.

        2. Anononon*

          I could be wrong about this, but I think a lot of your examples are more microaggressions than dog whistles. It is my understanding that, generally, dog whistles don’t explicitly mention the specific targets, but their meaning is still understood. For example, talking about “thugs” and “inner cities” with no mentions of race, but the intended audience knows that the speaker is denigrating Black people and Latinos.

          1. Littorally*

            Yeah, this is the more normal meaning of “dog whistle.” The metaphor is this: just like humans can’t hear a dog whistle but dogs can, someone who is not part of the racist “in” group won’t realize that the discussion is talking about race in a negative way, but people who are part of that “in” group will know the discussion is racially charged.

  8. Crivens!*

    Thanks so much for this!

    Alison, could we maybe get the same note you included in yesterday’s discussion at the top of this one, about white people not making the entire thread about their experiences?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’d love to meet her. I’ve got an admiration for people who can explain quite complex matters with simple analogies.

        Working on getting the boss to authorise purchase of a copy.

    1. Quinalla*

      Yes and the really good point about not just focusing on the people that raise a stink. Those people need training, etc. but so many others who want the change, but also need some training/guidance on what to do and those who just want the damn light on already. Focus on all of those too and don’t delay just cause you have a few people who are resistant and I like the acknowledgement that some may never “open their eyes” it is unfortunate, but true, and also not something you can let stop you.

      I also like the appeal to the people side of this – that your people are struggling and failing because the company is failing them. It is a good appeal and it highlights the problem that too many white people aren’t seeing or are ignoring hoping it will fix itself.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      I really liked this analogy, too, and want to thank both Michelle and Alison for doing and sharing this interview!

      The part about the people who will send angry emails about you turning on the light really resonated with me and helped me make sense of some experiences I’ve had, so I really appreciated that in particular.

    3. Artemesia*

      I like it partly because it separates the people who have trouble adjusting to the light at first from those who keep their eyes shut. It is easy to sort people into ‘two groups’ and for anti racism, the key is not the recalcitrant racists — it is the people who don’t think they are racist but are clueless about how racist the ‘normal’ of their organization is.

      1. LizM*

        Yes, it really crystalized some dynamics I’ve been thinking about. I know a handful of people who honestly don’t believe they are racist, but have benefited from their privilege to an extent that they just don’t see the structural issues, and changing those issues will be uncomfortable for them because it will force them to see that privilege, but if we handle it correctly, they’ll get onboard. As opposed to the people who just flat out don’t value diversity and inclusion, for whom the message is – the light’s on, if you can’t be in this room without disrupting our work by shouting about the light, someone will help you find the door and you can go sit in the dark at home.

    1. ArtK*

      Most people are able to read this and generalize to other areas of discrimination. Just because *one* particular form of discrimination wasn’t addressed, doesn’t mean that it’s been excluded. It becomes awkward to discuss discrimination in the general and then have to enumerate all of the possible forms — gender, orientation, religion for starters — every time you have the discussion. No matter how hard you try, you’ll end up leaving *someone* out.

      1. ArtK*

        Argh. Alison replied while I was writing mine. Although this is about race, I personally believe that my response is still correct and that you can generalize to other forms of discrimination quite easily. In the work setting it boils down to: Are we making decisions based on what someone does vs who they are?

        1. LTL*

          The post clearly references various forms of prejudice, so I think you’re on point. Strange that you can try to focus on fixing one issue (like racial prejudice) but some will take that as an attack on other issues.

    2. LDF*

      I’m a white woman. It’s not the same thing. We talk about sexism on this blog all the time. Let this one thread not be about you

      1. JO*

        That’s not very generous interpretation. I don’t see where Quickbeam has made it about themselves. They were just pointing out that race is centered around this post and gender isn’t really discussed.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      We really need to get out of this mindset that when one identified group “gets something” other people somehow get shortchanged. Working towards true equity benefits everyone. When we allow people of color to succeed in the workplace, it benefits everyone.

    4. Observer*


      Michelle is a woman, so I would think that the issues around gender are quite important to her. Furthermore, it’s quite clear that her book is not discussing ONLY race. But sometimes it is useful to focus one one specific aspect of an issue – especially since just that alone is HUGE. Especially when broadening the focus lends itself so much to derailing and minimizing very real issues.

      So, in THIS context it makes sense to limit the discussion to race. It’s not as though Alison never deals with gender related discrimination here!

  9. Much to learn this life*

    I’m employed by a contractor, so I can’t know what all the inner workings or limitations are; but I’m thrilled to see corn rows in the C-suite, dreads and culture-appropriate speech in customer-facing roles, and Afros (as well as full-sleeve ink on others) in customer service. Even DMV hires wear all their piercings and show their tatts here, and supervisors are often women and POC. So far to go though.

    1. Lady Danbury*

      FYI, some people find the term “dreads” to be offensive, as there’s nothing dreadful about their hair. Obviously it’s not universal but locs is more neutral if you want to shorten it.

      1. JSPA*

        Not all locs are dreadlocks, but dreadlocks, as a social and political statement, are not an insult.

        As a chosen style, it’s a Rastafari term. Respect for / dread before an awesome god. The throwing off of colonial norms. Link to follow.

        I know it’s been ascribed to the British. In the past couple of years, some people have declared it colonial and dismissive.

        But the erasure of decades of chosen Black culture or terminology, in an attempt to counter what may well be a false etymology, and is certainly a false history of the term as used, is unfortunate. (Which is to say, not the use of “locs” for the neat, tidy, socially-approved version…but the re-demonizing, within black culture, of “dreads,” both as a term, and all that they have stood for and stand for.)

        None of which will matter if this is in fact a groundswell of language change, coming from within the culture.

        But insofar as it’s prescriptivism by those with a platform, who adopted the look “as a look,” have little awareness of the history, and are actually happier about sporting the look if they can ignore the Rastafari background, then…they’re welcome to push. It may work. But still, there’s a little side-eye for cultural appropriation. Having naps doesn’t mean you have a magic right to redefine and direct the culture and language of everyone else with naps. [Feel free to replace “naps” with any other human characteristic, for a different argument on a different topic.]

          1. Lady Danbury*

            I’m from the Caribbean (born, raised and live here!) so I’m well aware of the history/culture of dreadlocks and agree that it’s important to raise awareness amongst those who don’t know. This lack of knowledge, including amongst Black people, raises issues within the diaspora, as you’ve discussed above, but also with interactions between non-Black and Black people.

            Rightly or wrongly, some Black people will still take offense at the word dread, especially when used by a non-Black person. Therefore, it’s important to point that out so that non-Black people don’t unintentionally cause offense.

  10. Adrienne*

    I went in halfsies on the book w a work friend. We are VY excited to read it, thank you for the spotlight AAM!

    1. Michelle Silverthorn*

      I am so sorry it’s so pricey! That was a sticker shock to me as well. I hope you enjoy it.

  11. Hotdog not dog*

    I am definitely buying this book! For those of us not in a position of authority, I’m hoping to learn what can be done at the grassroots level to influence my small part of the world and become part of the solution.

  12. Kiki*

    I love that Alison and Michelle brought up how a lot of companies’ management structures, lack of support, and poor feedback mechanisms can hold back employees of color but it gets “disguised” as personal failure of the employee of color. It’s something I have felt at my workplace but feel like I can’t bring it up without seeming like I’m trying to blame my workplace for my own lack of performance. These poor structures can also contribute to burnout amongst employees of color who do succeed because they’re working 2x as hard with no support but their output is still the same as peers who are receiving additional support.

    1. WonderWoman*

      Agreed! I had an issue with a white male manager who never spoke to me for years, then suddenly told me there were serious issues with my performance and that people had been complaining about me for a long time. When I asked him what I could do differently moving forward, he claimed to have “forgotten” the details of what I’d done wrong and therefore could not give me any constructive criticism. It was a nightmare scenario. At one point, I became so desperate for actionable feedback that I literally tried throwing random ideas out like, “what if I try [this]?” just to see what might stick.

    2. lemon*

      yes, i really appreciated this, too! and also highlighting the focus on hiring POC and thinking that solves the problem.

      i’m the first person of color on my team, and… i definitely feel like a diversity hire. it feels like they were happy to get a visible POC in the role, but absolutely zero thought was put into thinking how this role would be supported– making sure there would be substantive, challenging work, ensuring that were clear duties and goals and success metrics attached to the role, and ensuring adequate supervision. as a result, for my entire first year here, my team pretty much ignored me. once a week, my manager would email me a task that I could get done in ten minutes and… that was it. things got a bit better in my second year, but not by much. the weirdest part of this is the overwhelming focus on visibility– i’ve felt a weird pressure to perform happiness, and the times i’ve (politely, professionally) expressed concern over the lack of support, the response has been total surprise. as thought i were a piece of furniture that suddenly started to speak– like, “oh wow, we didn’t even stop to consider that you’d want things.”

      and i know when i leave, they’re just going to think, “well, they weren’t a good fit for the culture.” it’s not going to occur to them that the culture isn’t set up to help people who don’t fit a very narrow mould succeed.

      1. Michelle Silverthorn*

        Yup. Exactly. Companies don’t typically have a hiring issue. Companies have a retention issue. They bring in diverse people and then keep the systems the way they are which are not structured to allow for a different way of success.

  13. Just Wow.*

    We’re in the middle of a diversity and inclusion initiative and I just found out that my c-suite lawyer boss created a paid internship for the college student son of the CEO’s girlfriend “because he’s thinking of going to law school.” You can all guess the race and gender of all the players here.

    So, should I be SMH or SMDH in this situation?

  14. c_g2*

    I wonder if there are specific changes needed for double or so on minorities? I.e. LGBTQ+ POC, WOC, LGBTQ+ WOC? Oftentimes I see companies treat race, gender, and sexuality as completely separate (both from seeing and from being queer and a woman). It’s not effective to avoid intersectionality

  15. voyager1*

    “ There will always be people who want to keep their eyes shut, no matter how much help you give them. Who want to shout “reverse racism” and “BLM is a terrorist group.” Who will never ever believe that they commit microaggressions or that there are systems in place that prevent success of marginalized groups. How much are you willing to prioritize them?”

    This paragraph really jumps out at me. I reminded that MLK had single digits approval from whites when he was alive, today on MLK day you can’t scroll through Facebook without white people quoting and posting memes about him. BLM has much higher approval today (I have seen 40-60% roughly). So times have changed some.

    The second part “reverse racism” is very different. When the times I have heard this term, it was about very individual situations. The reality is a BLM protest doesn’t impact many, and if you don’t want to be there it is easy to avoid. But when a white person loses a promotion or job to a black person that is a very individual situation. That has a
    lot of impact. So… story time:

    I went up for a promotion about 6 years ago. It was between me and a black woman. I had 6 years experience and the recommendation of my manager. I however do not have management experience. The lady had a diverse experience in our industry (banking) and approximately 20 years of management experience…. but no experience in our area/speciality. I lost out, I was disappointed. But what blew me away was I had three white (women) tell me I as discriminated against and the person who was hired was a “diversity hire.” I personally talked to all three of those individuals and said it was a tough call for the decider to chose. In the end I just lost. I also told these three individuals my favorite Capt Picard quote about doing everything right and still losing, because that is just life. I told them I don’t think race played into the decision.

    I like to think how I handled those three ladies made them think. I don’t think it was a waste of time to trying to change their minds or at least make them think. I think it is on white people (like myself) to do this. It isn’t hard and it is very individual so it probably has more impact then defending a protest.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      Great response to their comments! My thought is that it’s easier to teach the specific area/specialty once you have someone who already has strong management experience. IMO.

    2. Littorally*

      Yeah, this is a great point about the “reverse racism” canard. I think it goes to show how strongly some people see it as “natural” that the composition of powerful positions looks the way it does, as though any deviation from the white male (able-bodied cis etc…) norm took place due to some kind of bias, as opposed to the norm being created via bias.

    3. Artemesia*

      I remember vividly a conversation probably 30 years ago when a friend was complaining that her husband had lost out on a job and they ‘told him they had to hire a minority’ and how unfair that was. I happened to know the organization and knew that the person they hired in that job was a white man. It is not uncommon for hiring managers to want to ‘soften’ the rejection by claiming their hands were tied and they had to go with a woman or minority when they just don’t want to hire the person.

    4. ThatGirl*

      So obviously reverse racism is not a thing, but this made me think of something else too … So what if affirmative action is real? So what if a Black woman or another BIPOC got a job over me? Even if they were slightly less qualified, why should I mind that? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know it sucks to lose out on jobs. But in a broader view of things maybe sometimes a non-white person SHOULD get a leg up, because historically they have been given fewer chances and advantages. (With the given of someone with the right experience and so forth of course.)

      In your case, it sounds like they decided like management experience beat out the experience in your specialty; I’m not at all saying race had anything to do with it. But hypothetically, if they gave her a slight edge because they’re trying to make up for past wrongs, so what?

      1. Aglaia761*

        Diversity is a choice.

        I came across this phrase several years ago (10?) and it’s really stayed with me all of this time. Because it really is a choice, and when you make the choice FOR diversity, you have to give them all of the tools and support you would have the white person if not more.

        That’s where I get frustrated because so often a BIPOC candidate is chosen and then the company doesn’t continue to follow through that choice and give them visibility and support they need to succeed.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Oh I totally agree — I don’t mean that sort of decision should stand in a vacuum. I’m saying … what if a company did say “these two candidates are both very strong, let’s give a little extra weight to the Black woman.” — why would that be a bad thing? Of course that company should also be committed to diversity and inclusion throughout the company.

      2. nom de plume*

        As far as I understand it, affirmative action is not about choosing a lesser qualified person by virtue of their race – through that’s how popular right-wing discourse likes to misrepresent it.

        It’s the decision to prioritize a candidate belonging to a certain category, all other qualifications being equal.

        Misrepresenting AA has become a cudgel of the right, and it pays to be careful how we all talk about it too. If AA applied (which we can never know anyhow), don’t somehow assume that person was less deserving. That’s a first step in breaking down these prejudices.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yes, I know, I’m just saying — why would that be a bad thing? Even if I were the person who lost out to that person? (And even if a *slightly* less qualified but still very good minority candidate got chosen over me, why should that upset me?)

          1. LunaLena*

            Logically it shouldn’t upset you, but humans aren’t logical, we’re emotional. And we don’t like rejection. I mean, just look at all the letters here that are from people who were rejected for a job and write in asking if they were discriminated against – one I can remember off the top of my head is the guy who was rude to a random person on the subway and she turned out to be the wife of the boss at his job interview that day, so he was sure she had sabotaged his chances. Most of time we don’t know why we were rejected for a job, so we try to fill in the blanks, and it’s extremely easy to fill in one of those blanks with “they just wanted a diversity hire.” It’s face-saving (“I was clearly the best candidate, but they rejected me because I’m not X! Not my fault!”), it places blame elsewhere (“the manager was biased against me because of X”), and it makes the upset-ness at being rejected justified (“I’m right to be mad, because clearly the process wasn’t fair”).

            And that blame and anger has to go somewhere. Sometimes it gets placed on the hiring manager or company. Sometimes it get placed on “political correctness” or “dumb” laws and practices. But sometimes it get put on the minority candidate, who clearly “stole” the job by virtue of their X-ness. That’s why it’s bad thing – it drives yet another wedge into the “us vs. them” divide, and gives people yet another reason to hate minorities, who are clearly getting an unfair advantage over hard-working majorities. A rather extreme example of this can be seen in the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin. In the early 80s, Japanese cars became popular in the US, and many US auto workers got laid off as plants closed down. Many workers blamed the Japanese for the loss of their job, and when two of them saw an Asian man at a strip club (Chin was having his bachelor party there), they followed him out and beat him to death. Neither of Chin’s killers went to jail, by the way – they were given a small fine and put on probation.

            I hope that answers your question, but I have to say – I would have thought it should be obvious why misrepresenting affirmative action is a bad thing? Aside from the fact that spreading misinformation is usually regarded as a bad thing, and the misrepresentation makes people assume that those they label as “affirmative action hires” are less qualified, as you yourself are doing? (seriously, you keep emphasizing that the hypothetical minority candidate is less qualified than you) Is it really that hard for people to understand why something that downplays the accomplishments of minorities and makes them look undeserving of their success would be a bad thing? I really don’t mean that in a derogatory “wow ur dumb” way, it just surprised me that non-POC are *that* unaware of why something like that would be harmful.

            1. ThatGirl*

              I must not have explained myself very well or my tone didn’t come across (which is understandable, this being the internet).

              I *do* understand why people get upset over rejections, for whatever reason. I do understand why people denigrate minorities and assume they only got a job because of their skin color etc or downplay their accomplishments. I get ALL of that.

              What I am saying is, since I am a white woman who is doing her best to be actively anti-racist, it should not/would not bother me if a Black woman (for instance) got a job in my place, even if she were on paper a little less qualified. And as noted above, I would hope that company was also doing its best to support all of their BIPOC employees and other minorities.

      3. meyer lemon*

        In principle, it is pretty ridiculous for white people to take great offense if the tables were turned and we were put at a disadvantage for once. But given that many white people tend to assume that anything approaching equality is de facto reverse racism, and that many white people treat their BIPOC colleagues as “diversity hires” and can’t imagine that they might possibly possess the correct (or perhaps much higher) qualifications, there isn’t much value in giving even that much ground to people who think they see reverse racism. Chances are they are just perceiving slightly less racism as an injustice to themselves.

        1. English, not American*

          It’s because of the myth of success being a meritocracy, especially beliefs like “the american dream”. Obviously advantages and disadvantages start from birth, but people still hold the idea that if you work harder you’ll do better, and if you do well enough you’ll reach the top of the ladder. It’s a bitter enough pill to swallow when you’re faced with the reality that that isn’t how the world works without even getting to the part where someone else is given the advantage you’re used to.

          1. English, not American*

            I put this reply to the wrong comment – was meant to be under ThatGirl’s above

          1. Older and bolder*

            I want this emblazoned on something. Buses? T-shirts? The US Capitol or the UN building? UK parliament?
            It needs to be seen.
            Thank you. I’ll start with people I know.

    5. LunaLena*

      Thank you for sticking up for the other candidate. It really infuriates me whenever people see a minority do well and call them an “affirmative action hire” or “diversity hire” or other term that diminishes their accomplishments. Sometimes it feels like minorities just can’t win – if they work hard and do well, they only succeeded because of their race. If they don’t do well, then, see this is why you shouldn’t hire minorities. It can be so disheartening, so I love your response, especially the Picard quote and pointing out specifically that race probably wasn’t a factor.

  16. TimeTravlR*

    Thanks so much for this! We are in the midst of developing some ideals around our office’s culture now that we have a new leader and this is good stuff to consider!

  17. Gwen Soul*

    I am proud of my workplace and the steps they have taken. I work in a very data centric area and Humana has signed onto the bias in AI pledge (and I know is taking it seriously) and we just hired a chief equity officer, we also have been focusing on social determinates of health for years.

    I know there is work to do but I feel good knowing we are trying. They are having the tough conversations within as well.

  18. NW Mossy*

    One piece of racialism I see too much in my organization is differential treatment of people who are both POC and non-native speakers of American English. Their accent, differing fluency in written vs. verbal communication, and even word choice gets flagged as “poor communication skills” and “lack of knowledge” and that becomes the basis to mark them down.

    It’s frustrating to see this in an organization that prides itself on its diversity and inclusion efforts. We do a lot that’s outward (like financially supporting nonprofits works on racial justice), but are blind to what goes on inside.

    1. Angstrom*

      If the colleagues, or the audience, or the customers don’t understand what the speaker is trying to say, that’s a legitimate communication issue. There are occupations(typically not office jobs) where clear, standard terminology is a life safety issue.
      It is not unreasonable to have standards for communication. It is unreasonable to not help your employees achieve those standards.

      1. NeonFireworks*

        If you work in e.g. air traffic control, then absolutely. Otherwise, it’s probably prejudice (conscious or not) masquerading as commitment to “good” language.

        1. Self Employed*

          I definitely don’t want to get an “overseas tech support” level of communication if I’m calling 911 about a fire or heart attack. Or if I’m getting tech support for a medical device, for that matter.

      2. Roci*

        I definitely see different treatment of white people with non-native English vs. POC with non-native English.
        One person’s accent is rarely commented on. The other is assumed to be stupid and untrustworthy.
        It’s not an issue of “objective standards”, it’s “I can’t understand your words when they come out of your face.”

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve seen this happen a couple of times at work. Now I’m in the UK where you can go 20 miles and encounter a different accent and some are difficult to understand at first.

          But..a black person with a pronounced e.g. Birmingham accent is more likely to be told they ‘have to speak proper English’ than a white person with the exact same accent. For the white person their accent is ‘just part of their personality’. For the black person their accent is ‘because they’re too lazy to learn’.

        2. Self Employed*

          Yeah, I definitely saw this with how people treated a friend who immigrated from Sweden and was still speaking English like someone who learned it as a language in high school ages ago: strong accent, difficulty finding words. Did anyone disrespect him for it? LOL nope.

          He’s in his second engineering job and still doesn’t have the level of fluency someone would demand from a Latinx university graduate.

      3. NW Mossy*

        In the specific context I’m talking about, it’s office work without health/safety implications and the employees have a very limited need to work with anyone outside the organization. We do have some standardized terminology for key concepts, but white employees make errors with them at pretty much the same rate as POC employees.

        What I see is a lot less grace extended to these non-native speakers if they’re reaching for a word, make a error in an email that doesn’t meaningfully change the message, speak with a different pace/tone, struggle with slang/shorthand, or use idioms that aren’t standard in American English (like “please do the needful,” which is common in Indian English).

  19. blue*

    This is fantastic, and I’m going to share it a lot. Thank you Alison. Thank you Michelle. So looking forward to reading your book!

  20. JO*

    “You turn on a light. Here’s what equity work is like. Some eyes will hurt when you turn the light on, and they will need to be coached or trained to adapt. Some will blink and adjust quickly. Some have been waiting anxiously for light. And some eyes will stay closed and never open and then will write you emails about how angry they are that you turned a light on.”

    I am curious to see what policies that the writer is proposing that would generate such an angry reaction out of people.

      1. Lady Danbury*

        Thank you for this interview! I loved the light analogy and shared it with my sister who does management training with companies, including D&I training. As a Black woman who has worked in corporate America and overseas, I am SO TIRED of being an unpaid diversity consultant. That includes requests from the company/management as well as questions from coworkers.

        I would love white people to advocate for racial equity in the workplace in a way that doesn’t place further burden on their Black coworkers. There are a million books, articles, websites, etc that address this issue in a way that centers Black voices, including Michelle’s book. Do the work to educate yourself without asking a Black colleague or stranger to educate you for free. And then use what you’ve learned to advocate for change.

      2. JO*

        I have talked about racism with lots of people. The reactions I get can vary depending on what policies are discussed or how they are framed. Almost no one would dispute that racism exists and is a problem. Perhaps our different experiences are due to region/occupation.

        1. LunaLena*

          You must have a very progressive social circle. I can assure you that I, as a WOC, have had many conversations with white people where people got angry or reacted badly to the mere idea that I could have an opinion of my own, or told me I’m an “oversensitive, complaining-to-complain” Asian because I objected to racist jokes when their Chinese friend from childhood didn’t.

          1. The Original K.*

            I have had white people quite literally storm off in a huff when I’ve shared my own experiences with racism. Like, racist stuff happened TO ME, I tell them it happened TO ME, and they deny it happened and storm off. Not an isolated incident, either. I wasn’t asking them to do anything but accept my truth and they wouldn’t even do that.

          2. JO*

            It’s a different story as far as my social circle goes vs my workplace. I would imagine that for most peoples social circle that there are people that react badly if they acknowledge that racism exists. I didn’t mean to come off as invalidating. I was referring to the people that I have discussed racism at work. My occupational history is in Psych/Correctional nursing so we see racism every day and at times even have to accommodate it. In this field, it’s impossible to deny that it exists.

            1. Tinker*

              I think maybe the issue here is that while it is pretty rare for people to outright deny that racism exists, outright denial of the existence of racism is almost never the problem. However, as you go through “racism exists somewhere”, “racism happens around you”, “racism is sometimes done by people you find relatable”, “racism is sometimes done for reasons you find relatable”, “you sometimes do racist things”, “some of the racist things you do are tied into your sense of order, safety, and justice at a pretty visceral level”, and “it’s not possible to avoid some degree of culpability in racist patterns that cause nontrivial harm to other people”, usually even fairly progressive people get to feeling shifty and wanting to get back to the subject of printing fun T-shirts for the diversity initiative at a certain point, and long before that someone has pointedly remarked that something they’re not saying would get them fired, in their view unfairly, if they said it.

              How do the conversations you’ve had look against that sort of ruler?

          3. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I used to care about being the ‘acceptable face of minority’ and was still met with hatred at work. There are people who honestly truthfully believe that giving equal opportunities will mean their own views and culture (white, male, straight etc) will be oppressed or banned outright . They can get awfully vicious about it.

            Now I don’t have the spoons anymore to be the friendly face.

        2. ArtK*

          I’m with Alison on this one. I’ve seen very hostile responses to mentions of racism or to any action attempting to counter it. You’re fortunate that you haven’t seen these, but they exist and are, sadly, quite common. Try using the word “privilege” and see what happens.

          BTW, I’m white, male, cis-gendered so if I’m seeing this, POC are absolutely experiencing it.

        3. Managing In*

          I encourage you to pivot your thinking from “Almost no one would dispute that racism exists and is a problem.” to “In my personal experiences, people don’t dispute that racism exists and is a problem. However, I see many people, all across this website and beyond, saying otherwise. Including a woman who is expert enough on racism to publish books with academic presses. Perhaps I can’t extrapolate with perfect accuracy using only what I personally encounter.”

          1. JO*

            “In my personal experience” was implied because I was discussing my experiences talking about racism with colleagues. For the sake of clarity, I want to be explicit and say just because I don’t see it or hear about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

        4. Applecore*

          Almost no one would dispute that racism exists and is a problem.

          I may have met every single one of the exceptions, then, because as a middle-aged woman of color I can estimate that if I had a dollar for every person whom I’ve seen dispute this, or even just a dollar for every person who has told me personally that racism is over, I could at least buy a very nice new computer.

          1. Anononon*

            Literally twenty minutes ago, I hung up from a rambling phone call with someone in my industry who expressed bafflement at the protests over the past summer and thought that we were past racism in the USA.

        5. ArtK*

          Following up here, albeit a bit late. Some things that I’ve observed today on social media.

          Nia Dennis is a gymnast at UCLA (Go Bruins!) She did a floor routine which has gone viral, for good reason. She’s excellent and got a 9.95 (very rare early in the season like this.) Nia is Black, she used Black musicians for the music and the title of the routine is “Black Excellence.” On FB at least, every 4th or 5th comment is along the lines of “why bring her race into it?” or “if it were White Excellence people would be up in arms.” Despite claims of “colorblindness,” those comments come from a place of racism.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Oh my god, seriously. Those comments made me so angry. The gymnastics community has historically been a very exclusive and white-centered space, and people saying ‘why bring her race into it?’ as though she can somehow remove her skin at the door to the arena are so infuriating.

        6. LizM*

          That has not been my experience. I have had *multiple* employees complain to me that they are required to take 4 hours a year of EEO and Diversity Training. This is not an onerous requirement. We offer special observance month programs almost every month that count towards that requirement (Women’s History Month, African American History Month, Pride Month, etc.), as well as a library of videos and documentaries they can watch. They just have to find 4 hours out of a year to do this. And people still complain every year that it’s a waste of time and it’s interfering with their “real, important” work. And I live in a relatively liberal community.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, that’s unfortunate. But to be fair, I don’t think that mandatory D&I programs will do much good, because the people most in need of this training are the least likely to benefit from it. They’ll go through the motions but it’s unlikely to change their minds, and if anything, may even make them double down more. There’s no easy solution to this, I’m afraid. The only thing that might help would be, if diversity is an actual core value of the organization, would be to ensure that POC get promoted and get at least as much access to training on the job as whites do, and that racist behavior at the organization carries some real consequences. D&I training won’t do much good by itself, and no organization can call itself diverse if all it does to promote diversity is to require its employees to attend some training. If the C-suite is all white and only white men are considered for promotion, the training requirement is just diversity washing.

        7. Blackcat*

          Have you ever said to someone “X term is offensive so it’s best to avoid it?”
          Even from progressive white people, 9 times out of 10, the response is anger. And I do it as nicely as possible! “Hey, I know you might not realize it, but X term is offensive and it should be avoided. I didn’t know for a long time, either.”
          Still. Anger! So much anger!

        8. Older and bolder*

          I am white. I can only speak for 4 states in the USA, where I lived for 60 years, and 4 countries in Europe, where I’ve lived for 10 years. On a weekly basis, someone speaking to me denies that race is a problem in their country. After I have just told them of the racist thing I just witnessed.

    1. anne of mean gables*

      If my workplace is any indication, acknowledging that racism and/or microaggressions might exist in our workplace is sufficient to generate disbelieving/’this is a waste of time’ emails!

    2. Tinker*

      “White commenters, please do not center your own experiences or feelings here, which includes not derailing the conversation on ways you feel you’re also oppressed or have to adjust your behavior to meet conventional professional norms; that is not comparable to what people of color experience in mostly white workplaces” comes to mind as an example of a policy that is sufficiently controversial to get folks wanting to argue with it.

    3. Anon for this*

      I went to a “support the PoC here” meeting after some hate crimes happened in our region. Unfortunately, an older white guy showed up from who knows where and talked about nothing for 30 minutes. Then he noticed that a W0C was crying because she was scared, and he yelled at her because he couldn’t understand why and felt contemptuous about it.

      1. Older and bolder*

        Another example of privilege that he was allowed to go on for that long and speak that way to someone. I hope the group learned to do better immediately and the woman was supported by other people there.

      2. Middle-aged woman of color*

        Yeah if you were white you def should have interrupted him. Not OK that he was allowed to do any of this. Was this a meeting your work setup? Whoever was in charge of it should be fired for running it so poorly, and the white guy (if a worker at the company) should also be fired.

  21. J.B.*

    One thing I would also like to see companies make a point of doing is recruiting at HBCUs. I agree absolutely that this is more than a pipeline problem!!! But in my old industry I didn’t even see a diverse pool hired in the first place, and definitely see how the academic culture at many white institutions has the same unwelcoming traits of the workplace.

    1. Lady Danbury*

      Also, hire from a diversity of HBCU’s, not just Morehouse, Spelman, Howard, Hampton, FAMU.

  22. JSPA*

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the so-called elephant in the room only looks large if you zoom in to a bizarre level, like zooming on a photo until you can count nose-hairs (or pixels). Namely, whether (in the name of increased diversity) someone who’s only 96.7% perfect for the role on the basis of hard data might edge out someone who’s 96.9% perfect for the role on the basis of the same data.

    People rarely do this–for school places or for hiring or for booking musical acts–when the issue is one of style, geographic diversity, educational breadth or all of the various things that (correctly!) get explained as, “more points of view, more ways of approaching tasks, people, and life in general, and a diversity of styles is refreshing, eye-opening and healthy.” But toss “under-represented class” into that mix (and race, in specific) and some people lose their damned minds, over that 0.2% difference.

    Plenty of them are knowingly operating in bad faith. Others can be slammed back into reality if you quietly force them to zoom back out to the big picture.

    Call it out. Chart the strikingly similar degree to which both are excellent; the smaller but also strikingly similar level of deficits; and draw a teensy-tiny arrow, complete with question mark, pointing to the vanishingly small-to-the-point-of-irrelevance difference in hard qualifications. Ask them if that particular grain of sand is the mountain they want to die on.

    If it turns out that someone is fixated on a particular skill being 100% on day 1, that’s something to discuss.

    Usually, though, it isn’t.

    In my experience, in most cases, their sudden devotion to a scoring rubric disappears when the candidates seem, to them, like people who are “likely to be competent” (i.e. from a group they stereotype as competent) and pop up each time there are candidates from groups they stereotype as incompetent.

  23. not that kind of Doctor*

    This year my employer established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee. Concrete actions are being taken company-wide, with HR and Marketing out front in terms of execution & visibility. It still feels like a drop in the bucket, but it’s something. It’s a start.

    The challenge that I see is getting more POC promoted. Our factory floor is diverse but our leadership team and most of upper management are White. How do we make sure everyone has access and support? My team is all White but we are hiring. How do I know our search is wide enough? How do I compensate for my own invisible filters?

    One advantage we have is that our company president believes that diverse workplaces are stronger and healthier, and she’s putting action behind her words.

    1. Lady Danbury*

      Have you talked to your POC employees? If POC are not getting promoted, there is likely an issue within your organization that you are not aware of or are ignoring. Do POC feel that they have a safe space to report potential issues? Do management take reports seriously or do they brush them off? Do they actively call out microaggressions? Are they actively sponsoring/mentoring POC or just ppl that look like them?

      If you can’t even identify the issue, it’s likely that POC do not feel like that your organization is a safe space and if you, as management, try to have an honest conversation with them they may not feel comfortable sharing their concerns. It might be helpful for your organization to hire a third party expert who is able to have these conversations and help guide your organization towards creating a concrete plan to increase the diversity of your leadership.

      As noted above, DEI initiatives should be lead by the C-suite, not the marketing team. Otherwise, it feels like a PR exercise, not a company-wide commitment to change. Is the president on the DEI committee? If not, she or someone of similar influence and commitment should be!

  24. Strong Independent Acid Snake*

    Thank you for sharing this interview and the extract from the book yesterday. This interview really drives home the point that it is not fair to expect BIPOC employees to “fix” the workplace, and to expect them to “fix” it a way that doesn’t cause any discomfort to White people. Feeling uncomfortable discussing racism and how to confront it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to do nothing about it.

    1. Lady Danbury*

      All too often, POC are required to carry out their regular 9-5 as well as an unpaid second role as diversity consultant. At the very least, POC should be compensated for their diversity-related work, especially since being involved in these initiatives takes time away from other networking/extracurricular activities that may have a more direct impact on their career advancement.

      1. Strong Independent Acid Snake*

        Excellent point- it seems to be that sometimes BIPOC are given these roles with the attitude that they should be “grateful” to get the opportunity to address them. But this only promotes the idea that this issue is a BIPOC problem and not an everyone problem. (As in it takes everyone to address it not that it effects everyone in the same way)

      2. Older and bolder*

        This also happens in media. The local Black reporter is brought out for MLK Day, Black History Month, or for news that takes place in “the projects”, and is never seen otherwise. Diversity consultation done.
        MLK Day is very important/ dear to me (White female). I don’t want to lessen the Black reporter’s screen time, which is what I’m afraid would happen, but we need to see that it’s a day for *everyone* to contemplate. Every other news story could be handled just as well by the POC so let them shine every day!

  25. Aria*

    This is fantastic advice and I honestly wish more organizations would listen to it. I recently finished a contract at a toxic workplace where they were mostly in denial about this stuff and the people who have the power and supposedly cared didn’t do enough or paid lip service. It’s even more frustrating when you come from a country where many White people don’t think racism is a problem here or that it’s not such a big deal.

    1. Older and bolder*

      Quoting Keymaster of Gozer from above:
      “To people accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression. “

  26. Blur Rasta*

    Some companies could really stand to read this, re-read it. Let it sit for a few weeks. And then think about how their toxic, abusive (read: discriminatory) behavior has *coincidentally* driven women and POC far far away.

  27. I'm just here for the cats*

    I just came here to add that this post and the one before came at a great time. At work my team is looking at ways to be more diverse and inclusive (we work in university with students). I shared both articles with my coworkers. There’s talk about getting some books that we can share and I’m looking into Michelle’s book.

  28. Finland*

    A white person saying that racism doesn’t exist is like a cat owner saying that mice don’t exist.

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