calling out racism, supporting a Black manager, and other questions with Michelle Silverthorn

Today Michelle Silverthorn, founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation, returns to Ask A Manager! Michelle is the author of the best-selling book Authentic Diversity: How to Change the Workplace for Good (read an excerpt here) and talked with us last year about the work she does to help build more equitable companies. Now she’s back to take readers’ questions!

Michelle: Thanks for having me back Alison and letting me share my thoughts on race during MLK week. Let’s get into it.

1. Are we overstepping boundaries in our DEI work?

I work in a “helping profession.” Recently, my employer adopted a plan of increasing racial equity and justice in our organization. As part of the plan we are working in teams at a building level to engage in equity training and spearhead dialogue and changes in our individual locations. These teams include those with supervisory roles and those without. I am one of those without.

This is necessary work: studies and numerous personal accounts show there are racial disparities in the quality of services and experiences people experience in our field, some of which are rooted in systems and some in individual practice. There are uncomfortable but undeniable facts we all need to face. However, I am also struggling with the idea that we’re essentially asking everyone to get in step with the party line and at least pay lip service to a specific set of beliefs. My field already struggles so much with boundaries, and I’m not sure where the line is.

Which brings me to my question. How can we advance a goal that is so rooted in personal and political philosophy without overstepping our place?

Michelle: Listen, I can tell you about equality and justice and how if we call those political beliefs, then we have some serious issues as a human population. I can also talk about how your organization and their leaders can set forth whatever values they would like as long as they are legally allowed and board- or owner-approved. But I’m guessing you know all of that. So, here’s what I will say instead.

You work in a “helping profession.” My sister does too. She’s a doctor, an excellent one. Let’s say a patient comes to her and shares all that is ailing them. My sister, with her years of expertise and experience, asks the patient a series of questions. She learns about their history, their lifestyle, and their goals. She then puts together a treatment plan to help cure them. But instead of thanking her and getting to work, that patient responds, “Your treatment is a party line rooted in your political philosophy!” They then reject the treatment. Let me tell you what will happen to that patient. They will not get better. In fact, they will get much, much, much worse.

Your organization is ill. It has “racial disparities in the quality of services and experiences” that are “rooted in systems and some in individual practice.” Your employer has “adopted a plan of increasing racial equity and justice.” Do you, with your knowledge of your organization, your expertise in DEI work, and your lived experiences and data gathering, have alternative cures that you believe will work and will be adopted by your colleagues? Please make your suggestions. But if you don’t have alternative suggestions, and you think it’s better the patient remain sick, then go ahead and advocate that they throw the “personal and political philosophy” treatment plan in the trash and continue with the unhealthy environment that they are currently in. If your organization even manages to survive, you and they will be right back here in five years asking why there hasn’t been any progress.

If you have specific concerns, like you don’t think the small-group dialogues are effective, or you believe the hiring plans are counter-productive, then share why, how, and any alternatives based on your role and work that you’d like to suggest. But if your baseline is, we are advocating a political philosophy and people shouldn’t be forced to do it, then you’re taking steps completely opposite to the direction that leads to healing.

2. How can I talk to my boss about making diversity a priority in our hiring?

Reader #2: I work on a small team (less than five people) within a larger company. We work on several projects that have to do with Black communities.

There are no Black employees on my team. My manager is white and I am Asian, but it makes me a bit uncomfortable that so much of our work is meant to benefit the Black community while that community is not represented on our staff. I feel sometimes that as a person of color, it’s expected that I can represent all other PoC – but I can’t!

We’re in the process of hiring someone new and I have the opportunity to speak with final candidates, but my manager selects them first and the pool of final candidates is not particularly diverse. I’m kicking myself for not bringing up diversity before we started getting applications and am now at a loss for how to bring it up in the future. I have a good relationship with my boss and feel that she is well-intentioned, but historically my conversations about race with white people have not gone well. What are some ways to diversify the pool of candidates we get? And how can I bring this up with my boss without things getting too weird?

Michelle: Hello Season 1 of Insecure! This is very similar to the “We Got You” experience that Issa Rae wrote about in that season. First, it’s troubling than you serve Black communities but you have no Black employees. If you’ve read my book or attended one of my foundational trainings, I’ll always start with the business case for diversity. I also go into how that business case is never enough – we’ve been making the business case to CEOs for years, and yet, here we are. The business case though is a good way to start with someone who doesn’t yet see the need for diversity.

Here’s your business case. You are on a team that serves the Black community. You have no Black employees on your team. The Black community is vast and intersectional and no one Black person’s experience is going to represent all of them but it’s a start. At some point, those communities you are serving might push back and ask to meet the Black team members who are working on their project. Or new clients will want to know what personal experience those who are working on their projects have. Or they’ll reject you out of hand at a pitch because you don’t demographically represent who they are. Those are all good conversations to have with your boss. A great way to start the conversation is simply with this, “I’ve reviewed our candidates and I see that we don’t have any Black candidates under consideration. Given the work that we do, can we spend more time in the recruiting process so we can increase the pool of qualified candidates?”

Now onto this talent pool. First, please don’t proactively do anything on your own for diversity hiring without you or your team working with HR. Work with them to figure out the most effective – and legal – approach to solving your challenge. Some strategies I will suggest. If you have personally seen the pool and you see the need to diversify, figure out how this pool of candidates found out about this job. Where did you post the application? What applicants did you receive? Who made it through the first round? Why? What questions did you ask on your application? What experience did you specify? Did you use a recruiter who has proven experience recruiting Black candidates?

There’s still more you can do. You serve Black communities. Do you partner with Black-led non-profits or Black community leaders? They are excellent resources as well. Can you offer paid internships? The small team you work with, are they doing any work to locate potential Black hires as well? You mention that you work in a larger company. What work are they doing to increase Black representation in the company? What Black employees do you have outside of your team who might be considering a move within the company? It might take time (it will take time) but it is worth the effort to get the right result.

3. Handling work requests that involve my ethnicity

During Native American Heritage Month, my nonprofit’s diversity officer (who is non-native) asked me and the other native employees to film a video of ourselves for company-wide distribution about our tribal affiliation, what makes our tribe “unique,” and why we are proud of our tribe. I told the diversity officer that I’d be happy to participate in another project to commemorate Native American Heritage Month about how we can serve/reach indigenous peoples in our nonprofit mission. This is my first time working at a large organization – do you have any advice about how to navigate requests that do not pertain to my work duties but do pertain to my ethnic experience?

Michelle: If I’m understanding your question correctly, your diversity officer reached out to you to ask you to film a video, to which your response was, “I’d prefer to participate in this other activity instead.” Excellent! I have zero suggestions for you. If you want to participate, you are doing exactly what I would suggest.

For anyone planning these events, there needs to be a healthy balance between giving members of marginalized communities the agency to share what they are comfortable with sharing, and also letting a diversity officer who should have expertise in events such as these the ability to design events they believe would be of greatest benefit and interest to the organization. Those are not mutually exclusive asks and your suggestion, “Yes, I would like to participate and here is how I would like to participate” is a great balance for that.

However, it also sounds like you don’t want to participate as it does not pertain to your work duties. And not just about this celebration, but other requests that would come up in the future. Your company should never request anything of you that does not pertain to your work duties. You are more than welcome to offer, but they should not ask. You work there because they pay you to work.

That said, “work duties” is quite broad and could encompass any number of things. You want to increase your sense of belonging. You want to hold your organization accountable to DEI promises. You think a training would be interesting to attend. You want to add some DEI experience to your resume. You feel a moral obligation to do the work. You want to ensure that others who enter the organization don’t have the same experience you did. You want increased visibility in your organization. You’re interested in learning more about the topic for your own personal or professional growth. You want to collaborate with a mentor. You want extra bonus pay, and on, and on. Those reasons all pertain to work duties, as narrowly or as broadly as you want to define it.

If your Diversity Officer is only asking you and the other marginalized employees to volunteer their unpaid time to do DEI work, and you don’t see any benefit to doing that work, then it is easy enough to reply and say something like, “Thank you for letting me know. I’m not able to participate in this, and I look forward to seeing what you and your team come up with.” If after this upcoming event, you decide that you would like to get more involved in the additional lift of DEI work, then have a talk with the Diversity Officer and see what you can potentially work with together.

4. How can I support my Black manager?

I see a lot of (very good, much needed) advice for managers on how to support their Black employees, particularly during grueling and exhausting current events, by giving them space to process and time to step away. I’m wondering what that advice would look like for non-Black employees with Black managers. On particularly difficult days (for example, the day of George Floyd’s murder or the day the jury was deliberating the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial) I’ll sometimes check in to see if there’s any work I can take over, or things I can help with. Is this appropriate? If it’s appropriate, is it sufficient? My manager and I have a great relationship and I want to support her as best as I can, but I know my options are limited given our positions.

Michelle: Excellent start. You can also make sure that you’re not second-guessing her, not undermining her, and including her in the work community. Black managers often struggle with support in the workplace. Doing what you can to make sure she is heard, you listen to her, you support her, and you allow her to be an excellent leader, are all ways to provide additional aid.

But let’s make it bigger! Your manager is looking to succeed as well, and you as a “non-Black” employee can use your platform and privilege to lift up her name. You don’t need to go around banging a drum, shouting, “My Black manager is AMAZING!” Dial that down. But racism and bias are real and your Black manager faces both. Talk her up to your colleagues so they can talk her up to their managers. If a project goes very well, and someone compliments you, give her a compliment as well. And call out bias when you see it. Don’t go to your manager every time with how, “Elena in Accounting said this about you.” but do talk to Elena in Accounting and understand why she feels the way she does. Your manager might be terrible at sending in her reimbursement receipts on time, but Elena complains a lot more about your manager than she does about Dylan, the White male manager who does the same thing. Or Dylan, who is also junior to your manager, got the promotion that your more senior and more qualified Black woman manager was up for. So you mention in a conversation with another leader, good for Dylan, but also mention how excellent your manager is at her job and here’s why and, hey, you’re curious as to what Dylan accomplished that made him promotable over your manager so the path to promotion is laid out clearly to everyone, including you.

5. Calling out racism from a person of color when I’m white

I have a question about racism in the workplace. My coworker always had some uncomfortable anti-Asian sentiments, but it got worse when Covid-19 hit the news. She wasn’t dropping slurs or anything but she made nasty little comments.

I tried to gently correct her on the informational front but had a lot of trouble telling her generally to knock it off because her comments were awful and bigoted. Because here is the complicating factor: I am a white woman from an upper middle-class family and my coworker is an aboriginal woman who has herself been the victim of racism on more than one occasion. I think I’d be okay with calling my white coworkers out, but it feels wildly rude and uncomfortable and inappropriate to lecture someone on racism when they’ve experienced it in their own life and I haven’t. How on earth do I handle a situation like that if it comes up in the future?

I empathize with you; it’s a tough situation. My suggestion is this. Be specific. “What you just said is hurtful, cruel, and untrue [because….]” Be personal. “You know, I’ve said some sh*t things in my life and I am not perfect but I work every day to do better.” Set a path forward. “I don’t agree with what you said; please don’t say that around me anymore.” Finally, be firm. When she says it again, “It’s not funny and it’s not true. I asked you to stop saying that already, I need you to stop again.” If she does it again, stop talking or walk away. You don’t need to lecture her on racism. If you want to get into a real conversation on racism, it starts with you listening to her experiences with it. But if you want someone to stop the bigoted remarks they are making, be specific, be personal, set a path forward, and do not back down. Once they stop, then you can get into the much harder work of shifting their perspective for good.

Thanks for having me Alison. Take care and stay safe everyone!

Alison: As always, thanks to Michelle! You can also check out her answers to an earlier round of questions from readers here. Visit Inclusion Nation to learn more about her work.

{ 244 comments… read them below }

    1. seriously frivolous*

      I would prefer to see a better answer to Alison’s excellent question “Are we overstepping boundaries in our DEI work?” Michelle’s answer pushes back against taking this question seriously, in what I think are exactly the wrong ways.

      In my job, we have had many required sessions on diversity, inclusion, etc. Even though I very much see myself as an ally (I’m in the historically dominant group in almost all categories), each session has always felt like we are spoken down to. Instead of “here is how you can help other people” we are told about how guilty we should feel about the horrible things that people like me have done (all true, of course).

      The concern is that I see how much this has the opposite effect of what is intended. My colleagues (many much less “ally” than me) are very put off, and I personally fell my motivation plummet when being spoken down to like this.

      Please don’t misunderstand me: these are real, and serious issues. However I would like to see a discussion about overstepping boundaries in which we think carefully about how people need to be invited into a dialog rather than told what to think. The example of medicine is illuminating: patients don’t automatically do what the doctor says, just because the doctor is right.

      1. Nela*

        It sounds like you have not had skilled trainers.

        Also, these aren’t Alison’s questions, they’re submitted by readers.

      2. Broadway Duchess*

        This is a little frustrating to hear and one of the reasons that many POC think DEI is performative. Being called out for either doing, supporting, not opposing, and benefiting racist systems and institutions IS NOT WORSE THAN suffering under those very systems and institutions!

        Realistically, as part of the majority in most categories, you shouldn’t be letting your feelings dictate this. It reeks of “won’t someone please think of the children.” And POC have “felt bad” for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure why your experience should trump that.

        1. seriously frivolous*

          I think that you are misinterpreting what I’m saying. Of course I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for me: going to a few poorly run DEI seminars does no real harm to me.

          On the other hand, I think the fact that so much of the DEI experience is so demotivating is serious. Putting 100 people making $150k + benefits into a room or zoom for two hours is $20k of company money (not including the cost of running the seminar). I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that a company both could and should expect that their investment leads to some benefit to marginalized communities and not just frustration for their staff.

          1. pancakes*

            Concern for money being wasted on bad training is quite different from concern for overstepping boundaries. The solution seems pretty straightforward, too: If the training is not interactive enough, or seemed to be targeted at a different audience than the one actually gathered for it, etc., that’s a legitimate complaint to direct toward the people who organized it. The same as you would if you, say, used Excel daily but were enrolled in a two hour introduction to it.

      3. pancakes*

        If your motivation to be an ally to marginalized people is conditional on only being addressed by effective corporate trainers, you aren’t much of an ally at all, my goodness.

        1. BlueChimera*

          That’s a pretty unkind assumption to make about someone who has stated repeatedly that their goal in critiquing these sessions is to improve them because they want them to actually have the intended impact of bettering the world for POC.

          1. pancakes*

            I don’t agree that stating that intention negates or outweighs all the other context around it, and don’t agree that my reading here was based on assumptions rather than context.

      4. Erin*

        +1 to this! My company has implemented a ton of DEI measures, which include lunch & learn type panel presentations by members of minority groups.

        As someone who is an ally to any & all minority populations, I’m pretty burnt out on hearing what an awful person I am during these panel presentations. Telling me how to help would be awesome and far more useful.

        1. Gabby*

          Why are you taking their stories and experiences so personally? Try using these stories as ways to build understanding and empathy. Saying they called you an awful person feels an awful lot like jumping into victim mode.

          1. Despachito*

            But their feelings are as valid as anyone’s, and it does matter a lot.

            If you are in a privileged position (which you were born into, and therefore you yourself did not harm anyone to climb over their head) and someone is trying to guilt-trip you for it, how likely is it that you will end up convinced? And, given you are in a privileged position, what is easier for you than just walk away and call it all a BS? Or, at least, pay it a lip service but remain a racist in your heart?

            I think all people are equals and should be treated as such, but you do not convince anyone by being hostile to them. And you definitely don’t make anyone be attentive to other people’s feelings by dismissing their own feelings.

            1. Daisy Gamgee*

              Further down Tessa says, “The message is that this work only gets to be taken seriously as long as the feelings of white people are protected and cosseted. ” Her comment functions excellently as a response to yours here.

            2. Daisy Gamgee*

              Below Tessa says, “The message is that this work only gets to be taken seriously as long as the feelings of white people are protected and cosseted. ” This quotation and indeed her entire comment are a very pertinent response to your advice that those of us fighting against the discrimination we face should only wheedle and beg to not be discriminated against because if we make our oppressors “feel bad” we deserve the oppression.

            3. pancakes*

              I broadly agree about being hostile or dismissive, but I don’t know how to make sense of this idea that training session references to white people and how we tend to treat people who aren’t white are (or were meant to be) as personal as some commenters seem to take them. Speaking as a 45-year-old white woman, fwiw, I can’t imagine passing by a newsstand and identifying, in such a personal way, with every white person I see pictured there, from the president to the models to the local Parks & Rec spokesperson to the guy being perp walked for holding up a bank. I don’t know why hearing about harmful things white people have done or currently do during a training session should be any different. Unless, of course, something about their behavior resonates, in which case the problem isn’t that the training is overly broad but that it’s right on target.

        2. tamarack & fireweed*

          That’s not something I (white, female, queer, immigrant, middle-aged) can countenance. These sessions aren’t about what white people in their munificence can “do” about it – figuring that bit out is the easy part. Requiring these sessions to be about white people is what’s meant by centering whiteness.

          Polemically calling it a session that’s about how awful you or I are (personally) isn’t helpful to anyone.

          If those sessions are incompetently led, that’s one thing. But focussing and learning about the perspective of those who aren’t getting the full benefit of normal levels of privilege is absolutely necessary. It’s supposed to be somewhat uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make people think about how they’re getting something that others aren’t – not because they (we) are bad, but because of the social rule set we live by. Changing it isn’t gonna be easy!

          I personally would much rather have a session that gives me some hard things to think about than one on “7 easy ways to be a better ally to our unfortunate brothers and sisters”.

          1. Mannequin*


            “Hard things to think about” are always what end up making me grow & change & become a better person.

        3. Tessa*

          Since you ask for how to help, here’s one way. I don’t know if you realise this, but in this comment you are engaging in a very common and unfortunately strategy of refusing to engage in important and meaningful work because it hurts your feelings. This is a very typical response from white people to these issues and centres their emotions as the important thing. The message is that this work only gets to be taken seriously as long as the feelings of white people are protected and cosseted. This is the opposite of being an ally. You want to help? Stop making comments that prioritise your feelings over the work. Stop being this person. Learn to sit with the shame, the discomfort, the pain of recognising your role in contributing to the oppression of people of color. Process it. Stop trying to avoid it and hide from it and demand that others stop confronting you with the painful truth. Own up to it, and learn from it. Do. The. Work.

          I hope you simply weren’t (consciously) aware of this tactic and that you will reflect on this and do better in future. The sheer privilege of being able to “burn out” on awareness of the role you play is mind-boggling.

          1. SilverEyedFox*

            Your comment is an unfortunate illustration of why these sessions are often so pointless: it’s impossible to give any kind of critical feedback on them. All feedback other than purely positive is taken as an indication that the speaker is more concerned with their own personal feelings than they are with the intended effects/outcome of the sessions. Even when the person offering the feedback explicitly says that they share the same goals & have the same desired outcome as the trainers, as in the statement below:

            “The concern is that I see how much this has the opposite effect of what is intended. My colleagues (many much less “ally” than me) are very put off, and I personally fell my motivation plummet when being spoken down to like this.”

            Any reference to the self is taken as evidence that the rest of the feedback is not made in good faith and the person in question really only cares about the fact that the session made THEM feel bad, even though it’s pretty clear that it’s being relayed the same way you might say (if I may use an analogy), “We were forced to do a team bonding activity that was so physical that my colleagues were exhausted to the point of injury and even I — a young fit person — was tired enough that it was hard to focus on work afterwards.” Which is to say: the self is only being referenced to point out that the idea was handled so badly that even someone who SHOULD be well-suited to it found it hard to handle, and people who were NOT initially inclined to that activity experienced the opposite of the intended effect (in the case of the analogy, injury where increased health was intended — or, in the case of the DEI, increased resentment or skepticism towards claims of injustice rather than increased empathy/awareness).

            Which, again, is not to say that the young, fit person was *themselves* injured or that they *themselves* generalized from this experience to wider claims of injustice, just that they could see this happening among their colleagues and they didn’t want it to happen. And yet the responses will almost universally be that the young fit person shouldn’t be complaining (because, after all, they have it easy as a young fit person) or that they must not really be “fit” if they had such a problem. But if you can’t turn a critical eye to something, you can never assess its effectiveness. And if you can’t assess something’s effectiveness, you can’t improve it.

            It shouldn’t be this hard to get people to understand that you can agree with someone’s goals without agreeing with their methods. Further, that discomfort alone isn’t proof that you’re “doing it right.” Just like with any other sensitive subject, people can be made uncomfortable without you effectively getting your point across or having the impact you’re trying to have. And anyone who thinks that the end goal is “discomfort” rather than “meaningful change in people’s behavior” has entirely missed the point, IMO. (And has missed it from a point of privilege, indeed, because it is extremely privileged to think that the end result should be discomfort — which is literally white people’s feelings — rather than a better world for POC.)

            1. pancakes*

              “All feedback other than purely positive is taken as an indication that the speaker is more concerned with their own personal feelings than they are with the intended effects/outcome of the sessions.”

              I don’t think it’s off-base for feedback that consists of “my feelings were hurt” or “I was insulted” to be met with that reaction. I don’t doubt there’s an additional problem of some people wanting to be give feedback that’s more substantive, less personal than that and not finding it easy to articulate their views in a way that reads as more dispassionate and credible, but it’s often not terribly difficult to tell the difference between someone who is struggling in good faith and someone who is focused on their own feelings.

            2. Despachito*

              Thank you!

              “It shouldn’t be this hard to get people to understand that you can agree with someone’s goals without agreeing with their methods.”

              You nailed it, and your whole comment, and especially the last paragraph, is spot on.

              If an idea – ANY IDEA – is put on a pedestal and anyone who dares criticize any aspect of it no matter how respectfully is shamed (in the best of cases) or even punished, it is WRONG, even if the original idea was good.

              I am coming from an ex-communist country, and I have some experience with people trying to silence any criticism, and it leads to very ugly ends. Despite the fact that the original idea (that it is wrong for some people to starve and for others to wallow in luxury) is a good and noble thing.

              The fight for equality IS a good and noble thing, and racism IS bad. But please do not let us fight against it by totalitarian practices, as no good can come out of it, and all parties lose.

      5. Artemesia*

        I have seen this same thing in a university setting where men students leave the orientation sessions on sexual violence and discrimination with ‘yeah, I guess we are all scum and rapists.’ Not helpful. A handful of men are scum/rapists and orientation programs are unlikely to change that. But lots and lots of young men need more empathy for women’s situations and help understanding how they need to behave in order to negotiate sexual relationships with integrity. Programs that don’t work with them to explore this but condemn them as violent predators are not going to be very effective.

      6. Figuring it out*

        I encourage you to google the term “tone policing” and reflect on why it is you’ve focused on *how* you are spoken to instead of what is being said. It is not the job of an anti-racist educator to make sure your feelings aren’t hurt. This is exactly what the term “white fragility” refers to. And if you need to qualify with “I see myself as an ally, but” then you are not an ally. I don’t say this to be harsh, I say this because it’s important to know part of the work is sitting with the discomfort of knowing that yes, somehow and someway you contribute to the problem. You are not a bad person for that, but growth comes from discomfort. And if your main takeaway from a DEI educator is you didn’t like their tone, sit with that. Ask yourself how many BIPOC, and especially Black women, have been told to say something “nicer” else be accused of being too aggressive. It’s not easy stuff. I suggest checking out educators like Monique Melton, and really try to listen and be uncomfortable.

        1. seriously frivolous*

          I must be misunderstanding something: I thought that DEI training was to teach us ways to improve our company’s diversity, equity and inclusion. You’re saying that the true goal is to make me feel the “discomfort of knowing that yes, somehow and someway [I] contribute to the problem”. Did I understand that right?

          1. Beltalowda*

            Part of improving your company’s inclusion of minority employees is eliminating discrimination from other employees and from internal systems. This means that employees (with good intentions!) may be unconsciously biased towards others, or implementing rules in systems that perpetuate systemic injustice. You are hearing this and going “does that mean I did something wrong?” The point is we ALL have been doing things wrong, that is why there is inequality in the company. So we ALL need to make changes to the way we think and operate. Especially people who do not personally experience racism, especially people in positions of power to make changes.

            If you are more upset at the thought that you contribute to the problem, than at the thought that some of your coworkers are facing this problem, then respectfully you should read about white fragility because you are centering yourself and getting defensive.

            1. seriously frivolous*

              Of course I want to know about the things that I have been doing wrong so that I can do better in the future.

              The issue that I’m raising is that the focus of many (most?) DEI seems to be to start by making people feel guilty. But guilt as a motivation doesn’t work. Many studies prove this: it doesn’t work for dieting, exercise or other bad habits. To me, leading with the guilt message makes any organization look like a door-to-door proselytizing cult.

              What does work is a positive message: “Do you want to help make the world a better place? We can show you how.” This is what I’m trying to say

                1. pancakes*

                  Yes. Similarly, if you’re getting stuck on feeling guilty, to the point that keeping up with the rest of the training becomes difficult or impossible, that doesn’t in itself necessarily mean that the goal of the training was to make you feel guilty.

          2. De (Germany)*

            You do not seem to be arguing in good faith if you get “You’re saying that the true goal ” from someone writing “it’s important to know part of the work”. That’s an unwarranted exaggeration.

      7. OP 1*

        I actually found Michelle’s advice quite useful. So often, in my experience, this conversation gets made into feelings and politics—on both sides. The response redirected me to the facts: real people are facing real, unfair impacts based on our policies and behaviors. It’s not indoctrination to say we need to fix this and here’s how we can do it…it served as a wake up call for me.

      8. LisaNeedsBraces*

        This might seem glib, but have you tried asking “how can I help other people” during the sessions? Or to the department/committee in charge of the sessions? While I’m inclined to side with the other commenters regarding putting your feelings aside because of the prevalence of times when the feelings of non-marginalized people are put above the feelings (and often time livelihoods and lives) of marginalized people, you bring up a good point about needing actionable steps.

        If your DEI training isn’t recommending actions, and your company isn’t setting changes it can be accountable to, please speak up. For example, if you’re learning about the income disparity for WOC, you can say “with the disparity that you just shared with us, what steps can I take to eliminate potential disparities between my female coworkers of color and myself.” That way, your acknowledging the context of why your there while using it to learn ways to be a better ally.

        That said, please don’t diminish learning the context as merely there to make you feel guilty. Talking about the “horrible things” being done is important to understand why things are the way they are, but also to know how to change things. Your guilt doesn’t change the need to talk about that, but feeling guilty also does nothing to fix that. So while feeling guilty shouldn’t be your goal (and you’re more in control of what you take away from those sessions than you seem to think), don’t let it get in the way of learning.

        1. LisaNeedsBraces*

          I forgot to add the other obvious to the point of sounding glib, but sincere solution: talk to your coworkers about what you can do about the topic you’ve learned. After all, no one knows what your specific company environment is like and where the cracks are like you and your coworkers do. Lessons are only as helpful as you apply team, so team up with people and seek out to make changes, push for new inclusive policies, and hold your bosses accountable. In general, coalition building does more to “help others” than any solo work could.

      9. bamcheeks*

        This sounds like something quite different. You aren’t discussing “overstepping boundaries”, you’re discussing training which is demotivating and doesn’t give you practical actions to take, which sounds very different.

        And I believe you that the training may not feel appropriate. Not all training on anything is exactly what is needed when! However, you’re calling yourself an ally, but you’re not describing the reactions of an ally. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. If you are an ally, you shouldn’t need be motivated by the injustice that you’re hearing about: you need to grit your teeth and figure out what to do about it. If you see that your colleagues are demotivated or unsure how to proceed, take a lead. It doesn’t have to be a big one: take a small lead. Raise “what happens next?” with your managers and leaders. See if there are other people who would join a discussion group to identify some next steps. Get in touch with HR and ask if there’s a network within your organisation that you could go to for ideas. Ask for some training that’s more action-focussed, like Active Bystander training. Partner with a local school or community college and mentor young people. Stick some terms into Google and see what other people are doing and think about what steps might work for your workplace and in your area.

        Be prepared to be wrong, or overstep, or to get corrected. Grit your teeth and do something anyway. Otherwise what you’re describing is an “allyship” which is limited to, “Well, I agree with you, but what are you going to do about them?” I get how demotivating and overwhelming it can feel, but try and move beyond looking around for other people to be responsible. At the moment you are sounding like you’re using poor or inappropriate training as an excuse not to actually be an ally, so if you truly believe that these are real and serious issues, show that belief in your actions.

  1. introverted af*

    I really appreciate the advice in the last question for thinking about my own life. Addressing racism (or other forms of bias) with people that I share privilege with can get deeper, especially since I’m most often in that situation with family and friends. But even with them, it’s ok to stay in the realm of what needs to happen right now around the specific incident. It’s not an end point, but I can be doing something productive by shutting down racist/etc comments. I like this because I struggle to feel like I’m doing enough as just one person in the face of systemic issues.

  2. 867-5309*

    I love this line and it is so helpful for me, “You don’t need to lecture her on racism.” Sometimes when shutting something down, I feel like I need to have this big picture conversation about how someone is being racist or whatever but that often turns into a spin cycle. The advice to be specific, be personal, set a path forward, and be firm, are wonderful. “Once they stop, then you can get into the much harder work of shifting their perspective for good.” This 100%. Thank you!

    1. anonymouse*

      Game changer. That is illuminating to me, as one who 1) talks more than I need to, meaning over explains; 2) does not want to have charged conversations at work in the first place, but doesn’t want to be a tacit supporter either.
      I appreciate how Michelle directs OP to keep it about the moment, the specific statement and open it into a debate on racism, who can say what and when and why. That is illuminating to me, as one who 1) talks more than I need to, over explains; 2) does not want to have charged conversations at work.
      “You, fellow person, said something hateful. Please don’t say hateful things around me.”

      1. 867-5309*

        Same! A former manager told me I need to “stop selling past the close” and it is so tough for me!

    2. This is a name, I guess*

      Same! This was super helpful. I’m white, but I’m also queer and am partnered with another white person with multiple marginalized identities (more than me). I often find myself in situations where cis-het people from marginalized backgrounds make homophobic comments, and I often don’t know how to respond.

    3. GreenDoor*

      Came to say the same. For a long time I opted to just ignore it and say nothing because it gets exhausting going through the whole lesson plan and giving all the talking points and trying to convince only to get nowhere with someone. Then I realized, hey, I don’t actually have to do that. Sometimes just one line, delivered calmly and assertively is enough. I get far more mileage with that than I ever got starting a full-on speech.

    4. New Jack Karyn*

      Yeah, this reminded me of Jay Smooth’s video (god, so old now!) about addressing what the person said/did, and not who they are. Avoid the “You’re a _______ ” part and cut straight to the “Hey, what you said wasn’t cool” part.

  3. Justin*

    Really useful stuff. So many orgs “support” our community yet somehow don’t hire us…. especially in helping work. This is actually what a lot of my academic work is about, research in to white-led helping professions that, you know, fall short.

    1. Middle-Aged Lady*

      And POC may be hesitant to apply. In my academic career, we advertised specifically to diverse candidates through many channels to get a pool that included more diverse candidates. And made sure the announcements had the right language to let a candidate know we weren’t fooling around. Hiring and mentoring diversity interns who moved on to great careers was one of the most fulfilling parts of my own career.

    2. MistOrMister*

      Yep, my office likes to talk big about diversity. We have no African American professionals and only 2 Hispanic professionals. Say what you want, but when the bulk of the minorities are in administrative positions, that doesn’t really scream diversity. We also have many fewer female than male professionals. Granted, hiring is not easy but you’ve got to put in the effort if you actually want a diverse staff.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Every single company has something about diversity in its job posts. It’s a catchphrase. I don’t believe it unless I actually see it.

        If they have a “Meet our People” page on their website, I look at their team and leaders. Are there women in higher positions, or is it a complete sausage fest? Or just one token woman? Am I seeing POC there as well? It’s harder to tell if they’re disability-inclusive. If it’s not diverse overall, then that’s not likely. One tell that it’s just lip service: posts for office positions say “Must be able to lift 50 pounds.”

        I think most companies just don’t want to put in that effort. If they really cared about it, they would.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I know that our general workforce – both corporate office jobs and manufacturing jobs – is reasonably diverse, if not as good as it could be.

          But man, our global leadership team, as the c-level people call themselves, is 10 people, 3 are women, one is non-white. (At least visibly.) So, yeah, I know the company is at least making attempts at increasing diversity (and there is good inclusion around LGBTQ and physically disabled people) but at the highest levels we’re definitely not there yet.

          1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

            Yup. I’ve worked in workplaces that actually did have diversity- but only in the lower ranks. Past a certain level, it was overwhelmingly white and male. It’s a start, but those workplaces tended to think that their work was done. Nope, not by a long shot.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              those workplaces tended to think that their work was done

              THIS ^^^^is why I side-eye when it’s an all-white, all-male upper management man cave.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          It’s part of the marketing. Every company has something at the top of their posts about how great they are, how wonderful they are to work for, they do this and this and this wonderful thing, and one of those things is diversity. They know what they’re supposed to say.

          I just scroll past all that because they say it whether it’s true or not and there’s no way to tell if it’s true.

          If I had leisure to be particular I would research the companies like you do Elizabeth, but at this point I just need a steady paycheck and health benefits so I’ll take them and if it’s a bad company, keep looking.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            It’s just part of my regular research. I check Glassdoor, their website, and if something looks wonky, Google.

            FWIW, I don’t have leisure; not working is not leisure. It’s hell. I need a paycheck too. And I do have to be particular whether I want to or not because I have a disability. I’ve applied to some questionable organizations just to get something (including FEMA during TFG administration; yes it’s true) and I was not hired for whatever reason. So as far as diversity in day-to-day work, it has yet to come up.

        3. Glomarization, Esq.*

          A “Meet our People” page that fails to show much diversity could be outdated, or it may indicate that increasing diversity in that company is a work in progress, though. If the job otherwise looked like a good fit, I’d keep the page in the back of my mind but I can’t say, personally, that it would be determinative for me at the very initial application stage. If I got an interview, that’s when I’d ask about it.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            True, that. If I’m interested in the job, it isn’t enough to keep me from applying. But it is something I notice and keep in mind because it can and does affect growth potential.

    3. a tester, not a developer*

      In Canada the penny has finally dropped that if we want to keep First Nations children out of foster care we (white people) really need to let First Nations communities lead the way on child and family services – and that means letting them control the budgets as well. 155 years of assuming white people know best hasn’t worked out well at all.

      1. allathian*

        Oh yikes, about time, too.

        Something similar is also happening here, it seems like there’s some hope that the Sami people (one of the last indigenous populations in Europe) will finally see some justice for the atrocities they have faced in the past (granted, nowhere near as bad as the mass graves of First Nations children in Canada). The situation is analogous to that of the First Nations in North America, with children being deprived of their native languages and culture at school, as well as alcoholism, discrimination, and conversions to Christianity by force, etc. The list is long and depressing, but I’m hopeful about the truth and reconciliation commission that’s been recently set up. But what we really need is Sami history to be taught in our schools, as told by the Sami rather than the majority population.

    1. ThatGirl*

      100%. It’s important to know when to speak up, but one of the best things I’ve done for myself over the last 10 years is making a real effort to simply listen to diverse voices, especially Black women and other women of color.

  4. I like stripes*

    What I like most about this post is the specific examples and situations given. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Ex-Teacher*

      Agreed- I want to support diversity in action, and often I’ve sat in trainings and discussions where there’s a lot of talk about what diversity is, and what not to do/say, and little about what concrete actions I can take to actually further that goal. I know that there’s a lot of listening involved, but after tens of sessions that all go the same way, I want to start actively making a difference in my environment. I want to start *doing*.

      1. Lucious*

        >>I want to start doing.

        I’m sure you’re not alone in that sentiment. However- and this must be stated – how much any one employee can do relies on their buy-in from organization leadership. Unfortunately, in corporate management buy in is tough to secure unless an initiative has a fixed, quantifiable bottom line. Citing moral reasons to promote diversity may be factually proper, but it won’t keep the Senior Vice Presidents attention. What will is a byline to the effect of : “employing a mono-ethnic employee pool costs your division and the company $X millions of dollars a year in lost revenue and performance”

        Put it in dollars and cents, and buy in will be much easier to secure. Hiring diverse people is a competitive advantage- communicate that!

        1. Mouse*

          I hear this reasoning a lot and it bothers me. SVPs and execs are people too! Many of them have morals and values! I think some people tend to go a little too far with the “you MUST make things all about money because it’s the only thing those evil people listen to, and once we show them the Financial Light, everything will be TOTALLY FINE!” Either they are supportive of diversity, in which case they don’t need the financial argument for promoting diversity to support the value, or they are not supportive of diversity, in which case they won’t listen to the financial argument anyway.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes. I mean my director cares about the bottom line and our productivity but he’s not an adding machine. He’s a person with ethics who wants to do the right thing.

            Also a number of the changes in social and labour conditions emerged from people who wanted to do the right thing for their workers. In England you look at the Quaker chocolate companies (Rowntree, Cadbury, Terrys) where they built housing for their workers and tried to improve their quality of life. Or look at Saltaire where the textile manufacturer Titus Salt built a village, a school and a hospital for his workers because he looked at the slums of Bradford and wanted something better. There was no financial benefit from this directly but it was the right thing to do so they did it. People can and do do things (improving social conditions or diversity) because they’re the right thing to do.

  5. SawbonzMD*

    Fantastic article! One thing I disagree with, though, was the response to the woman whose co-worker was making racist comments about another co-corker. The woman said, “I think I’d be okay with calling my white coworkers out, but it feels wildly rude and uncomfortable and inappropriate to lecture someone on racism when they’ve experienced it in their own life and I haven’t.”

    I am a woman of color in an overwhelmingly male dominated field and if I overheard a White person calling out another minority for being racist, I would applaud (not literally, of course). Racism is serious enough that no one gets a free pass because there is no instance where it is not wrong. Whether or not a person has suffered prejudice in their own life, racism needs to be addressed no matter who it is acting in a racist manner. If a comment is heinous, it doesn’t matter who is behind it.

    But, as Bones McCoy would have told Captain Kirk, Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a social scientist!

    1. IT Manager*

      I like Michelle’s advice to not “lecture about racism” but instead to call out the specific, objectionable actions. It lets the White person differentiate between calling out a racist action/statement vs feeling like they are being the arbiter of “are you a racist person” which the OP is correct, they should not be doing. I’d definitely applaud to hear that being called out!

      In general I love Michelle’s actionable, specific advice. Great stuff.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      (Nerd love for Trek reference!)

      And yeah, if a white coworker calls out a POC for a racist or otherwise bigoted comment then frankly I’m applauding too.

      You don’t get a free pass to be offensive to others just because you’ve suffered in life.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        (Btw for context – I’m not white. I’ve never found a good definition of what I am aside from ‘there’s a lot of different genetics going on here!’. I’ve encountered some people of similar skin tone to mine spouting anti-Chinese stuff in the last two years and it’s not acceptable and absolutely they got told to cut that out. Bigotry isn’t acceptable)

    3. OP5*

      Hi SawbonzMD,
      I’m that letter writer. Just wanted to clarify that she wasn’t making comments about a specific other coworker. They were general comments about Asian, mostly Chinese, people. I’m sorry that my letter wasn’t clearer.

      1. Observer*

        It’s still offensive. Especially since you cannot always know who can hear the comments that is of the group she’s maligning or is close to someone that group.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It actually doesn’t change the advice really, just lessens the immediate impact of the words. “That’s offensive and I don’t want to hear it again” is pretty universal!

      3. wittyrepartee*

        You know, in certain circumstances I’ve dealt with this by giving a very boring lecture on whatever they were making a snide remark about. “Oh, let me tell you about the meaning of the multiple arms depicted on Hindu Gods” BLAH BLAH BLAH.

    4. OP5*

      But also, and I should have said this before, thank you to you and everyone else for their advice and perspectives. Including Michelle. It is very helpful.

    5. Verthandi*

      I am grateful for your comment, as well as the advice from the post. If there’s one thing I learned from my childhood, it’s that bystanders have immense power.

    6. Despachito*

      Thank you!

      This is exactly what I think – no one should get away with racism, irrespective of their motivation/origin/whatever.

  6. JonBob*

    I’m a little put off by the first answer. “Your organization is ill” seems to be a jump not indicated in the question. And I feel the doctor analogy is off as well. People do get second opinions that can vary wildly. I feel like the answer is saying “there is only 1 doctor and that is the only one you can use” and doesn’t have much nuance.

    1. read again please!*

      The letter writer said, “studies and numerous personal accounts show there are racial disparities in the quality of services and experiences people experience in our field, some of which are rooted in systems and some in individual practice.” So yes? Ill.

      And Michelle’s answer literally said that if you have alternative solutions, share them, not that there is only one doctor to use.

      1. I edit everything*

        Exactly what I was about to say.

        The diagnosis is not in question and not a matter of “political philosophy.” Inequities exist in this organization and need to be resolved. If someone in the organization doesn’t think working to correct the problem is appropriate, then that’s a problem with the individual, not the process.

      2. JonBob*

        “in our field” means that it happens frequently in the field, not that every organization in the field has that problem. Even if it’s something like “the nature of the service tends to make organizations in the field over time develop worsening disparities” doesn’t mean that it’s sick yet.

        I did miss the “alternatives cure” line, and might understand the response as “there should be a plan of some sort to fix the issue; don’t completely ignore the issue”.

        1. Anononon*

          If inequities happen often in a certain field, and an organization in that field is trying to prevent those inequities, I think it’s pretty disingenuous to play devil’s advocate of “well, how to we know that OP’s specific organization is specifically having these otherwise widespread issues??”

    2. I should really pick a name*

      studies and numerous personal accounts show there are racial disparities in the quality of services and experiences people experience in our field, some of which are rooted in systems and some in individual practice

      Does that not qualify as ill to you?

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I don’t understand the question in 1. I follow until we get here

      I am also struggling with the idea that we’re essentially asking everyone to get in step with the party line and at least pay lip service to a specific set of beliefs. …

      Which brings me to my question. How can we advance a goal that is so rooted in personal and political philosophy without overstepping our place?

      Is LW saying the being unbiased and having a goal of racial equity is rooted in personal and political philosophy? It shouldn’t be. I don’t know. The headline for some reason (which I cannot recollect) led me to expect a different question. The question is really unclear to me. But the LW is at least clear that there are racial disparities in the quality of services and experiences. Work should be done to improve the situation.

      1. I edit everything*

        It does seem like the LW is saying that the importance of racial equity is a matter of politics. Given the current political situation in the US, I can see how she might have reached that conclusion, sadly.

        1. pancakes*

          My reading was that this LW thinks asking people to put racial equity into practice at work would be an overstep because doing so might be at odds with their politics. Which is staggering, really. US laws around discrimination in the workplace don’t give people a pass on that based on their politics! This is on the level of a sovereign citizen view, but for race rather than taxes. Bonkers.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I read it as saying that LW was thinking that, in order to buy into racial equity (in healthcare or otherwise), one has to believe in a lefty/progressive/liberal political outlook. That is not and should not be true.

      2. IT Manager*

        The LW is correctly saying that we, at least in the US, have framed equity and equality as a political philosophy rather than as a human right.

        Which is crap and I agree with the advice to proceed with fixing it and ignore all that nonsense. But it’s true that it is viewed as a “political stance” to say that we should fix systems that result in racially- aligned inequitable outcomes.

        1. Meep*

          I always say “Civil rights is not political” to the weirdos who want to make it political. That line read more as anti-vaxxer than anything when I first read it, though.

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            Eh, this might be a matter of semantics, but trying to get anyone to do anything is inherently political. I generally agree with your point that “everyone is entitled to the same civil rights” isn’t political, but even that isn’t really true, since reasonable people can disagree on whether or which exceptions should exist to that statement (prisoners, children, noncitizens in the case of voting rights, etc).

            I think in the OP’s case though, if there are obvious, observable differences in how their field’s services affect different demographics, that “this should be rectified” isn’t political, and treating it as if it is does a disservice to both the people they serve and their colleagues. The mechanisms by which their employer is trying to rectify the problem are different though, and it’s not ridiculous to disagree on what would be effective. I wish the OP had been clearer about what she meant.

            1. OP 1*

              I wish I’d been clearer, too, but here we are. I’m operating in the US, in a pretty purple area (divided politically) and lots of people make it about politics and emotions on both sides. So it felt almost like indoctrination because of that. And yet I know, objectively, that the system is sick, and needs fixing. I didn’t know how to balance that. Michelle’s answer is reframing my mindset and I’m grateful for that. It’s facts, not feelings, and thus not indoctrination.

              1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                But, OP, what is “it” that “both sides” make about politics and emotions?

              2. bamcheeks*

                I understood the question, and thought it was an important one. Not because it’s the “right” framing, but because the right has done a huge amount of very long-term strategic work– some of it conscious and deliberate, and some of it simply the ongoing historical functions of whiteness– to frame action race equity as a politically partisan issue. We have a vague principle that the workplace should be “neutral” on certain issues, and in some ways that’s an important equity principle in itself which theoretically enables people from all religions and political backgrounds to work together. What the right has done is frame ongoing racial injustice as the “neutral” state, and action against racial injustice as a “political” movement which therefore doesn’t belong in the workplace, or cannot be pursued to aggressively.

                That’s the landscape you’re fighting in, and I think it’s useful to name it so it can be called out and reframed.

              3. Jay*

                People will have emotional responses to this work. That’s inevitable. One of the most useful reframes I’ve come across is the idea that when we talk about “safe space” in a racially mixed group the White folk often hear that as “comfortable” and if they become uncomfortable, they feel unsafe and try to stop the work. BiPOC often find it impossible to have a safe space when White people are there. (Credit to John Palfrey and his work which I read about in “Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces.”) So I make it clear up front that we will be uncomfortable and that we are working to create a brave space in order to do the work together.

        2. pancakes*

          It’s not correct for them to suggest that people who are politically opposed to equity are somehow exempt from anti-discrimination laws, hate crime laws, etc., though. Or their employer’s own anti-discrimination policies.

          1. Curious*

            Most people are not exempt from anti-discrimination laws (though the Ministerial Exemption is an awfully big loophole). But laws like Title VII prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, etc. They do not mandate equity for members of marginalized groups. Indeed, they will mostly prohibit certain means of achieving equity for members of marginalized groups, to the extent those means involve discrimination against members of non-marginalized groups on the basis of, eg, race or sex.

        3. employment lawyah*

          You don’t seem to realize this, but equity and equality are at odds.

          One key element of US political philosophy is EQUALITY, i.e. “treat everyone the same.” Obviously this hasn’t always worked, but it remains a core philosophy. Since the 60s this has expanded to include the mantra “…irrespective of race, gender, religion, etc.”

          A key element of modern DEI is EQUITY, i.e. treating people differently based on race, gender, religion, etc. That isn’t bad, necessarily. IMO it’s necessary sometimes, in some areas, for some short time periods. But it is in plain conflict with the other goal above, of “equality.”

          No big deal; we have conflicting goals all the time and we balance them. However, it’s completely wrong (and entirely maddening) for DEI folks to continue claiming that equity and equality are the same, or that they’re naturally compatible; they in fact are philosophically opposed.

          1. pancakes*

            It is core rhetoric, yes, but we don’t treat everyone the same and never have. I can’t quite get on board with the idea that people cherishing that principle too much or being so devoted to it as to be doctrinaire is what’s keeping us from being better at equity.

      3. Jaybee*

        Yes, that is what the LW is saying. Which really doesn’t make things any more clear, to be honest; working just about anywhere requires you to operate under certain ‘professional’ political/philosophical assumptions.

        For example, it is assumed that as long as I am at work, I support the idea that my employer increasing their profits is good and desirable.

        On a personal level I disagree; my personal economic/political beliefs are radically anti-profit. But I’m pretty sure it would really impact my career at any for-profit company if I were to start voicing at work that I believe we should move to a co-op/nonprofit only system, ESPECIALLY if I were to demonstrably act on those beliefs in a professional capacity. Honestly, I expect my career would be impacted if I were to publically voice my beliefs even on my own time (ex. leading a rally or giving a speech), because my political goals are fundamentally destructive to for-profit companies like my employer and every employer in my industry.

        I’m also expected to exhibit personal qualities at work that I wouldn’t have in my personal life, like extending graciousness to annoying colleagues beyond the point where I would lose patience if we weren’t in a professional interaction.

        So the idea that it is somehow odious to expect people to voice and act in support of racial equality while at work is bewildering to me. If that is a focus of the organization, then it is absolutely reasonable to expect that employees support it professionally.

      4. Stevie*

        It shouldn’t be, but there are certainly some who immediately get worked up at the mention of anything social justice related and insist it’s playing politics. You get extra rage bonus points for using the phrases “Black Lives Matter” or “critical race theory”. They’ll argue with you all day about how “Black Lives Matter” is a destructive political movement, all while that strawman they’ve invented has absolutely nothing to do with what it actually means to affirm that Black lives matter.

    4. MsM*

      I think the point of the analogy is that you wouldn’t be at the doctor in the first place if something didn’t feel wrong. (And even if you’re just there for a physical, well, you’re still checking to make sure there isn’t something that could go seriously wrong before it’s gone too wrong to fix.)

      1. Anononon*

        Yes, preventative care is crucial for good health, and I think the analogy in this scenario extends to that.

    5. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      It took me a few read throughs to get it, but I thought the analogy was that the field was having issues with racial inequality – which is the illness in the analogy. The author phrased their question to state that the field was attempting to cure it, but LW believed the cure was ‘rooted in personal and political ideology.’ Thus, reading into it, it looks like they’re intentionally or unintentionally undermining the cure by making it seem less evidence based and more of a matter of personal preference.

      It’s not that you only have one doctor, it’s more that you shouldn’t go to the doctor for help, get a recommendation, and then decide that ‘ah well that’s the doctor’s personal/political belief,’ I’m not going to do it. I think the second opinion would more give an opinion that is similar, such as one doctor for diabetes type 2 saying ‘cut down on carbs’ the other saying ‘cut down on sugar’ but in the end, the scientific data recommends looking at your diet and making change. It would be weird for someone with type 2 diabetes to say ‘well, watching what I eat is a political/personal preference of the doctor, not an actual process I should try.’

    6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      As I understand it, they’re saying that their company ethos is in serious need of help, but they’re concerned that any attempts to change it to one of equality will be seen as some kind of ‘political’ idea and people will push back on it.

      It’s like going to your doc, asking if you can get a vaccine (something that prevents severe illness) and when they say yes you insist that’s a political view they’re trying to force on you.

      Which is illogical, but in this current era of things like racial equality, BLM and heck, even vaccines, a lot of actually non-political stuff has been paraded by some sides as ‘political viewpoints’ that they don’t care for.

      Basically it’s BS.

    7. Boof*

      I was slightly puzzled at first by what the question actually was, and therefor the response, but the answer makes a LOT of sense if they question is “diversity is a political and personal agenda so is there a limit to pushing it at work”; but they also lead with how they do see that diversity is needed in their work so…? I think ultimately the question was too vague because I don’t know what specifically about the diversity initiatives the letter writer thought might be overstepping. I think Michelle’s answer pretty much covers it – if someone was sick you’d try to treat the sickness, and that’s not a political/personal agenda in general, but it’s certainly possible that specific treatments or philosophies could be inappropriate or politicized depending on what they are. So it’s possible to disagree with a specific DEI incentive but kind of off to say DEI in general is an overstep.

  7. Spearmint*

    Great answers overall, but I do have a qualm with one thing Michelle said: “ Listen, I can tell you about equality and justice and how if we call those political beliefs, then we have some serious issues as a human population.”

    Most people agree that racial equality and justice are good. However, people can and do have reasonable disagreements about what equality and justice entail, as well as what steps are and are not effective in pursuing those goals. I do think that well intentioned DEI can sometimes shade into asking people to take a side on these sorts of questions that, again, reasonable people can disagree about and this are inherently political. And when this is done in the workplace, where people have to go to want a living and can’t afford to express their views honestly, then they may justifiably feel coerced into pretending they agree with something they don’t believe in.

    To give a concrete example, I think the “white affinity groups” advocated for by people like Robin DiAngelo are not only ineffective, but actually reinforcing racial separation. I know reasonable people disagree with me on this, but I don’t think a workplace should make it a condition of my employment that I not express any reservations about white affinity groups if they were being implemented in my workplace.

    I don’t think LW1 gives us enough information to know if what they’re doing is overbearing or not, but I do think it’s something people involved in DEI projects should think about.

    1. Justin*

      Disagreeing with the approaches or aspects of DEI is different from disagreeing with the centrality of it to a healthy workplace.

      Groups where white individuals can… deal with all of their stuff without burdening POC have their place, but, as you note, they’re often deeply ineffective. (Having led classes for white educators myself, usually the groups only work when they’re led by a paid expert of color who is choosing to take on said burden.)

      So I don’t know that I actually disagree with you that strongly, actually. Ha.

    2. Michelle Silverthorn*

      Hello! I don’t disagree with you either. I don’t have an issue with expressing reservations – I don’t agree with White affinity groups and I would love to see some research to show that they have been effective in advancing equity or inclusion – but I do think based on my reading of the letter writer that they were claiming all of the DEI is based in personal and political philosophy.

      1. Thanks!*

        I appreciate this follow-up and nuance. I re-read this answer because I do think it’s hard because there are many different schools of thought with respect to DEI. When my organization has tried to approach it, there can definitely be a divide in what approach people think is best (an anti-racist lens vs. a diversity lens). In my own organization, I’ve also noticed a racial divide in what people prefer (white colleagues seem to prefer the anti-racist approach but black colleagues seem to like the diversity approach). So I value the distinction that there might be multiple philosophies to address DEI (and we will have to discern which ones are best) but DEI itself isn’t a political or personal philosophy.

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            For sure, most people of privilege have difficulty viewing the world outside of their own experiences and filter the world through that lens. Which is when you get white people saying that they grew up poor and were still able to succeed (bootstraps and all that) with a straight face.

    3. yala*

      “However, people can and do have reasonable disagreements about what equality and justice entail”

      mmm…not so sure about that. I don’t see a lot of reasonable disagreement about what those things entail.

      1. Heather*

        Think about the word “justice”, at least in the criminal justice context. Some people think our prison system needs an overhaul. Others, sentencing parameters. Should race affect a plea offer? Should socio-economic status, which is often linked to race. Is justice seeing someone put in jail for many years? Is it an apology to the victim, coupled with job training and substance abuse treatment?

        I would assume that many generally like minded people would give at least slightly different answers to just those few small inquiries regarding one aspect of “justice”. So, I agree with Spearmint that there are bound to be reasonable disagreements.

      2. WiT example*

        An example: I’m a woman and a queer person who’s worked in tech. A lot of “women in tech” and “pride/diversity” initiatives that companies put on feel tokenizing at best and insulting at worst to me. Example: “women in tech” conferences tend to have a bunch of sessions about soft skills and impostor syndrome; they also tend to assume that feminine-coded aesthetic choices will appeal more to women. Both of these feel alienating to me. But a lot of well-intended people will add women to women in tech mailing lists without asking, or ask us to speak on impostor syndrome when they might as a male colleague to speak on a technical issue.

        To me, equality and justice look like handling HR complaints fairly and competently, providing resources for those who want them, and not assuming people want to be involved in “women in tech” things unless they express interest. But a lot of people think imposing their idea of what women in tech advocacy looks like on everyone is what equality and justice look like.

        I’m sure there isn’t some perfectly equivalent situation with regard to race but I wanted to give an example of how reasonable people can disagree on the end goals for these things.

    4. extra anon for this*

      My old workplace tried racial affinity groups, and…it did not go well. They were mandatory, and everyone either had to sign up for the White affinity group or the Black affinity group. The majority of POC staff at my old job were Black, but the non-Black POC were like WTF. An apology was sent by the DEI consultant, but it was an egregious oversight and not a good start to rolling out our new DEI initiatives. Sadly this set the tone and my old job viewed DEI as a literal black and white issue. The consultants and leadership not only ignored issues brought up by non-Black POC, but tended to ignore or mishandle things related to religion, disability and LGBTQ+ issues as well. I strongly believe that virtually all workplaces need to do better for their Black employees (my old job was no exception), but what I guess I’m trying to say here is…DEI is not one single issue and don’t use my old job as a model in your approach to DEI at work.

      1. extra anon for this*

        While I no longer work at that job, I’d love to see Michelle’s take on this if she comes back for another guest column! Essentially my question phrased more simply would be: how should you approach leadership/the DEI team if your company’s DEI work seems to be very focused on one or two areas (and maybe even doing a good job in that area), but mishandles or completely ignores issued raised by marginalized groups outside of those focus areas? I can provide many specific examples from my last job, but don’t want to out them. However, I don’t think this is uncommon–I think lots of workplaces are committing to better DEI practices when it comes to race and gender, but are not thinking about disability at in that work, to name a more common example.

        1. extra anon for this*

          White affinity/accountability/caucus groups are groups where white people get together to learn and study about racism and hold each other accountable in growing and doing better. The thought is that POC are usually tasked with the (generally uncompensated) labor of teaching white people about racism, and this is a way to lessen that burden. The focus is often more on the insidious and systemic ways racism plays out in society that white people don’t always realize they are contributing to or benefitting from as opposed to talking about explicitly racist things that happened, since many white people are ignorant of the former but good at recognizing the latter. Not sure how effective these groups always are in practice.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yeesh that’s really not how to do affinity groups well. My company has a range of them but they are all ones that people have decided to set up at grassroots and they’re voluntary. Each one has a sponsor from within the management to champion their aims.

        They only really work if they’re a choice. So one of my BAME staff is very active in the BAME affinity network and does an amazing job organising events, influencing recruitment policy and helping junior staff. Another BAME member of my team refuses to have anything to do with it because she doesn’t enjoy thinking about the issue as she finds it depressing to be reminded of how much discrimination she faces. That’s an equally valid perspective in my opinion.

        I think the management support is also essential for them to make a difference.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yep. My workplace introduced ERGs last year – they are for Black, Latinx, Asian and LGBTQ+ employees. And folks are welcome to start new ones if they see a need for it (after getting a blessing from the DEI council of course). While there is some informal recruitment (“hey, you should come check this group out!”) there is no obligation at all for anyone to join.

      3. WiT example*

        I remember an antiracism training about 10 years ago, before they really hit the mainstream, where my friend got lectured being white and having white privilege for about 20 minutes before he told the presenter that he was Arab.

        In addition to excluding groups outside Black and white, a lot of these trainings don’t do well at all with people who fall into multiple categories or can “pass” as something other than what they identify as.

        1. IEanon*

          This happened to me in an LGBTQ+ diversity training. I felt bullied into disclosing that I was bisexual because the trainers kept hammering us about when we first realized we were straight/who our first celebrity crush was.

          I was really uncomfortable with the label at that time, and wasn’t out to my family, let alone my department. Bad trainers can definitely be counterproductive and alienating, even to the populations they’re trying to “help.”

          1. WiT example*

            Yikes. Gross. Yeah, I got in an argument with a diversity trainer who insisted “queer is a slur and straight people can’t say it.” I definitely want straight people to be able to refer to our local queer youth community center, the queer studies department at a university, etc. at the very least! It was a massive oversimplification that doesn’t engage well with the way language actually works in society and it irritated me. I was already out and the trainer knew me but I can imagine having to put myself to make that point if circumstances were different.

        2. pancakes*

          Unless you and your friend were in a very small seminar, I’m not sure it’s practical to go around the room and have everyone state their own background at the start of the training. Even then I’m not sure it’s useful. Sometimes it’s ok for learning to start with listening rather than talking. If the worst thing about the talk / lecture is that it’s going over something one already knows very well, that can be annoying, but it’s also a chance to zone out for a bit. Ideally the talk would eventually get to colorism as well, but if it doesn’t, I’m not sure audience participation on the fly is the best remedy. A better trainer would be preferable.

          1. MissElizaTudor*

            It doesn’t sound like there was a lecture going on such that the complaint is having to hear things they already knew. It sounds like the trainer singled out this individual person for a long lecture.

            The solution wouldn’t be to go around and have everyone say their background. It would be to not lecture any single person for an extended period, especially if they hadn’t done something disruptive or rude.

            1. pancakes*

              To clarify, I was using “lecture” in a neutral sense, in contrast to the person I was responding to. Attending a lecture is a pretty traditional way to learn. Millions of people all over the world have been educated in university lecture classes. It seems unlikely to me to that the person conducting this particular training session singled out one person to lecture, in the scolding sense of the word, for an extended period. It seems much more likely that the friend took generalized discussion of white people very personally, the way several commenters above described (e.g., “I’m pretty burnt out on hearing what an awful person I am during these panel presentations”). That happens quite frequently.

              Maybe I was being too understated or oblique in saying I’m not sure about going around the room – I was speaking more figuratively than literally. I fully agree with you that that would not be a good solution at all!

        3. Loredena Frisealach*

          Being Arab in the US is weird. My Arabic father was raised to think of himself as white; my mother is very much white (though even there it’s just 2 generations back to the shanty Irish). But even reading as white, there were always microaggressions even as a child, we just didn’t have the terminology for it. It’s only as a much older adult that I can look back at those instances and see them for what they were. {I look generically ethnic; people tend to assume whatever the local dominant immigrant population is, which historically has been Italian or Cuban in the places I grew up. But I got asked a *lot* about my unpronounceable (2 syllable! 5 letters!) surname and deep tan}

          Desert Storm the first caused a shift in perception, and 9-11 really changed things. I still pass as white, I still recognize I have white privilege most of the time. But I notice the anti-Arab sentiment (worsened of course if one is also Muslim, which Arab Muslim) that has steadily worsened since my childhood.

      4. Bananatiel*

        Ha, this is exactly how my workplace has approached this in the past, and the groups have dropped off from the DEI efforts without a word or explanation. It was required, we were literally given a Black or white option, and that was it. In the first moderated session the person my company had hired asked us all to talk about our past experiences with DEI programs as white people and half the group had to patiently explain that they were, in fact, not white. Many of them made a point to say they’d often felt left out of DEI efforts (no kidding!!!!). I actually spoke up to my boss after that meeting because the outside moderator handled the situation extremely poorly and (accidentally, I hope) implied that the POC in the room were centering themselves in an inappropriate way (!!!!).

    5. pancakes*

      There are people in DEI who think Robin DiAngelo isn’t particularly effective, either. The field doesn’t seem quite as monolithic to me as your comment suggests. I’ll link to it in a separate reply, but in the meantime I want to point people towards Lauren Michele Jackson’s 2019 Slate article, “What’s Missing From ‘White Fragility’” on this point. I think it’s a really good read.

      One question, about “I don’t think a workplace should make it a condition of my employment that I not express any reservations about white affinity groups if they were being implemented in my workplace.” DEI is something I only read about occasionally, I don’t work in the field myself. Is that happening? I have never heard of such a thing.

      1. WiT example*

        RE: “I don’t think a workplace should make it a condition of my employment that I not express any reservations about white affinity groups if they were being implemented in my workplace.”

        Often the trainers themselves will present things in a rather absolute, un-nuanced manner (see other replies to the comment you’re responding to) which can include, implicitly or explicitly, positioning any disagreement with them as racist, white fragility, etc.

        It can also be hard to find a way to “express reservations” about these sorts of events and trainings that doesn’t come off as insubordination or not taking the subject matter seriously. It’s just a really difficult topic to talk about that people understandably have strong feelings about, and I’ve definitely seen instances of disagreement on some finer point get miscast as the person disagreeing being a bigot.

        1. pancakes*

          There are definitely bad trainers who are bad at conveying nuance, but I’m not sure that’s the case more often than not. Even if thirty or forty or however many more people come here to say so, they’re self-reporting rather than being surveyed.

          I can definitely understand the difficulties in complaining about bad DEI training, and that that’s not going to be something everyone feels they have the finesse and/or the capital to pull off. That isn’t quite the same scenario as employers requiring people to not question white affinity groups or lose their jobs, though.

          1. extra anon for this*

            I think there’s been a surging demand for DEI professionals in the last 18 months, but not necessarily enough qualified people to meet that demand. Simply being a member of a marginalized group does not make someone automatically qualified to do this work, and people hiring or organizing outside trainings often aren’t in a position to properly vet who they’re bringing. Not trying to dunk on the field as a whole because I know there are many competent DEI professionals, but I think this mismatch between supply and demand leaves opportunities for things to go awry. And I truly don’t know what the answer is, because I do still think companies need to do better for their employees of marginalized backgrounds.

  8. Tasha*

    Do you, with your knowledge of your organization, your expertise in DEI work, and your lived experiences and data gathering, have alternative cures that you believe will work and will be adopted by your colleagues? Please make your suggestions. But if you don’t have alternative suggestions, and you think it’s better the patient remain sick, then go ahead and advocate that they throw the “personal and political philosophy” treatment plan in the trash and continue with the unhealthy environment that they are currently in.

    Harsh but true.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I don’t think it’s rude or unkind. The LW didn’t either, as they have commented above.
        Michelle’s statement comes to, “You agree there is a problem. DEI is a path to a solution. If you think there is a better path, to a better solution, let’s hear it! If not, either follow along with DEI anyway or advocate that DEI be dumped and no attempt be made to solve the problem which you agree exists.”

  9. H.Regalis*

    LW1 – I feel like you’re making a false equivalence between “doing nothing” and “being neutral.” Your organization is already advocating a political philosophy, the one that caused there to be racial disparities in your field. DEI would be advocating a different political philosophy. What your field is doing now as its default is not neutral; you’re not treating people equally. I don’t even know what neutral would look like in this situation.

    1. mreasy*

      This is a fantastic point. Doing nothing to work toward greater inclusion and racial equity in the workplace is itself a choice. People are used to it being the default, so it seems “neutral” – but it absolutely isn’t.

  10. Anon for this*

    Some of the responses to the questions were rather stirring. I LOOK majority, but I am not. I am a minority religion. I an neurodiverse. I have some disabilities.. but I can ‘pass.’. I actually don’t try to, but when diversity comes up as a topic, I often feel left out. I can’t go eat with my coworkers. I have to take vacation days for my holidays. People assume a lot of me… And a lot of it is so wrong, but it’s both exhausting to try an explain…. And had led to people thinking I’m a bigot for thinking I’m not in the majority.
    I am really glad for the response about the ‘if you want to participate’ in the program, above.

    1. Justin*

      This is why “minority” and “majority” fall short as terms. You are, clearly, minoritIZED (neurologically and in other ways). And absolutely an intersectional approach to achieving justice would include you.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yes, yet I’ve been shouted at for even attempting to say anything (like “my experience has been…”) Because I’m not a POC (note, it’s almost exclusively very White people doing this).

        It sucks.

  11. Observer*

    I have a question for #1 – What do you actually mean by “the party line” and “political philosophy”?

    If you mean stuff like “all men are created equal” actually includes ALL people, and we need to work to make that happen, then Michelle is being kinder than I would have been. (But what she is saying is far more useful than anything I would have said.)

    If, on the other hand, you mean things like managers at these meeting saying things like “we all need to commit to voting for candidate X” or “We need to commit to political slogan Y” (especially one that is actually NOT universal among the groups you are trying to be more just to), then your best bet is to do some hard thinking and come up with some alternative solutions. So you could push back and say “I don’t think that this is necessarily all the useful. However, we should look at doing A”. But you need to come up with stuff that we know play into these issues. Like, look at your application process if you have one. Or standardizing certain services so that people get the same service regardless of who is providing the service, and who is getting the service. It’s going to take some work on your part, but at this point we actually have a lot of information about how many of these systems work and things that can go a long way towards shifting behavior and outcomes.

    And by the way, sometimes it’s just fine to insist that people “pay lip service” to certain values. I mean I would prefer that the people I work with actually BELIEVE that they should treat EVERYONE with respect. But if I can’t have that, let them pay lip service to that ideal and BEHAVE THEMSELVES.

    1. AthenaC*

      “What do you actually mean by “the party line” and “political philosophy”?”

      Without more specifics it’s hard to know whether OP1’s company is actually implementing in a way that stifles genuine discussion (i.e. an insincere “check the box” approach) or whether OP1’s company has the most perfect, heartfelt plan and OP1 has some baggage to unpack.

      I guarantee you there are virtue-signaling, rainbow capitalist-type DEI programs out there and it makes perfect sense to object to those. As OP1 already said, DEI is necessary work and requires facing a lot of hard truths so you don’t want a DEI program that will make things worse, if you can help it.

      1. Observer*

        So that’s part of my question. Who is doing the virtue signaling?

        If it’s the company, the best way to combat it is by bringing up actual things the company can do. If it’s the OP, then they need to back down and really think about what their objections are.

      2. This is a name, I guess*

        This is real. I just read “The End of Bias” (definitely recommend), and social science research shows that a lot of common anti-bias trainings and anti-bias protocols actually make managers behave with more bias.

        The author does suggest multiple strategies that have been shown to work in reducing bias, though. Non-exhaustive list of examples:
        1) Mindfulness and self-care training and resources for law enforcement.
        2) Non-mandatory anti-bias trainings that aim to change company culture, but through the leadership of the people who volunteer to take the trainings (mandatory trainings actually make people more biased).
        3) Stemming the opportunities for bias earlier in the decision tree (essentially, allowing fewer people to “use their judgment” in a way that can be biased, e.g., senior leadership developing systems that benefit women with children so that lower level managers cannot discriminate against them)

        1. AthenaC*

          Thank you – these sort of specifics were what I was looking for.

          I see Michelle and the commentariat are collectively giving OP1 a hard time as if it’s not possible that a particular company’s specific DEI efforts could be harmful … and I really don’t think that’s fair. There’s not enough info in their question to say much of anything, and they even said that they agree that DEI efforts in general are a good thing! I don’t understand why Michelle answered so harshly!

          Also, I don’t think it’s fair to be all “Well since you’re clearly the DEI expert then why don’t you just tell the company what they should do?” To continue Michelle’s analogy, I’m not a doctor so I don’t know how to prescribe my own medicine …. but that doesn’t preclude me from speaking up if my doctor prescribes me something that doesn’t help. A good doctor will go back to my chart and figure out something else rather than respond the way Michelle did: “Well since you’re clearly the doctor here then why don’t you just diagnose and treat yourself?”

          1. AthenaC*

            To continue my thought quickly – I don’t understand why Michelle was so harsh to OP1 … unless there was a LOT of problematic content in that question that was sanitized for AAM. If there was, then maybe consider putting some of it back so Michelle’s response makes sense and seems proportionate?

            1. This is a name, I guess*

              I think the first question is kind of squirrelly. Like, it’s worded in such a way as to be completely devoid an actual opinion or feelings. When people go through so many linguistic gymnastics in order to conceal their true opinion, it’s likely not in good faith. We also don’t know how much additional information Michelle or Alison had from OP.

              1. Observer*

                I think that this is what Michelle was reacting to. More often than not, when you see a “*I* support this thing buuuuut…” it’s sign that the speaker actually is NOT supportive.

                in this case, I’d go a bit further and say that there are some distinct signs that it’s the OP who has a problem with the work. They say that they are “struggling with the idea” that everyone needs to at least ” pay lip service to a specific set of beliefs”. Considering that the specific set of beliefs in question seems to center around basic equity, I’m having a really hard time understanding the struggle.

              2. bamcheeks*

                I actually read it the other way around. The questioner wants to support the initiative, but has been influenced by (very concerted, very deliberate, very strategic) talking points from the far right / white supremacists who are working to make tackling racial injustice a politically partisan issue which “doesn’t belong in the workplace”. She feels instinctively that there’s something wrong with that, but can’t articulate what it is, and she’s asking Michelle for help. Michelle gave her a very direct and clear response. I think that’s the very helpful reframing that OP was asking for, not a scold for not seeing it first.

  12. IT Manager*

    This is a super point, thank you. I will save this for similar questions in my org! Great wording.

  13. cubone*

    I really appreciated Michelle’s presence on AAM, I feel like these questions and her responses always handle the “practicality” of equity (eg what do we DO, not just say or read or understand).

    Also, if it’s okay to share I’d really like to recommend LinkedIn users follow Lilly Zheng. Their posts as a DEI consultant are always incredibly thought provoking to me and have many times given me different perspectives, particularly about DEI efforts in the workplace.

  14. learnedthehardway*

    For #5 – asking the person how they would feel if someone said that about them / their race / culture might be a good way to demonstrate that the other person is being racist without getting into a debate about whether you as a non-marginalized person can comment about how a marginalized person is being racist. If they would find it racist if someone said the same thing about them, then it stands to reason that it is racist if they say it about someone else.

  15. Svenjolly*

    I wish that the answer to #1 had included some practical advice rather than just snarkiness. I completely agree that every employer should be prioritizing and examining DEI at their organizations, but the fact is that half of Americans dismiss DEI as a liberal propaganda. I realize that changing people’s politics is extremely difficult, but it would be nice of the people who consider themselves experts in this stuff could provide some advice about how to start making changes. “Your organization is ill” doesn’t help and probably encourages some people to double down.

    1. Justin*

      Honestly, for people who fully refuse, you can give them rules they can’t break about how to treat people and leave it be. In my own work, it tends to be more effective to build with those who are interested. And it’s definitely less than half – there’s far more than just D and R out there.

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        This actually a proven strategy for reducing bias: stemming people’s ability to be biased by creating systems that eliminate their ability to make judgements. In “The End of Bias,” the author uses a case study of a French law firm whose CEO decided to make the firm more accommodating of female attorneys. Instead of mandating tons of bias training for sexist managers, he implemented policies and protocols that made it impossible for those sexist managers to be sexist. He made promotion decisions based on quantitative numbers, prorated to the number of hours someone worked (to accommodate parental leave), among many other adjustments. Until the adaptation of this new system, women who left the office early to participate in childcare activities were punished while men doing the same were lauded for being family men. Moreover, managers would attempt to justify promoting a man over a women or white man over North African man for intangible reasons, but the new protocols made it so those “intangible” reasons no longer held water.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think systemic change is critical. For example my company has introduced name blind recruitment. So when you advertise a job the application forms are provided by HR without the cover sheet so you don’t see peoples’ names and contact information. You sift the applicants based on the CV and then you’re told the names of the applicants you’ve shortlisted.

          Obviously if someone you know applies it’s usually possible to work out who they are, but it reduces the risk of unconscious bias in selection.

          I think putting procedures in place might not change what people think but it does at least affect what people do.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            Yup! One of major points of “The End of Bias” is that in-group/out-group formation and subsequent bias is part of human nature. We can’t get rid of it; it’s part of our reptile brain. However, we can take steps to ensure our reptilian biases don’t invade our larger cognitive decisions. One way to do this is to exercise our anti-bias reflexes like a muscle. Another way to simply remove the ability for bias to impact our decision-making. The removes some of the individual responsibility to mitigate bias.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I just saw a job post like that. It says, “We ask that you please remove all identifying information from your resume before you upload it on the next page in an effort to help us remove unconscious bias from our resume review process.”

        2. much ado*

          Yes, I feel like so many of these initiatives outsource equity to the internal thoughts and beliefs of the employees when the employer has multiple options at their disposal to make material improvements to marginalized employees’ lives.

    2. Jaybee*

      Does that genuinely read as snarkiness to you? Or is it just not the response you wanted to hear? It reads to me as a well-developed metaphor, not as ‘snark’.

      LW didn’t write in asking for help getting buy-in from reluctant colleagues. LW wrote in asking if it was somehow overstepping to focus on DEI at all.

      I’m also pretty sure if you were to actually take a look at Michelle Silverthorn’s larger body of work, you’d find some actionable items like you’re asking about. That might be more productive than expecting to find them in an answer to a completely different question.

      1. Kenny*

        The metaphor is weak and the post isn’t about Michelle Silverthorn’s larger body of work; it’s about these specific questions. I agree with Svenjolly that the answer to the first question isn’t useful. What is OP supposed to take away from the answer? That their organization is “ill”? ok, then what? It would be nice to hear some practical steps forward, even if OP1 won’t or can’t take those steps, what steps *should* an organization take to move forward?

        1. Anononon*

          But that’s still not the question OP is asking here. You say that “it would be nice to hear some practical steps forward”. But OP isn’t asking for what those steps should be – she says that there is a plan in place to take those steps. She’s just asking IF her organization should even take those steps or if it would be seen as too political. And the answer to that is Michelle’s answer.

        2. Observer*

          What is OP supposed to take away from the answer?

          That the problem their organization is facing is not “political” in the usual sense. And that the organization has a profound enough problem that requiring people to sign on to something that they might not otherwise be willing to sign on to is reasonable and appropriate. You may or may not agree, but that is the short version of what Michelle was saying. Given that the question was “Is this too political and is it ok for my organization to require people to sign on to stuff that they might not otherwise agree to?” I don’t really understand what you are fishing for?

    3. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      I didn’t pick up initially that the statement ‘your organization is ill’ was part of a longer analogy until I re-read it. But I don’t see it as snarky, to me it’s saying that if you’re going to tell people who have diabetes that eating right and exercising is just political preference and not something they should attempt, then you’re just making it worse.

      The practical advice is that is in the last paragraph. If something doesn’t or isn’t working, make a concrete statement about what should be changed, and if you can recommend why or what it can be changed to. If Sally has type 2 diabetes and is a super healthy eater and a marathon runner, she can tell her doctor that the direction to eat healthier and exercise more does not work for her case so the doctor can make adjustments to better help her. But without clues on what the organization is doing and what the LW believes isn’t working, I don’t see how she could give advice other than what she did.

    4. ---*

      To double down on what? On dismissing principles of equality and anti-racism as political and ideological? This is a tired excuse — the notion that harmful views should be coddled rather than called out lest they cement.

      Also, this comment misconstrues the OP’s question and Michelle’s response, since you’re framing the issue as political itself. Michelle is making the point that DEI and its underlying principles are not, in fact, political or ideological — they are about hewing to lowest common denominator principles of basic rights. That’s not about politics. At the most basic level, it’s just the law.

    5. Boof*

      I think the practical advice was to be more specific about what initiatives they are hesitant about.

  16. league**

    I’m confused about question 4. I think the OP is a manager asking about her employee who is a POC, but the headline and the answer imply that the OP is asking about her own manager…..and then at the end of her own question, OP does say the employee is a manager. Maybe she’s a manager supervising a manager? I think some clarifying language would help here.

  17. Girasol*

    This article is wonderful. It makes me think about my ex-employer of 5 years, where they have just hired a DEI manager in a place that for years was very white male centric. We had no more than one token woman in each managerial rank and she not a manager, and few people of color above individual contributor level, of whom it was whispered, “they’re here because of affirmative action!” In Glassdoor the opinion about the new DEI effort runs about even, half of the comments saying “it’s a pro!” and the other half saying “con: politics like this do not belong in the workplace!” It seems like modern DEI wisdom focuses on how to get a diverse candidate pool and make everyone feel welcome and see a future with the company. I still wonder how the DEI manager will deal with an entrenched culture where a lot of people, bottom to top, believe that the obvious solution is hire as few “people who don’t fit our culture” as possible.

    1. WomEngineer*

      I agree with your assessment of modern DEI. Even if many groups are underrepresented, you can tell by employers’ words (setting representation goals) and actions (how they hire, who and which roles are represented at conferences, etc.). Personally, I look for if they have diversity beyond entry-level roles.

      1. Boof*

        It’s tough because some places have a real bottle neck – say, only 2% of the workforce may be of a specific minority ethnicity – so your workforce looks bad but it’s not actually worse than the average. Yes obviously want to be better than average and we’ve done a lot of thinking on how to change apps, language, culture, etc to attract / not put off specific minority candidates.
        Just kind of frustrating to look at the whole thing and think “there’s a problem at every level! What do?!” but I am encouraged that it looks like there’s progress made (ie, looks like a lot more minorities are starting to apply for med school – we have HS interest programs, undergraduate minority programs, etc etc)

  18. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    I have a question- I had a temp position and every once in a while, I had to work in the lobby of the building for an hour or so. Due to Covid, you had to either prove you worked in the building or had an appointment. If you had an appointment, the security guard would call the office worker to confirm the meeting and then let the person into the building. One of the guards, in my observation, was less helpful and more brusque to certain people, usually if they were black. This was mostly tone related, nothing concrete that he said that I could really point to, but I wondered if I should have brought it up to his supervisor.

    1. Mimi*

      I think bringing it up to his supervisor would have been appropriate generally, though with a temp position it’s weirder, and you might not want to rock the boat.

      To address it directly with the supervisor I’d say something like, “In a couple of instances it’s seemed like John is less polite to people who are not white [people who look like they might be hispanic/whatever is most relevant in the context]. Since CompanyName is dedicated to providing quality service to everyone, could you check if that’s the case?” Then you’re not straight-up calling John a racist, but if the supervisor is looking with that lens, they’re more likely to notice.

      A gentler approach might be to mention it to your own manger: “While I’ve been working in the lobby, I’ve noticed that the security guard named John isn’t quite as helpful and friendly to Black or hispanic folks as he is to white folks. It’s not so much what he says, but there’s a definite tone difference. Since he is literally one of the gatekeepers for our org, we probably want to address that.”

      1. Observer*

        It’s not so much what he says, but there’s a definite tone difference. Since he is literally one of the gatekeepers for our org, we probably want to address that.

        This is EXCELLENT language, imo. And it really gets to the heart of the problem.

        1. AnotherSarah*

          Yes, and it gives the supervisor something to act on, and ask questions about. If the supervisor comes down to the lobby and observes what you have, she could say something like, “John, you were a little more brusque with that last visitor than with the previous four–were you aware of that?”

          1. pancakes*

            I agree that it’s good phrasing, but want to point out that in every building I’ve worked in, lobby security is employed by the building’s management company, not directly by the tenants. In NYC, at least. It may be different elsewhere, of course. But yes, the tenant companies will each have point people for speaking with building management, and it’s probably best to go through them.

    2. Observer*

      I think that if they knew who you were, then it would have been a good idea to bring it to his supervisor. Especially if it was really consistent. Like if you could honestly say something like “I could generally tell if someone was X ethnicity just by how brusque he was”, that’s REALLY important information for his employer to know. Especially when it relates to the first person that people need to interact with when they come into someone’s space.

  19. Constant Reader*

    #1 is something I’m dealing with in my own org and I really didn’t know how to word how I was feeling about folks who say things along the lines of what LW is saying here. It’s really hard to hear conversation about your own basic rights be relegated to something political. So deeply grateful for Michelle’s response.

    1. This is a name, I guess*

      Same. I deal with the politicization of my rights and my partner’s rights all the time and it’s preposterous. My company is extremely accommodating of disability, so one tactic I’ve used is to substitute “trans” or “POC” in “politicized” statements with “person with a disability,” and then I ask, “Is this still political to you?” WORKS LIKE A CHARM.

      Example: “”People with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be allowed to use the same bathrooms as people without disabilities because they make people without disabilities feel uncomfortable.’..IS THAT POLITICAL? OR SIMPLY DEHUMANIZING?” Or, “People with disabilities shouldn’t be allowed to participate in school sports with people without disabilities because it’s not fair to athletes without disabilities.” Once I said that to some people in senior leadership, and they changed their tune right away.

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        Edited to add: I don’t think we should tokenize people with disabilities, but sometimes companies have equity policies that are conducive to one marginalized group (women, POC, people with disabilities), but that aren’t fully inclusive of all backgrounds. However, people from marginalized backgrounds face similar experiences, so to deny the humanity of one group while uplifting the humanity of another has no moral logic. So, you can leverage this openness toward one group to advocate for others.

  20. Neddy Seagoon*

    Removed. I don’t think these are good-faith examples; they’re certainly not realistic ones.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I don’t know of any company that would immediately fire someone for using a slur once on a single occasion, without asking their side of the story or giving them a warning not to do it again.

      I mean, I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but most places are gonna give you a warning at a minimum. And my guess is anyone who is intentionally and knowingly using slurs is going to be a problem worker in other ways.

    2. M_Lynn*

      I don’t think any of this needed to be said. You are completely off base that DEIA efforts ask white men to resign from their jobs or give up promotions. This line of thinkin requires you believing that POC are categorically inferior to you. What a horrific and racist way of thinking.

      Second, your perspective that getting reprimanded or fired for using a slur is a metaphorical death sentence is absurd. Using slurs is very wrong and egregious. People are fired for way less, and they deserve it. Is there room for personal growth and learning? Sure. But a company isn’t required to allow you the space for that, especially when using racial slurs is part of the legal obligations they have under EEO. But to call it a death sentence? Come on.

      In fact, the only good thing about your post is you implying that you don’t talk to POC colleagues. That is reprehensible behavior, but it seems that it’s safer for them rather than being subjected to you.

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        I 100% agree with your assessment. FWIW, I have seen pretty radical examples of anti-racist rhetoric that asks White people if they are ready to give up their next job or promotion in the stead of racial justice. It’s not an actual policy statement. It’s rhetorical. And it’s not that common of an opinion, but I’ve seen it. I’m sure people anxious about their status as members of the dominant class have fixated on this one statement in a sea of many and have internalized it in an unhelpful way (as the commenter does). But that doesn’t mean it’s right or at productive. The rhetoric does exist.

    3. Anononon*

      “The sad truth is that people will always put themselves and their families first. I’m sorry for anyone who was discriminated against, just as I was for being autistic, but I’m not going to decline a promotion or resign so a POC can take my place. I have a family to feed. And if you want that of me, you can start by setting a good example and resigning yourself.”

      Who’s asking that of you?

    4. Important Moi*

      DE&I is not about impinging on White people.

      The “death sentence” comment has been addressed.

    5. SPDM*

      “a lot of resentment about diverse people being promoted over long-serving employers and suchlike, all of which was allowed to fester for years”

      You say that the people in your org are not racist, but none of you had any issues with the fact that none of your ‘long-serving employers and suchlike’ were diverse before? Like, you just all ignored that (or more likely, did not even bother to notice) because you were doing A-OK? Hint: The new, more diverse hires can’t be longer serving than you (which for some reason is the only criteria that you think is important for promotion) if they weren’t serving at all. Huge swathes of the population can take the hits for decades as long as it’s not you guys, apparently.

    6. Observer*

      I’m glad to see that you pulled this. I was pretty taken aback, but I couldn’t figure out how to respond. It really didn’t sound real to me, but I’m hesitant to tell people that their experience is not real. And pretty much anything I could have said would have implied that. Seeing that others see it similarly makes me feel a bit better.

    7. Someone On-Line*

      Yikes on bikes. Yes, you do seem a bitter about the DEI initiatives. But ultimately, while it would be nice if we were told of our shortcomings and mistakes in nice ways, the manner of being told doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to inclusion and equity. I need to be a good and decent human being, even if no one else around me is.

  21. Valkyrie*

    I really appreciate the last question for how a white person can address the racism when it is a person of colour perpetuating it. I have also heard similar things and I’ve often struggled to say something. It has been additionally challenging when it’s come from friends or colleagues who are immigrants and might be speaking racism from a context that is completely different from what I understand.

    1. Doc in a Box*

      It’s true that immigrants might have a different context for their racism, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful. I’m the American-born child of immigrants from India. There is a *lot* to unpack about my parents’ relationship with whiteness — it looks different from David Duke style white supremacy, but it’s racist nonetheless.

      For instance when my mom makes comments about how someone “sounds Black” or “looks Jewish” or how the “[insert ethnicity] postal workers ignore customers,” I started calling her out on it –“Ma, that’s a racist thing to say.” It’s taken a few years, but she no longer makes those comments.

      I’ve heard culture described as “the water in which we all swim,” and honestly, if someone pees in your swimming pool, shouldn’t you tell them to stop?

  22. Hapanon*

    I wonder if the employee asking about supporting their Black supervisor has asked what would be helpful to her. If my supervisor had offered me any additional time off or in-office support during the rash of AAPI assaults, I would be a bit annoyed. I was definitely anxious about my dad and his side of the family since they lived somewhere that it was happening all through 2020/21, but I didn’t want to bring that to work with me.

    Same with my coworkers during summer 2020. I knew one would appreciate a check-in and offer of extra support, so I made sure to reach out to her. Another coworker didn’t want a reminder of what was happening while she was at work, because she felt it undermined her to have people worrying she couldn’t do her job.

    I think Michelle’s recommendations are much more useful than volunteering to take over any tasks during certain events/trials, since it’s ongoing support and not tied to any specific thing happening in the news. And if you think your supervisor might need or appreciate some extra support, don’t just assume what would be most helpful. Ask!

  23. Philly Redhead*

    I want to copy the first Q and A, and paste it on billboards and posterboards all over the world. I want to scream it out loud.

  24. RustyBuckets*

    Just wanted to say that I love these guest-starring appearances from Michelle and find them incredibly helpful. Thank you!

  25. employment lawyah*

    1. Are we overstepping boundaries in our DEI work?
    If you’re asking for specific actions that are demonstrably tied to specific outcomes: No, not at all.
    If you’re asking for “statements of belief,” or other professions of belief to a cause: Yes, possibly.

    I point out this disparity since you use the term “lip service.” Lots of companies do that: They expect their employees to openly profess certain views, but they don’t actually do anything with a material effect. That’s the worst of both worlds, because it simultaneously is mentally invasive and entirely ineffective (some studies suggest it actually has the opposite of the intended effect.) But if you’re saying “hey, here is a problem; here is the data showing the problem; here are the material steps we will do as the fix for the problem” then people will simply need to get on board with the fix. Tell them to suck it up or quit.

    2. How can I talk to my boss about making diversity a priority in our hiring?
    First, figure out what’s needed. You raise two separate issues: First, that “so much of our work is meant to benefit the Black community while that community is not represented on our staff.” Second, that “as a person of color, it’s expected that I can represent all other PoC.”

    The first issue may not require fixing, unless there’s actually an outcome problem (see question #1 for an example of what that looks like.) It’s perfectly possible to help a community without sharing its racial characteristics–thank heavens–and if the people in the communities are currently happy with the outcome, you may or may not want to mess with it (do you ask them? Survey them? Poll them?) You can and should still look at your search, as noted. (Of all the low-hanging fruit out there, the easiest targets are usually “expand the search network to find good candiates who we previously ignored.”) But I’d be leery of the idea that “every team helping ___ communities must have a minimum number of _____ people on staff” as a default, if the outcomes are good.

    The second part is almost more of an HR issue and the answer will depend a bit on your firm policies w/r/t race, the competence of your HR, etc.

    4. How can I support my Black manager?
    By treating them politely, professionally, and humanely. By and large that would mean “treating them like a manager” as opposed to “treating them like a Black manager.” They are presumably competent and professional–or they wouldn’t be a manager!–and I would be very leery of acting like they need extra help/support from their employees merely because they are Black.

    You should not “listen to her and support her” when she is wrong, for example; there’s no racial component there. Trying to adjust your entire professional behavior to account for someone’s perceived racial status tends to lead to a lot of issues. If you’re inclined to give her extra leeway if she is rude or makes a mistake (which everyone dies; we’re all human) go nuts. But if you treat her as needing extra help that will not benefit her in the long run.

    The main things you could do are actually more about other people than about her.
    W/r/t positives, make sure they are discussed and accepted. IOW, when things do go well (which they should if she is a good manager,) be proactive about telling that to other folks, and try to make sure they don’t brush it off. Because most people tend to discuss negatives and accept positives as a given, this can be a big help.

    W/r/t negative, defend her against false/unwarranted accusations. And, obviously, defend her against any racist shit, to the degree you can.

    5. Calling out racism from a person of color when I’m white
    It’s racist. You can say it’s racist. You can tell her to stop. You do not need to Gertrude, genuflect, self-flagellate, or offer to “listen to her own experiences” in order to tell her to stop saying racist shit.

    She may get upset; that is OK. You are allowed to make people upset for what they do, which is, of course, quite different from who they are.

    The main risk of course is that she will then accuse YOU of being racist, and you’re obviously at a disadvantage in that fight. Many folks don’t risk it, but if you’re willing to take it on in order to fight rracism, good on you.

    1. Observer*

      But I’d be leery of the idea that “every team helping ___ communities must have a minimum number of _____ people on staff” as a default, if the outcomes are good.

      The problem is that you often don’t really know if the outcomes are really good. Sometimes they are good but could be better and other times they LOOK good from the outside, but you don’t see the problems beneath the surface. You are much more likely to catch that kind of stuff if you have a reasonable number of staff who share significant characteristics of your target population.

      The fact that the project catering to Black communities has not a single black person on staff is odd enough that I do think that the organization really does need to look more closely at its hiring, unless this particular department really is an outlier within the organization.

      Also, it’s not just about not being able to help a community of you are not part of that community. There is a long history of “saviors” coming in to a community to “rescue” it. And that tends not to work all that well. It also means that even when that’s not the dynamic in the minds of the “helping” organization, the “recipient” community is VERY likely to see it that way. And, not surprisingly, a lot of communities don’t respond all that well to this. If you are lucky and some of your staff has a really good and mutually respectful relationship with leaders in the community, you might get some good feedback on the matter. Otherwise, there is a good chance that you’ll never know about the missed chances and problems that are holding things back.

    2. Gnome*

      Your #1 was very clear. It’s not good (by which I mean counter to a free society) to try and force people to have an opinion or particular point if view. But to enforce actions, standards of behavior, that is a different beast entirely.

  26. I should really pick a name*

    On particularly difficult days (for example, the day of George Floyd’s murder or the day the jury was deliberating the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial) I’ll sometimes check in to see if there’s any work I can take over, or things I can help with. Is this appropriate?

    This would actually weird me out a bit.
    It would make me feel singled out as the black employee.
    I think it’s reasonable to give some consideration in that situation, but pre-emptively checking in seems off to me.

    1. Observer*

      Are you Black? I ask, because it turns out that a number of our Black employees most definitely DID appreciate that some of us specifically checked in. And I can see why.

      1. Important Moi*

        I work in place where all of this “racial” stuff going has intentionally not been discussed (that has to be the explanation). I’d really appreciate it if someone checked on me too.

        I’m black

        1. Fran Fine*

          I’m with you. I’m black, and I would not like that shit at all. I think the best way to err on the side of caution is, like someone above said, ask people – everyone – if they need help regularly and then when stuff like this happens and you feel compelled to want to help in some way, asking to take things off your black colleague’s plate won’t seem infantilizing or otherwise offensive.

      2. Jennifer*

        It says in the comment that they are black. But I think it’s a situation where you have to know the person or at least notice that they are struggling before you ask. Also, it has to be a workplace that is already doing the work when it comes to racial equality and diversity. A lot of black employees felt it was disingenuous for so many companies to suddenly care about racism after the George Floyd incident when there had been problems relating to racism at the company for years and no one seemed to care.

    2. Constant Reader*

      I appreciated it when my manager checked in with me, and I’m a Black woman. So I think it’s safe to say ymmv here.

  27. self conscious about admitting this*

    I feel like the response to letter #2 is missing advice on navigating racism and the fear of racism in the workplace? If I’m reading it right (“historically my conversations about race with white people have not gone well”) the letter writer is currently not speaking up because they’re afraid of how their white boss/coworkers will treat them afterwards. You give good advice about how to diversify a hiring pool, but not how to speak up for other POC when you’re scared of finding out *exactly* how racist the white people around you are. Which sucks bc that’s a fear I have and when I read the letter I was hoping that you would be giving advice for that half of it too.

  28. A Jew*

    So… Thinking about the discussion above about checking in (or not) with Black coworkers when something like George Floyd happened…. Did anyone check in with their Jewish coworkers in the last few days?

    I ask this for two reasons…because the US has a complicated relationship with race… As has been covered in some of the comments such as those about non-Black POC being left out.

    And, well, frankly I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in the comments here given the weekend news – assuming I didn’t accidentally miss it

    1. JTP*

      I think it’s a very valid topic, but I don’t think this is the right post to go down the “what about ….” road.

  29. Anonymous 2*

    I pointed out racism and racial discrimination to the white Big Teapot Boss when he made comments about Asians (from three different countries but he grouped them together) being in one specific department with only three people. He said that department is discriminating against white people. (This comment was obsurd). Finally, I reported the continuous racial discrimination and racism including women and other races and other specific situations to the Overseer of the Big Teapot Boss, because I had enough of the hostile work environment. Sadly, I was forced to quit. Experiences like this makes me believe that it’s hard to change the mindset even we are in 2022. It’s no wonder people do not want to complain. Has anyone had an experience such as this? And what have encountered?

    1. Daisy Gamgee*

      I hear you. I don’t want to go into specifics, but I’ve had experiences like those you describe here.

Comments are closed.