how can I support my Black employee who doesn’t want me to report anything, and other questions about race

I’m thrilled to welcome back Michelle Silverthorn to answer readers’ questions on race. Michelle is the founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation. A recognized keynote speaker on inclusion and belonging, she speaks on hundreds of virtual and in-person stages every year and her interactive e-learning suite, Inclusion LAUNCH, is in use by organizations across the world. A graduate of Princeton and the University of Michigan Law School, Michelle is a TEDx speaker and the author of the best-selling book, Authentic Diversity: How to Change the Workplace for Good. Sign up for Monday Mornings with Michelle, her weekly newsletter with practical steps for allyship at work.

Michelle answered so many questions this time that we’re making it a two-parter. Part one is below, and part two is coming on Wednesday. Take it away, Michelle!

1. How can I support my Black employee who doesn’t want me to report anything?

I am white and manage the only Black person at our organization of 30. She and I have discussed race multiple times before, and she told me after one team meeting that she needed to decompress. She did not specify why, but I suspect it’s because of the problematic race-related discussion during the meeting. I told her to take time to decompress anytime she needs to. I try to speak up, but it often falls flat.

Recently, in her self-assessment, she wrote a vague line about how it’s challenging to manage nuance at our organization. When I asked her about it, she said that it’s because she feels her Blackness is more obvious at our organization than any other organization she has ever worked for. When I probed a little more, she shared that she sometimes feels her work has been treated differently than others’ because of her race. She has told me before that she does not want to report and does not want me to report anything. She would prefer to speak up when race comes up, but I’m not sure if I’ve gotten to the point where I need to go against her wishes and report the situation to the powers that be.

If she believes that she is being treated differently because of her race, then this goes beyond an inclusion issue and into a workplace discrimination issue. Yes, she has told you, “She does not want to report and does not want me to report anything.” But you are her manager. You represent the organization to her. And someone telling their manager that they are experiencing “differential treatment” triggers all my lawyer spidey-senses.

I would like to know what policies your organization has in place when someone alleges that they are being treated differently because of race. It’s a small organization so I know you may or may not have an in-house HR lead. But whoever you have in charge of People, I hope they have given you concrete steps on what to do when you hear or witness something like this. If not, now would be a great time to connect with them and find out what you need to do.

She has also said she would prefer not to report it. This is common for people who experience harassment or discrimination at work. But HR has a very important job to protect the company from reputational damage and lawsuits, while at the same time building a workplace centered on fairness and inclusion. Her comments on feeling treated differently because of her race may not have made it into her self-assessment, but they did make it to you. As her manager, I would talk to HR to determine what they suggest as the next step. Because, and I want to be extra sensitive to this part, if she is feeling treated differently and you are her manager, you are likely to be somehow involved in that treatment, even if it was by you not preventing it. You may not have the entire story so this would be a good time to step aside and let someone else get involved.

I do want to address the other part of your question for you or for anyone else who might be experiencing this: “I try to speak up, but it often falls flat.” You used the word “often.” How often do you see things like this “problematic race-related discussion”? This might be a part of why your direct report is feeling that her Blackness is obvious at this organization. Are you having many “problematic race-related discussions”? That’s another issue right there. When I do my anti-harassment trainings, I talk about all the forms that harassment at work can take. And part of it can be in discussions where someone repeatedly denies another person’s lived experiences, or “plays devil’s advocate,” or says “but what about,” or the many other ways these discussions can play out.

You say you try to speak up, and that is certainly one option. If that’s the choice you make, then figure out what is stopping you from saying anything. Social anxiety? Lack of knowledge? Worry about repercussions? Fear that you might make it worse? Identify what is making you uncomfortable and learn the skills, actions, behaviors, and knowledge you need to navigate that discomfort. Then, talk with her about what you can do to help her feel safe and not under attack when these discussions are taking place. Maybe it is you speaking up in the moment. Maybe it’s finding others who will share as well. Maybe it’s redirecting a conversation. Maybe it’s calling in someone else’s manager to speak to the person saying hurtful things. Maybe it’s giving her time and space to heal, which is what you did. Start with self-reflection and see what it reveals for you.

2. Our team has little diversity

My question concerns team diversity, and what responsibility manager/team leadership have towards cultivating it, and how that should happen.

In the technical branch of a large tech company that strives for equality, my team of just under 20 people has three full-time employees who aren’t white and male (passing, at least). In the past year, every new hire except one has been both white and male (again, passing). Another wrinkle is that two of three of the non-white-and-male employees are Asian, which isn’t even considered a racial minority in tech! To what extent can this be attributed to the leadership of the team, and what are things they could have done (or can do in the future) to prevent this? (Is this even an appropriate grievance to have?)

What type of diversity would you like to cultivate and why? There are many reasons to increase diversity across all identity groups — improved problem-solving, greater variety of perspectives, richer discussions, better decision-making, reconceiving tasks, and on and on and on. But I’ll be frank. If the business case for diversity were enough, every organization would have “solved” diversity years ago. If your team is thriving, no one is complaining, and you are delivering the impactful results your community needs, then it’s no wonder your leadership might shrug their shoulders and say, “We’re fine.”

But, and I say this as someone who has done this work for a very long time, there will be a time where it will not be “fine.” It might happen when you hire a transgender employee who feels both misunderstood and isolated in the workplace. It might happen when you have an autistic colleague who feels their peers don’t understand how to communicate with them. It might happen when a Gen Z employee rejects your workplace because it doesn’t meet their inclusion expectations. It might happen when a woman files a discrimination suit because they have been passed over for a promotion multiple times. It might happen when you release a product that doesn’t at all represent the community who you want to adopt it. It might happen when an entire nation has a racial reckoning and companies start scrambling to understand what racial justice means in a workplace that lacks any Black leaders. Instead of waiting until that happens, your team leadership needs to think about what kind of team they want to be.

I may have mentioned this before, but every single diversity initiative needs to start with two questions: “Why are you doing this?” and “What does success look like to you?” If you can’t answer these two questions, then at times like right now when there is massive pushback on diversity initiatives — both legal and otherwise — your leadership can go, “Well we don’t really know why we’re doing this” and, “It hasn’t been successful anyway.” You can either wait until the crisis arises — and it might take one or multiple crises to get to that tipping point — or you can sow the seeds now.

So here is the 5-Step Guidebook for Diversity According to Michelle Silverthorn:

Step 1. “Why?” Why are we doing this? What is it that I am not aware of? It could start with a conversation. It could start with training. It could be in management meetings where you share data from salary reports and evaluation forms and engagement surveys and exit interviews. The reality is some people, and I truly mean this, genuinely do not see an issue with a homogenous team of White men who have similar backgrounds to them, similar interests as them, and similar cultural touchstones as them. That’s why I always start with awareness. Because that leads to the second Why — why should this matter to you?

Step 2. “What?” What diversity are we hoping to achieve? Step 3. “How?” How do we achieve that? And how do we measure it? Step 4. “When?” When do we want this to be accomplished by? And finally Step 5, “Who?” Who will be in charge of the work?

If you can lay that out, it will do wonders to get people on board and get them to hold themselves and their peers accountable for success.

3. Participating in racial justice work as the only white person in the room

I am relatively new to a job where I am almost always the only white person on teams and in conversations. Our workplace is really openly progressive, and there is a strong focus on equity in all of our work. To give just one example, I sit next to many physical signs on the topic of all the offensive things white people do and say in the workplace. Some of the phrases on these signs include: “Demanding proximity to whiteness,” “Diminishing my melanin,” “Unsolicited feedback,” “Tone policing,” “Minimizing the experiences of people of color,” “Defensiveness,” “The white experience is not the norm/superior,” “White-splaining,” “Who is allowed to take up space,” among others. In my first week, I was sent into a Zoom breakout room to discuss race, again as the only white person, to discuss and defend my projects in the context of their work toward racial justice. I barely understood the projects I was working on yet, let alone their impact on racial justice, and I felt paralyzed and embarrassed.

No training has ever been provided on how to contribute to these conversations, and I worry that asking for help might make it seem like I expect to be made more comfortable as a white person in the workplace. I understand there is a long history of people of color being made to feel “othered” in the workplace, and that many people of color have experienced workplaces in which they are the only person of color in rooms full of white people. It’s not the job of my coworkers to make me feel comfortable in this environment.

At the same time, I often feel there is no right thing to say in any conversation, and I am in constant terror of offending my coworkers, including by just existing in their space as a manager for some of them. I often default to limiting my input in these mandatory conversations to yield space for my coworkers and to avoid upsetting anyone. However, I understand that not participating and contributing to these conversations can also be seen as offensive, and I recently received feedback from my own manager that I need to be more active in them.

I respect the challenges of people of color in my workplace, and I genuinely want to participate effectively in these conversations, understand the experiences of my coworkers, and contribute to valuable work on racial justice issues. I am open to feedback but worry that any input that is not exactly right will deeply impact my credibility on any team. The lack of training and guidance has even made me feel resentful at times of being forced into conversations where I feel I cannot possibly contribute in a positive and meaningful way.

How can I feel more confident in participating in racial justice work as the only white coworker in most rooms? Is it possible for me to meaningfully contribute while also not offending anyone? How do I find where my input fits in? Is this even possible?

I am sorry you are participating in conversations that feel forced, that you are experiencing terror, and that you are worried about saying something offensive. No one should ever feel like that around racial equity work. Sadly, it does occur for many people in some form. And for you, that concern is even more heightened because of the position you hold as almost always the only White person in your spaces.

But instead of focusing on those conversations, I want to highlight something else you wrote: “At the same time, I often feel there is no right thing to say in any conversation, and I am in constant terror of offending my coworkers, including by just existing in their space as a manager for some of them.”

This seems to be far bigger than saying the wrong thing about race in a conversation. It seems that you feel like you are under attack because you are a White manager for people of color who often talk about issues of race in ways that not only exclude you but make you feel like you’re the problem. I can give you advice on how to have better conversations — start with empathy, center the experiences of those who are marginalized, listen without judgment, learn what makes you uncomfortable, educate yourself instead of expecting to be educated — but part of me wonders if your issue is broader than the conversation itself and is instead your identity as the only White person in a room where phrases like “White-splainin” and “Unsolicited feedback” make you feel more than uncomfortable; they make you feel diminished.

My advice would be to root out the underlying reasons you are feeling resentful. How do your coworkers speak to you in conversations not around racial justice? Are you included in their social interactions? When you make suggestions around equity initiatives, how do they consider them? After you sort through your feelings, I would like you to go to your manager and respond to their feedback about how you can be more active in conversations. As a manager yourself, I would like your response to not focus only on how you feel as a peer and an individual colleague, but also on how you can successfully work with direct reports who you don’t seem comfortable managing.

Which means, most of all, I want you to be honest with yourself. Many people of color learn, work, and live in White-majority spaces where they feel marginalized, excluded, and minimized — exactly like those signs said. I also wonder if you feel like those signs are personally referencing you. If so, make your manager aware of that because as supportive as someone can and should be about a racially just workplace, your feelings are valid as well. I think getting tips on how to have better conversations about race will be less helpful than diving into how that perceived exclusion, or the feeling that you are being resented because of your race, would be.

4. What can we actually do as members of culture committees?

I’ve always been an individual contributor, and at my last three places of employment I’ve ended up on some variation of a culture committee. In one workplace it was in the context of DEI. At another it was because my particular manager got bad scores on the internal company survey. Now I find myself on another, the result of a new VP who has overseen my team for about a year.

Every time, the committee consists of “worker bees” and maybe a “small manager” or two—someone who has one or two reports. And we always end up circling back to the same place …that as people without authority or power, we aren’t really able to address or solve the workplace issues. We have conversations where we struggle about what to do or suggest.
In the end we end up suggesting a literal or metaphorical pizza party, since we can’t come up with anything else that’s within our control.

Is there anything I’m missing? What are leaders hoping to get out of these groups? I would love any suggestions you have.

Michelle here. I was about to answer this when I realized that my superstar strategy consultant, Kim Holmes, has been working on these exact issues for the three and a half years we’ve been together. Since she’s leaving Inclusion Nation at the end of the month to set out on her own, I’ll let her share how she would answer this question. Take it away, Kim!

Kim: It is not uncommon for culture committees to be asked to create change without a clear understanding of the desired future state and/or without the necessary resources to affect sustainable change. Like Michelle said, we like to start initiatives with the question, “What does success look like?” This is a question that the leaders who convene the committee should be able to answer. Another way to ask the question is, “How will our organization be different because this committee exists?”

Doing this groundwork should then open up the conversation about the resources — time, people, including decision makers, and money — available to fuel the work. Once you understand what “good” looks like and know the resources you have to work with, you can then dive into the work of developing and delivering the programs that move the organization to the future state. This work should be treated like any other business initiative with goals, metrics and timelines that align to the definition of success you’ve created. There should be transparency in reporting progress toward the goals set so that there is visible accountability.
Does your organization have employee resource groups (“ERGs”)? If so, is there an opportunity to collaborate with the ERGs to create the desired change? If the organization hasn’t yet launched ERGs, this might be an opportunity to create the culture and talent optimizer that ERGs can be. While the same needs for clarity of mission, vision and criteria of success exist, there will be a collection of diverse voices who have been empowered (and funded, hopefully) to drive innovative approaches to the work of building the culture you want.

Thanks, Michelle and Kim!

{ 274 comments… read them below }

  1. Richard Hershberger*

    LW4 reminds me of when, in an earlier life, I was an hourly worker in a Walmart. Each store had a safety committee. I got roped into it reluctantly, as it was pretty obviously a case of extra work with no reduction in current responsibilities. But having agreed, I initially took it seriously. I brought to the store manager’s attention that the fire extinguishers were out of compliance, being overdue for routine servicing. The response was essentially that there was no budget for this, and stop bothering her and get back to work. At that point I checked out, treating the committee meetings as break time.

    Were the store manager asked how the store would be different because this committee existed, and in the unlikely event that she was honest about it, the answer would be that it checked off a box from corporate. I have no experience with corporate culture committees, but this looks suspiciously similar. Staffing it with junior people with no authority or budget looks like its real purpose is so that corporate can say they have one.

    That being said, the “how will this organization be different?” question is a good one. The answer will tell you what is what.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Sounds like a committee that used to be at an old call center I worked at. It was created when the fire alarm was pulled and people did not leave the building. However they never did anything. There was no information about what to do for fire or tornado. Heck there was a tornado that touched down just a few miles away and they refused to let anyone off the phones. One day there was a horrible smell and people were getting physically sick. Thought it was gas. People were “allowed” to leave early but only if they had PTO and they were looked down at by the managers. They did call the fire department who walked through with some sort of machine to test if it was gas. It wasn’t but it was something odd in the hvac.

      1. La Triviata*

        This gives me some reassurance about my current office building. Once, a while ago, I was in a team meeting and there was a “whump” from the HVAC system. Shortly afterwards, building management sent out a message that they were evacuating the building for the day and we’d be notified if it was going to be closed for the next day as well; we were sent a message that the building WOULD be open and we could come in the next day.

    2. JustaTech*

      I’m in a corporate environment and while our safety committee is real (because we work in a lab) my experience with our DEI has been weird.

      We formed two Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in 2020, one for people of color and the other for women. About a year later my VP asked me why I was still bothering with the women’s ERG, since we hadn’t changed the makeup of the C-suite.
      That was never part of any of the discussions about the women’s ERG that I ever heard, nor were any of the group activities directed at that at all. It was all about providing resources and support to the women already at the company.

      And given that the VP who was asking me why I was bothering was also the sponsor of the group and our (theoretical) representation to the leadership team, I was surprised that he 1) thought that this group had any power to change anything like that, and 2) expected it to happen in less than a year.

      The group has pretty much died because all the people leading it and planning stuff have left (and no, I didn’t volunteer for any of those positions because I’m not any good at that kind of cross-group connection building), but I do wonder if it is because corporate only encouraged it to check some boxes.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        Yeah, the VP – as the group’s sponsor – should have been the one pushing for change with the rest of the executive leadership team. I mean, I imagine that’s why they were put in that role in the first place, lol. If the group was a bust, the VP should have looked in the mirror.

    3. Mo*

      A note: on fire safety issues, you can just drop a dime to the local fire department and they will likely schedule a safety check to make sure the fire equipment is up to code. Letting a bit of time pass to make sure it doesn’t seem directly tied to your initial complaint may be wise.

  2. Seashell*

    While I agree that a lot of White people do not behave well towards people of color, I really don’t see any benefit coming from having those signs up. I wouldn’t want to work in an environment with decorations representing any unpleasant thing, let alone ones aimed at my coworkers. I’m a woman, and I would cringe at a workplace with signs listing all the bad things that men do.

    It’s enough to make me long for the days of cat pictures with encouraging slogans.

    1. king of the pond*

      At the very least, I wish the signs were more focused on how White people can support and uphold justice and equity. While like you said, a list of things White people intentionally and unintentionally do to hurt people of color is important, it’s very negative and isn’t really something I’d want hung up. But a positive version focused on collaboration would probably be a good way to keep the signs on theme but spin it to less unpleasant.

      1. Random Dice*

        Oh yeah good point! You’re right, it would be more actionable if it said: Instead of… Try…

        Helping point toward the action that would feel good and affirming and respectful.

      2. Berin*

        This suggestion feels like it’s centering the White experience though; it’s another form of POC having to educate their White colleagues so that the White colleagues are most comfortable.

        I feel for LW3, especially given that they were grilled on projects in their first week, which would be unpleasant for just about anybody. I really appreciated Michelle’s response to LW3’s letter, which I felt was nuanced and acknowledging of everyone involved.

        1. Double A*

          I strongly disagree with this. If you can’t or are unwilling to phrase your list of criticisms as a positive action someone can take, you don’t want support or allies, you want a punching bag. Also, if you are having discussions at work to make progress in this area, someone needs to be willing to take on some work of education. And ironically, those signs are already centering white people! Just centering them for criticism. Which is fine in like the comment sections of the Internet, but a problem in a workplace with real people who need to work together.

          Here are some ways to phrase things positively:
          “Listen more than you speak.”
          “Boost contributions when you notice they have been ignored or talked over.”
          “Solicit feedback from diverse experience and perspectives.”
          “Acknowledge multiple perspectives and experiences as valid and valuable.”
          “Create multiple channels and formats for soliciting and providing feedback.”

          1. Emily*

            Double A, I think your suggestion about change in the signs is a good one. I also think it would have been completely appropriate for LW # 3 to say (when asked to speak on projects they were new to) “Because I am still so new to these projects, I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute at this point, but I am excited to be working on these projects and to learn more.” As far as participating more like LW’s manager wants them to do, I wonder if they could do that by validating and acknowledging what is said by others instead of giving their own perspective/experience (which I think LW is correct in thinking may not go over well, as it could definitely come across as centering the white experience, which I think most of us would agree happens too often). So far example, saying things like, “Thank you for sharing that.” “I appreciate your perspective on that because it made me see X differently or made me realize I was not thinking about Y”

          2. Eliot Waugh*

            If you need the oppressed group to kindly hold your hand in order to be an ally, you were never an ally.

            1. Seashell*

              If the oppressed group assumes that 100% of the people in the oppressor group are awful and the only way to succeed is to constantly remind of them of that, I don’t think they’re going to get the results they’re looking for.

          3. Budgie Buddy*

            Exactly – the signs are already centering and educating white people, just in an unproductive way. It’s already too much effort. The goal should be POC can do their jobs without being undermined, not whites are maximum uncomfortable.

          4. Die Fledermaus*

            Two thumbs up for this comment! Anyone can identify and grouse about a problem; it takes a far more creative mind to come up with a solution or two. And guess which is more helpful?

            1. Marginalia*

              I aggressively disagree with your framing here. First, marginalized people commenting on or confronting the oppression they experience, even if they don’t do it in a way that seems ‘nice’, is not grousing, and I think it’s very reductive to reframe the very serious issues of marginalization and the way marginalized people speak out about them in that way.

              Second, I object to your positioning of the issue of ‘marginalized people not being what you consider to be constructive enough about how white people ought to not be racist’ as a ‘lack of creativity’, and the way you frame it as just having to ‘come up with a solution or two’ as opposed to a lifelong process of educating other people about how not to be racist/sexist/homophobic/queerphobic/whatever.

              Speaking as a marginalized person (though not a Black person), it’s not a one time thing where you drop your Very Clever Idea into the suggestions box and then you get to stop; it’s a day to day process of reminding people of your humanity. People don’t stop doing that because they’re ‘not creative’ and haven’t thought up a ‘solution or two’, they stop doing it because they’re exhausted, because it’s unfair to expect them to do it day in and day out, and on top of everything else, the process isn’t opt-in – you’re just born with this and with the expectation on the part of *other* people that you will politely educate them and ‘be creative’ and ‘not grouse’ and ‘come up with a solution or two’ from the moment they meet you until the day you die.

          5. An Honest Nudibranch*

            I do want to push back on the “you don’t want support or allies, you want a punching bag” part of this: sometimes “this behavior causes problems” is the relevant point. Like, for example, there really isn’t a way to phrase “Don’t sexually harass people” as a positive action someone can take. And the positive versions of these you came up with don’t capture that the context with a lot of things in those signs is that it’s behavior done disproportionately to PoC – “acknowledge multiple perspectives and experiences as valid and valuable” doesn’t really address the problem of “PoC experiences in particular are often singled out as invalid.”

            I do think the fact it’s *at work* brings up extra considerations, but like, we really don’t need to play into “you must not actually want support” tropes. It takes a lot of emotional energy to constantly reexplain why something causes harm and spend time spelling out every way people can avoid doing these things, when like, frankly a lot of the time listing the names of common microaggressions is enough information for someone to Google the many already-existing in-depth explanations of how to mitigate stuff like this.

            But the thing is, with stuff like sexual harassment. . . workplaces are expected to provide training. And I have trouble imagining how a workplace could allow for productive conversations on racial equity if we don’t hold workplaces accountable for having some form of training and a resource for questions, and it looks like LW 3’s workspace is very much not offering that. “Educate yourself vs. expecting PoC to educate you” makes a lot of sense in the context of people pulling “hey coworker who just told me what I said was racist, I refuse to believe you unless you specifically provide extremely detailed reasons why” in the workplace. But especially when people need to engage with complex racial justice topics for their work, they need *somewhere* that they can safely say “this is the research I’ve done, and I’m still confused about X / not sure how Y applies in this specific context / etc.” Ideally somewhere inside their workplace, like HR or a DEI department, because different workplaces might have different needs when it comes to questions where context makes a big difference.

            Plus, I do think it’s worth it for LW 3 to confirm with their manager and/or someone in their organization who is paid to do DEI work on how to navigate things on that sign that are a problem in the context of a random white person doing them to all PoC they interact with, but is a necessary part of a *manager’s* job. (“Unsolicited feedback” comes to mind as an example of this). If you’ve got an employee who will interpret *necessary parts of your job* as playing into racial dynamics, you have a problem. But I can say from experience that sometimes anxiety is louder than reality when it comes to stuff like that, so it’s worth confirming with other people in your organization (that you do not have authority over, and for whom doing some form of racial justice feedback is part of their job description) if things you’re worried about would genuinely be considered unacceptable.

          6. Berin*

            These are really general actions, and really don’t drive to the main issue, which is that in most instances, White voices have been centered. The signs, while negative, are much more focused on the injustices that have historically been present in most workplaces. Is the suggestion for LW3 to approach their colleagues to ask them to change their signage so that LW3 is more comfortable?

            There’s a difference between the organization putting resources toward DEI education and dissemination, and asking your colleagues to do the work to frame the issues they face more positively. I said it in a previous comment, and I’ll reiterate here: I feel for LW3, and I think Michelle did a fantastic job of acknowledging and validating her feelings while still pushing her to examine her feelings.

            1. Anat*

              The problem with the signs in this particular situation is that the OP is the manager of some of these people, and as such some of the things in the sign are arguably part of HIS JOB — e.g. “unsolicited feedback” and “tone policing”. Unless his in-person interactions are much friendlier — and it doesn’t sound like they are! — I just don’t see these people as being willing to be managed by a white person. In which case, what is he doing there? He is in a no-win situation.

              1. Berin*

                Hard disagree – there’s a HUGE difference between providing unsolicited feedback and providing feedback as a manager, which is part of her job description as a manager. Michelle called this out well in her response – LW3 is seeing these signs and thinks they are referring to her directly, rather than seeing them as a response to POC being systemically discriminated against in the working world.

                I know the signs are not in a vacuum, but I see the commenters getting really bogged down by them, rather than thinking through why LW3’s coworkers felt the need to post them in the first place. Again, LW3’s feelings and comfort are being prioritized, and LW3 even seems to understand why that’s not the right framing for her concerns.

        2. Timothy (TRiG)*

          Signs with such suggestions might “centre the white experience”, but at least there’d be some sort of point to them. The current signs are achieving … what?

          1. KC*

            Awareness of what they might be doing, and what their non-white colleagues have to deal with every single day.
            The first step to fixing an issue is becoming aware of it.

            1. stratospherica*

              Also, correct me if I’m wrong (I’m a minority in other ways but I am white), but these signs probably also enable BIPOC to feel heard and validated, which can be very valuable in a world that almost never provides that for minority groups. There’s a lot of value just in existing in a place where the vast majority of people just get it.

      3. Also-ADHD*

        I feel like jumping to solutions and being unwilling to sit in the discomfort is a big issue with many attempts at DEI or racial justice. I feel for LW3 but the signs sharing problems rather than solutions seems both apt (that’s the reality of where we are with any initiatives, in many ways, at best) and reasonable.

    2. Random Dice*

      I don’t know, I’d find it helpful. Let’s be real, a lot of us white folks need the reminder.

      What doesn’t seem helpful is to grill a newbie on their new projects, specific to the racial justice component. That’s pretty messed-up. They are just learning what the project is, they can’t justify what other people did or thought, and they certainly don’t have the knowledge yet to contribute meaningfully.

      Also, white folks are told to stop taking over conversations about diversity, so it’s messed-up that they’re told to participate more. That only happens by speaking over BIPOC voices about their own white experience. (Though I wonder if they might try asking thoughtful questions, as a compromise – more engagement, without pushing aside BIPOC voices.)

      1. Annie*

        I don’t think it’s helpful at all, and it’s demeaning to the only white person in the room. I understand that white people need to take care how they act and make sure they are not impressing white as the “normal”, but there certainly are reasonable ways to make this point and unreasonable, aggressive ways to do so. In a predominately Black space, it seems more than a little unnecessary.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I don’t really feel like it’s up to people in the comment section to determine what is and isn’t necessary for a group of marginalized people to put on their office walls.

          1. Gemstones*

            But then why even have the letter if we can’t comment on it? Plus…isn’t this attitude a little condescending? Marginalized people are…well, people, whose actions can be commented on. People can give their opinions without it being a referendum…

            1. tinyhipsterboy*

              You can absolutely comment on it, but there’s a difference between discussing something and centering your (slash White people’s) feelings on it. There can be valuable discussions in spaces like this about subjects like this, but “a majority-PoC team shouldn’t have x/y/z on the walls because it demeans white people” centers White people’s feelings over the lived experiences of said PoC.

          2. Emily*

            From LW’s letter it sounds like the signs are part of the office’s focus on equality, and I think it is completely appropriate to comment about how effective they may (or may not be) at working towards that goal. People of course can have different opinions about it, but acting like people should not comment on it at all is odd.

          3. Annie*

            I disagree, why shouldn’t we have an opinion on the signs? And you (nor anyone else) knows who is or isn’t marginalized based on their random username in the comment section.

            1. An Honest Nudibranch*

              It’s not so much that people shouldn’t have an opinion on the signs, so much as acknowledging that a lot of the *reasons* people are citing on their opinion on the signs are along the lines of “Because it makes white people uncomfortable” or “Because it would be easier for white people to utilize and digest if the sign poster did more work.” There seems to be very little consideration of things like “how might the signs make PoC in the office feel” and “would the act of remaking the sign to be ‘helpful’ require more (unpaid) time and emotional energy from PoC in the office?” and “does ‘here‘s how the signs would be more helpful’ come across differently given the context that ‘oh I won’t stop being racist unless you ask me perfectly’ is a common way that important conversations on race get derailed?”.

              I.e., this comment thread seems to heavily focus on the emotions and experiences of the white people in the scenario. Like, to be clear, you will absolutely get different opinions on the signs from different PoC, they’re not a monolith or a hivemind. But a conversation that’s focused on PoC emotions and experiences would look pretty different from the one we’re having right now. And given we were specifically asked to not center white feelings and experiences in this comment section by Alison, it seems reasonable for people to point out that, ya, this is starting to feel very white center-y.

              And like, even beyond that: the person who put up the sign is not the one who wrote in for advice.

      2. Ex-Teacher*

        >Also, white folks are told to stop taking over conversations about diversity, so it’s messed-up that they’re told to participate more.

        Yeah, it can be very confusing- “Get active in promoting diversity, but don’t talk over others. Seek out diverse voices to listen to and empathize with, but educate yourself and don’t ask others to educate you (and then take action based on the education you gave yourself, without asking anyone affected by those actions if the actions are useful or wanted).”

        It really becomes a huge struggle to find the right balance and actually be a helpful ally.

        1. Jaybeetee*

          Part of this is understanding the meaning behind the various statements – and not the black-and-white internet version of those statements.

          For example, “It’s not my job to educate you” is a valid retort to the very real phenomenon of, “white person with zero understanding of racial issues expects nearest POC to explain all of racism from the ground up.” Or, worse, when said white person isn’t interesting in learning at all, and is “just asking questions” to troll or argue. (For white women here, a near equivalent would be dudebros who are absolutely befuddled by various actions many women take for their own safety and expect a Gender Studies seminar from someone before they’ll lift a literal finger to google any of it.) There is a point where people should be trying to do some research and not expecting marginalized people around them to explain every little thing.

          The problem is, that valid viewpoint has been permuted over various online spaces into “white people shouldn’t ask questions ever.” Which leads to people who actually want to do better feeling like they can’t or shouldn’t ask for clarification on something when they’ve already started the homework on their own.

          When you step back from the slogans – people are people. Most of those slogans boil down to “Don’t be a jerk, and don’t make someone else’s struggle about you.”

          1. AMT*

            Part of this is understanding the meaning behind the various statements – and not the black-and-white internet version of those statements.

            Yes to all that! I’m trans and often get a version of this from cis people–the idea that they’re being asked to walk on eggshells all the time and never say anything, ever, about gender. No, if you get off the teenager-heavy spaces on the internet, trans people actually do have an understanding of nuance, an appreciation of genuine curiosity, and the capacity to forgive! The stuff we’re asking for starts to sound pretty reasonable and concrete if you listen without defensiveness.

            One of bigotry’s greatest achievements has been the characterization of marginalized people as a homogenous bunch of oversensitive whiners who hate everyone in the dominant group no matter what they do. That characterization makes it so much easier to dismiss a thousand reasonable requests if even one of the requests or requestors sounds slightly angry or unreasonable. Really, though, marginalized people aren’t a monolith, and most people who have experienced marginalization are humans–tired, ones, sure, but with a normal amount of patience and understanding for people who are genuinely trying their best.

            1. An Honest Nudibranch*

              ^ This. Like, I say this as a white woman: that mental loop of “oh my god *anything I say* could be *taken as racist* and then I will be *canceled forever*” was, in itself, partially a function of internalized racism that I didn’t recognize at the time. (It was also partially a function of “getting some oversimplified definitions of a bunch of new concepts” and “anxiety disorder.”) It’s worth taking time to unpack, if you struggle with that!

              Like I often see *a lot* of comments when stuff like this comes up telling PoC how they should express “I’m frustrated by this microaggression” more “positively,” or to be more “helpful” by offering further education resources. And very little consideration of whether, as a white person, it would be possible to Google things like “what does this word for a microaggression mean and why is it bad” or “what are alternative behaviors if this behavior is causing harm.”

      3. Vio*

        Reminders can be helpful but I think the point is they can be that without being, or seeming like, an attack. While it can help to demonstrate what it’s like to be in the minority and to be ‘othered’ there are better ways to help people understand what it’s like to be a victim than to make them into one (and yes I understand this is extremely minor compared to what victims of racial injustice have actually faced).
        Ideally we should reach a point where everyone barely notices the colour of skin and it becomes a minor thing like what colour hair somebody has, whether they have a beard, etc. We’re nowhere near there yet, but changing the colour that’s reacted to doesn’t help make progress towards it.

        Nothing can ever make up for how badly people have been treated in the past and that sucks. But we can all try our best to find ways to stop it happening in the future.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          Nothing can ever make up for how badly people have been treated in the past and that sucks.

          Racism and any other -ism isn’t something that just happened in the past that people need to get over or work to forget. People are facing these issues right now, today.

      4. Jennifer Juniper*

        I would see it as an opportunity to reflect upon my privilege and sit with my discomfort in silence, processing it with nobody else. Then I would use it as an opportunity to empathize with POC, realizing this is what whites like myself have done to POC for centuries.

        I also wouldn’t speak at all except to validate others or empathize with them.

    3. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

      Yes! My goodness. The demand for racism in this country far exceeds the supply, and while there are legitimate issues about how we treat each other based on color, I think several of those phrases are borderline hostile. Additionally, it only reinforces defensiveness, especially for someone who might struggle with recognizing their own bias to begin with.

      I’ve worked in male dominated (80-90% of employees) fields my entire life. I’m white in appearance, but ethnically, I am half white. The issues I’ve experienced in those regards are usually people specific and not race/gender/ethnicity related. I would not appreciate a sign decrying maleness in my space either.

      1. ThatGirl*

        You’re male, work in a male dominated space, and are white-passing. Your comment comes off as pretty tone-deaf in this particular comment section. It’s not up to non-white/non-male people to make you feel comfortable or non-defensive.

        1. Iceless*

          It is up to non-white people not to put up signs calling me an asshole because of the color of my skin. That is a very reasonable request.

          1. ThatGirl*

            As far as I can tell, none of those signs were calling the LW (or anyone) an asshole.

            One big thing I’ve had to learn as a white cis-female raised in Christianity is that if a valid criticism of X thing/category doesn’t apply to me, I don’t have to defend all the people it does apply to. And if it does apply to me, I should take it to heart and not fight people’s lived experiences.

            1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

              All of this. And that there is also no reason to say, “Hey! This isn’t me, and I want to make sure you/everyone knows that.”

              1. Professional Cat Lady*

                As L said in Death Note, “If you’re not Kira, you don’t have to do anything to prove it, it will become apparent”. You don’t have to prove you’re not racist; if you are doing the work, it will be clear you are not who it applies to.

            2. rollyex*

              ” I don’t have to defend all the people it does apply to. And if it does apply to me, I should take it to heart and not fight people’s lived experiences.”


              Also, to Iceless, I’d urge you to think about the phrase “A hit dog will holler/”

              1. Orv*

                I hate that expression because I so often see it weaponized against LGBTQ people. “All gay people want to do is convert your kids.” ‘We do not, that’s insulting.’ “Hit dog’ll holler!”

            3. Random Dice*

              Oh! Thanks, that’s a really helpful way of thinking of it!

              “One big thing I’ve had to learn as a white cis-female raised in Christianity is that if a valid criticism of X thing/category doesn’t apply to me, I don’t have to defend all the people it does apply to.

              And if it does apply to me, I should take it to heart and not fight people’s lived experiences.”

              1. ThatGirl*

                Thanks, glad it’s helpful. It seriously is something it took me awhile to learn; I used to be very defensive about a lot of identity topics and it took time and people yelling at me occasionally to do better. So I want to help other people learn that lesson a little more easily than I did :)

            4. AMT*

              *if a valid criticism of X thing/category doesn’t apply to me, I don’t have to defend all the people it does apply to*

              Yep. If you’re not doing any of the stuff someone is complaining about, why would you need to defend yourself? It’s weird how often I hear people talking about their past experiences with racism/sexism/etc. only for someone in a dominant group to feel the need to say, “Well, I have never done that…” or “What if that person meant well…” or “Not all X people…” or something equally unhelpful.

              1. Your Mate in Oz*

                Trouble is that white people can’t know. One of the big complaints is that white people are oblivious to racism, so of course they’re going to read the signs complained about and think “they don’t mean me”. So the signs say “all white people…” to get around that.

                My focus in those environments is shutting up and looking small. It’s the only strategy that works for me.

                But for OP that’s not an option because they’re a manager and they’re being criticised for not speaking up enough. But they’re also being told not to ask for help, let alone instructions… those would be the “signs” that I would choose to ignore if I were them. Part of the job of whoever is managing them is to help them solve this problem, and asking your manage for help should always be appropriate.

        2. Emily*

          ThatGirl: Exactly! I think there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the signs that are hanging up in LW 3’s work place, but to basically brush off the issue of racism entirely is incredibly short sighted and also shows a real lack of understanding about what is going on in the world right now.

        3. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          I think you’re mistaken. NoOneWillSeeThisComment said they work in a male-dominated industry. They did not say they are male. Based on their comment and the context of this thread, I think they are female.

          However, since they are white-passing, I’m not surprised to hear they don’t receive negative feedback based on their ethnicity.

          1. ThatGirl*

            *I want to say here that I did misread the comment and thought NoOneWill see said they were male. So strike that part of my comment, but the rest stands.

            (Also, love your username, shame about Jian)

      2. Texan In Exile*

        “The demand for racism in this country far exceeds the supply”

        I don’t think that’s true. There is more than enough racism in this country.

        Black people are twice as likely to be shot by the police than white people. Black people are still living with the impacts of systemic, at the time legal racism: Black veterans could not get the GI Bill. Black people were, in general, excluded from union membership. In the New Deal, the FHA would not insure mortgages for homes in Black neighborhoods.

        Your comment sounds like a white, middle-aged male friend of mine who is not happy about the DEI efforts at our university (which was the whitest place I had ever been when we were students).

        “I never noticed that race was an issue when we were there!” he said.

        1. Vio*

          I think it’s a given that white people will never get the full picture of what it’s like to be a black person or how much racism there is around them because of course it’s not directed at white people and so we don’t see most of it.
          Sure, we can hear the racist jokes, hear about the hate crimes, see the graffiti but for everything we see and hear there’s unfortunately bound to be much that we don’t. Not every racist is openly so and a lot of their hate is expressed in less obvious ways that we may not notice but the people on the receiving end of will.
          I’d like to think that the area I live in is very accepting and open minded. We have a major university nearby so we get students from all over the world, some of whom decide to stay here after finishing their education and bring their families. We have some refugee communities, some recent and some from generations ago. Altogether it’s a very multicultural area and I’ve witnessed very little in the way of prejudice. But by all visible indications I’m one of the many. I’m a white male with no visible disabilities. Of course I don’t see much prejudice. But I’ve talked to enough people to know that it does happen.

          On the one hand it’s harder to do something about what we don’t see. On the other hand it’s a sign that things are heading in the right direction, if slowly, since the racists know they can’t get away with being so blatant anymore. In some areas at least

          1. sulky-anne*

            White people will never understand what it’s like to experience racism, but if we put in the effort, we can learn to understand and absorb the nuances of how racism operates. Part of the reason we don’t have this understanding is because white supremacy operates by keeping white people ignorant of the effects of racism. But we can choose not to accept that ignorance.

      3. Michelle Smith*

        This comment is horrifyingly tone deaf. You do realize that you are not the arbiter of how much racism there is in the world, right?

        1. Random Dice*

          I couldn’t even parse what they were saying. They’re saying people LOOK for far more racism than actually exists?!?!

          Oh my, no.

      4. Dek*

        “The demand for racism in this country far exceeds the supply”

        …that…certainly is a grouping of words one could put together.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Are they saying there aren’t enough “race cards” for all the people who want to play them, or there isn’t enough racism to go around?

          Whereas I haven’t found a single system in this country, no matter how seemingly race-blind, that doesn’t have racism baked in as a foundational principle. (We’ve all heard about redlining and police violence, but what about… credit cards. Car insurance. Taxes. Public parks. Dams. Even the height of underpasses in Chicago. Looks to me like there’s plenty for everyone.)

            1. KC*

              The Color of Law is a really good book on systemic environmental and housing racism, if you’re looking for more references.

              1. Deanna Troi*

                Yes, the Color of Law is an excellent book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed – whoever put those signs up was NOT thinking about how to inspire ally-ship. It’s a very negative way of going about things.

      It would be far more effective to have posters outlining positive things that people can do to be effective allies.

      1. Gritter*

        When looking to address very real and very sensitive issues I think the question that doesn’t get asked often enough is, is this action more like to sooth tensions or inflame them? These posters strike as very much being in the 2nd camp.

        1. J*

          That’s my impression too. Very common in so many areas of life. I usually try to think to myself, if I think I’m right and I’m really confident about that, what’s the most likely to persuade other people to come to share those views with me? And if I’m not sure if I’m right, dialogue is a good thing. “Racism is bad” is something I feel pretty strongly that I’m right about. But there are effective and ineffective ways to get those who perpetuate racism to agree that what they’re doing is racist and stop, vs. become inflamed and flock to tribalism and be pushed into circles where racist behavior is even worse, and become worse people for it.

    5. Mill Miker*

      If nothing else, the subset of the posters that are in the “White people shouldn’t tell minorities what to do” combined with a minority team managed by a white person just seems like a recipe for conflict.

      Honestly, I’d have trouble believing that the person who saw those posters and then decided put a white person in charge of the team anyway wasn’t trying to stir the pot somehow, for better or worse (hopefully for better?)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          That stuck out to me too. I’m reading some of those phrases as a white person and thinking “yes, fair, totally, appreciate the reminders” – but also thinking “how could I effectively do my job if I was prioritizing some of these things?”

          Because yes, managing requires correction, and unsolicited feedback, and centering your own voice as an authority in a conversation – at least at the end of it once you’ve heard people out.

          Of course you can do that and still be mindful of bias and making sure everyone has space to contribute, a good manager should do those things regardless of the racial makeup of a team, but I can see those signs making it more difficult. Even undermining OP’s authority – though I want to acknowledge these are “included phrases” and there may be more context on them.

    6. Jennifer Juniper*

      I would see it as an opportunity to reflect upon my privilege and sit with my discomfort in silence, processing it with nobody else. Then I would use it as an opportunity to empathize with POC, realizing this is what whites like myself have done to POC for centuries.

      I also wouldn’t speak at all except to validate others or empathize with them.

      1. boof*

        Unless this work is very specifically about POC experience, DEI, and/or related topics, this just seems a lot to put on an employee. These sorts of things are valuable, but usually as part of training or a workshop, not as a permanent fixture of one’s workplace / literally a sign facing LW3 at their desk (as LW3 describes).

    7. Sleve*

      I’m white and I find it pretty simple. White people have done so much horrible stuff to the people in that workplace that they’re angry enough to put up signs and spend a lot of time thinking and talking about it. Don’t you think they’d rather be talking about what’s for lunch and thinking about what they’re planning for the weekend? It’s an awful outcome. Thus, empathy comes into play and it makes me angry too. When I see similar signs or online discussions about white people, I don’t feel attacked by the people who have been hurt. I feel furious at the people who have made them so upset and angry. Let the posters make you mad. But the people who caused them to appear aren’t the co-workers. The people who made them appear are the white oppressors. If you want the posters to go, be a white ally and take it up with them.

  3. Random Dice*

    The last question, about people without authority being asked to “solve” diversity and other big problems:

    I saw this handled well at one organization, by one executive. (An older conservative cishet white male, which threw all my preconceptions out of the window.)

    The annual survey got some negative results. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, he requested facilitated meetings – without him – with people who volunteered to share more. (He had established trust as someone who was safe to be honest with, unlike previous execs, so he got honesty like I’d never heard before.)

    He prioritized the brief-outs from those meetings, for him and his direct reports, and then for our big group updates. He welcomed the hard prickly truths, with this open curiosity and without defensiveness, and it set the tone.

    He started to change who got promoted to leadership – more women and more POC – in an org that had been white/male led long before he took over. (But he always referenced their qualifications – “we hired the best”.)

    It really made a difference for me.

      1. La Triviata*

        Another story I find helpful is from a construction company – construction sites can, seemingly, be the worst. Anytime there is an incident, they close down the site for the day – or maybe longer if needed – and have some serious talks about what happened and why it was an issue.

  4. GMD*

    For #1: I was in a somewhat similar situation with a direct report who was the only Black person on the team with her own (all white) direct reports. She mentioned microaggressions and tone policing, but didn’t have any clearly evident racist behaviors to report. I felt similarly – but included my concerns about “potentially racially motivated” conflict in an email to a VP, who forwarded it to HR. Long story short, the situation between this manager and her team wasn’t good but she was able to transfer to another team to essentially start fresh.
    I think what’s not mentioned here is the answer to this question: How do you continue to productively work with people who have repeatedly othered you/treated you worse/expressed racist assumptions? It feels like a losing situation for the person of color all around.

  5. Czhorat*

    I wonder if LW1 is, without realizing it, more part of the problem than they think they are. It could be that something in how *they* are addressing race isn’t as positive or even benign as they want to think it is.

    As a cisgender, heterosexual white man I probably just plain miss the impact of things more often than I should; my reactions are based on my lived experience which is one of extreme privilege. I think the hardest part of these conversations is having the humility to look in the mirror and realize that we all have conscious and unconscious biases.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep that was my thought reading it too, and Michelle I think addressed that in a very thoughtful way. Good intentions aren’t enough, and OP admits that their attempts to speak up fall flat. That might be a cultural problem, but it also sounds not insignificantly like an OP problem. I don’t think they’re malicious, but maybe they’re just out of their depth and need to hand off the issues to HR or someone who is better equipped to handle the situation.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Or like, they respond by pushing back on some racist crap by saying, “that hasn’t been my experience” and nobody says anything. And after a few moments of silence, they just return to the meeting topic.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yep. As a Black woman, my first thought was that LW#1’s Black report doesn’t feel safe talking to her boss about this stuff, and/or that talking about it with her/at this org won’t yield results. I’ve had a lot of well-meaning white bosses that’s I’d never talk race with because they … couldn’t handle it, frankly.

      1. Emily*

        Yep. I’m white, but I recognize trying to give your boss critical feedback obliquely. I think LW 1 needs to take some time to really reflect on when and how she speaks up in the organization and how she treats her employee vs. other people she manages.

  6. Molly Coddler*

    I’m from the camp of if she asked not to – don’t!! Do not go against her wishes because “it might” help and “HR needs to know”. She will be the one hurt by it and if she asked not to say anything – and she knows how it REALLY is – please do not say anything. This is the first time I completely disagree with AAM. I’m just saying that some layers of these things are so hidden and no one else would see them. What you would do is cause her drama she didn’t ask for.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To add to Michelle’s answer: Managers generally have a legal obligation to report harassment or discrimination, even if the person doesn’t want them to. Otherwise the company is breaking the law. In both cases, the manager would need to explain that to the employee (while also being proactive about what they’re going to do to ensure the person doesn’t experience any type of retaliation … and then being proactive about making sure they really don’t).

      1. Nomic*

        I hear you, but isn’t the likely end result going to be the employee no longer feels safe sharing this info with their manager?

        1. Vic WembanLlama*

          Maybe I’m reaching but I thought it was a decent chance the employee was subtly talking about the manager and her attempts to have race related discussions when it sounds like the employee doesn’t want that at all.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It depends on how the manager handles it; it’s crucial to explain it’s legally required but here’s what she and the company are going to do to protect the employee, and then actually do those things. The employee needs to see they really are being aggressively protected from retaliation.

          But again, legal requirement. It’s not optional for managers.

      2. Molly Coddler*

        Thank you AAM (and Michelle!!) for the info. This tells me (personally to my situation only) to never ever report anything like this to anyone at work. Knowing that it’s a legal responsibility to report I will make sure to keep shutting the eff up. I need my job, I like my job, and I don’t need drama that can’t and won’t be fixed as I (hopefully) still work here. HR won’t suffer, the company won’t suffer, but the employee who brings up stuff that can’t be “proved” will endure countless hours of needless drama and nitpicking people who don’t understand and only want to cover the company’s butt. The potential damage of a report such as this will only hurt the employee.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Well, if you don’t want action to be taken, why would you report in the first place? Like, I fully understand that not saying anything is the most self-protecting course of action in some workplaces, so it makes total sense not to. But, if that’s the action you choose to take, why would you then still vent to your manager about it if you don’t want them to do anything?

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Have you really never wanted to share something with your manager that you didn’t want them to take official action on?

            Have you never vented a frustration because sometimes just naming it can help you move on or help the manager have needed context for your performance?

            Have you never had a manager you trusted not to retaliate against you, while simultaneously being concerned about potential retaliation from others? Or a manager you knew respected your work, but you were concerned if you voiced your concerns more broadly others would see you as a troublemaker?

            Have you never voiced a concern that had been bubbling up for a long time and then it just kind of spilled out, but you’d rather just move on from it without making any waves?

            The question to me is a bit to me like asking the DV victim why she called the police if she didn’t want to press charges/cooperate with the prosecution. Sometimes we have valid reasons to voice our concerns, even if we do not want to move forward with a formal process that is unlikely to do anything but make our lives harder.

            1. Marvin O'Gravel Balloonface*

              Well, presumably the DV victim is calling the police to make the problem stop RIGHT NOW, right? And may have to weigh the intervention in the moment against the potential that the criminal justice system will roll on regardless of her opinion on the matter. But it sounds like you’re not even talking about “hey can you say something to Bob about XYZ but not take it to HR,” which I guess is the equivalent of the cops telling the guy to go cool off but not arresting him or anything, and if you just want to vent and don’t want anything done your manager isn’t the right audience. And the cops DEFINITELY aren’t.

            2. Molly Coddler*

              This is exactly my thinking. And the real-life consequences will be borne by the already victim. Not anyone else.

        2. Aggretsuko*

          Thought the same. I recently heard that I’d be scrutinized as heck if I did a certain thing and it still probably wouldn’t go through, so never bloody mind.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        Could the manager not contact HR about things they have personally observed and point out that the Black employee didn’t want to complain, but that from the manager’s perspective, these are issues that need to be dealt with?

        Eg. if someone is talking over the Black employee repeatedly in meetings (but not doing this to others), or if someone is bringing up racially charged topics of conversation in meetings, or if a senior exec is habitually being harder on the work of the Black employee vs other employees – these are things the manager should be able to bring up without the Black employee being involved. In fact, with respect to the last example, the manager is in a better position to be objective about whether a senior exec is being unfairly critical of the Black employee, because the manager knows how all of the team members are actually performing.

        1. Wintermute*

          “parallel construction” is a technique often used in news media and in law when someone tells you something unofficially or that you cannot legally or morally use. Basically you know what you know, but you also know you cannot use the source that got you that information so you go looking for a “chance” to “overhear” or “happen to notice” the thing you were already told about so it will fall free and clear into your use without having to rely on the questionable or heresay or whatever other information that tipped you off.

          it’s an invaluable tool for contentious management situations where you need to protect your people.

        2. Bystander*

          At my company, there are two highly competent and thoughtful black male senior managers who get interrupted every. single. time. they speak. Arggghhhh.

          I’ve mentioned this happening on the annual survey, because I knew it would get review by all of the executives including HR and Legal.

          But I’ve never noticed anything specific coming out of it, other than generic DEI training. And they still get interrupted.

      4. irritable vowel*

        Thank you – I think this provides some valuable context/nuance to Michelle’s answer, which I read as being more focused on HR protecting the company from lawsuit than supporting the employee (which I found uncharacteristic of her otherwise thoughtful responses!).

      5. rollyex*

        “To add to Michelle’s answer: Managers generally have a legal obligation to report harassment or discrimination, ”

        This, at least where I am, in New York. We get training about this every year and it’s clear that it is an obligation. Non-mangers are encouraged to do so; manager are obligated.

        1. Governmint Condition*

          I get similar training. There are two classes, one for managers and one for everybody. In the training that everybody gets, it is made clear to all employees that if they report something like this to a supervisor, the supervisor is obligated to report it. They stress that this is the case even if the employee requests otherwise. So all employees know this and can act accordingly, and can’t claim they were surprised that their supervisor elevated it without their consent.

          1. Governmint Condition*

            I should also add that the training also explains to employees that they can’t be retaliated against for making such a report, so they should not be afraid if it does get elevated. The managers’ course explains further measures to ensure retaliation does not occur.

    2. Mouse*

      Unfortunately, there are some legal considerations here. The employer should be made aware so that they have a chance to rectify the issues. If the employee can show in a potential lawsuit that the manager was aware and took no action, it’s bad for the company, so the manager really does have an obligation to escalate this to someone who can decide how to respond.

      1. Busy Middle Manager*

        The problem I have with this one as a manager is, what would be the substance of the complaint. I need to put something on paper. I can’t just say “someone said something made them not feel great but they won’t tell me what, even though I’ve asked repeatedly.” Even if it was worded a bit more specifically to say “there was an incident but they refuse to disclose details” then I’d have something to work with because we’d know there was an incidence and probably more direct works/actions occurred.

        I’m not sure how our HR would handle it. My guess is they’d have a rep speak with the employee in general terms, but an investigation with no substance can’t get very far because you don’t even know where to look. Was it someone being rude in the parking lot? A one-time customer every few months? Or an employee? Sort of need to know that if you want to address the situation.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          ” She did not specify why, but I suspect it’s because of the problematic race-related discussion during the meeting.”

          OP has their own experiences to base the report on

    3. Certaintroublemaker*

      I wonder if there’s a way LW1 can report that “a person in a protected class is facing discrimination” at first so that it could be a woman, person with a medical condition/disability, etc., and not necessarily, “Oh, we know who it is.”

      1. Wintermute*

        They could easily, especially because “protected class” is everyone, race is protected, everyone has a race, it doesn’t protect only minorities it protects everyone.

        And because of that you don’t need to be a member of a minority to report something, if I am, say, an atheist, I could still complain that I am witnessing religious harassment. Obviously it’s harder to prove and it would complicate a court case but the things that could lead to a hostile work environment if severe and pervasive enough are universal, you don’t have to be the direct target to do something about it.

  7. Witmore*

    I think LW3 is unfortunately in a no-win scenario with the workplace. Bringing up the reasonable point that “hey as the only white person here, these pointed signs essentially directed at me makes me feel uncomfortable” will easily be shot down by the disingenous as being “defensive” or “fragile” and proof that such signs are justified. The fact the workplace has signs like that, on top of the lack of training offered, seems like a pretty blaring warning sign that the LW is not going to get the support they are looking for.

    1. RVA Cat*

      I feel like they’re being made the official scapegoat. The lack of training set them up to fail. The question is why.

      1. Pyjamas*

        I’m waiting for the update saying LW3 found a new job. Bonus points if they recommended someone in-house to be promoted to their position.

      2. allathian*

        I had the same question.

        This is a very difficult issue to be sure. I understand that minorities who experience discrimination are sick of making nice to those who with or without malice aforethought treat them poorly because of a visible or invisible minority characteristic. But I’m not convinced that those posters are going to help much, if at all. Most people aren’t going to be willing to work on their biases if they feel attacked, they’ll go on the defensive instead.

        Positive reinforcement works better than accusations, and telling people what you want them to do rather than what you don’t want them to do also works, because you take most of the guesswork out of it. This is true when you’re raising kids and training animals, and it also works on adults.

    2. Feotakahari*

      Yeah, I recommend running for the hills here. As a queer person, I’ve seen what happens when the community decides you’re “faking” being queer, and it’s like sharks having dinner. They think they can’t be persecutors, because persecution is something that requires power, and obviously the “fakers” are the ones who have power over the people who harass them for being fake, right? Actually being outside the minority community seems like it would be an even worse position, because there’s no way you can argue yourself out of being the persecutor who needs to be persecuted.

    3. Feotakahari*

      Wait, does this site block comments in which I use the word beginning with q that describes my gender identity? (I was drawing an analogy to things I’ve seen in that community.)

      1. Feotakahari*

        Anyway, the short version is that I recommend running for the hills before folks decide you’re a persecutor who needs to be persecuted.

  8. Just Thinkin' Here*

    Why was there a difference in the response between #1 and #3? Both are the only representative of their race dealing with a work environment where they are being put on the spot constantly for their race. This is discrimination. Both cases. It is not the employee’s job to represent an entire race in their workplace. Nor should they be forced to be surrounded by aggressive conversations or signs that are demeaning to them. #1 was told to back their minority employee and support them. #3 was asked, what? Figure out why he has a problem being discriminated against?

    1. handfulofbees*

      I feel like this is a bit of a misreading of no. 3. No. 1 involves a manager who has to support an employee, whereas no. 3 involves a manager who has to support employees while also receiving no support themselves in doing this. The answer to no. 3 is also picking at the roots of what the asker is feeling – are they having trouble because they just need more training in communication, or are they having trouble because of deeper problems here?

        1. handfulofbees*

          I was going off the bit “including by just existing in their space as a manager for some of them”

    2. Czhorat*

      Because being part of the majority group within a culture is different than being part of an often discriminated against minority group.

      As much as the situations seem the same on the surface, they are very much contextually different.

  9. handfulofbees*

    Oh hey this is great to see! I must’ve missed the opportunity to submit questions for this, but really good Q&As here and I’m looking forward to more on Wednesday.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I don’t think it was a special invitation to submit these types of questions. I think Alison just picked them out of her pile and felt Michelle was better suited to answer them.

      1. handfulofbees*

        Ahh gotcha makes sense. I had a question about something that recently came up at one of my orgs that would be perfect for Michelle. Would this be something I should submit to Allison anyway?

  10. Vic WembanLlama*

    Is it just me or is the OP in #1 perhaps part of the problem? The employee might not want to have race discussions with you.

    1. Shirley B*

      I had that read too. As far as I can tell, LW is the manager of a team whose team meetings involve racially charged talking points that make the only black team member uncomfortable — and LW is not effectively shutting this down. That’s the problem! “I try to speak up” really isn’t cutting it.

      1. Hazel*

        Thank you! Even if the team meetings are bigger than just their team, LW1 is Management and must intervene. They can name the issue and ask for the meeting to proceed along appropriate lines.

      2. Random Dice*

        I was also wondering about why there are so many conversations on race that were making the folks in the racial minority feel uncomfortable.

        I don’t hear this kind of conversation at my work, much less all the time. (Not to say my workplace is magically free of racism, it’s not!)

        But managers have a role in what kind of conversations are acceptable at work. This sounds like there’s some tacit managerial approval of very questionable topics.

        1. Wintermute*

          This stuck out to me! I can recall a single solitary conversation in my workplace that could be described as involving race and none that were remotely contentious or acrimonious, having these come up so often feels like… like a **lot**

  11. Spearmint*

    Re LW2: It’s good you’re being thoughtful about this, but at the same time I think you should give yourself some grace. No matter how inclusive and progressive a company or team is, it’s tough to build a diverse team in fields where the vast majority of job candidates are white or Asian men. For example, when only 20% of computer science majors are women, it’s literally impossible for every company and team to be >1/3 female, even if they were all maximally inclusive and progressive. The problems of diversity start in college or even earlier, and no one team or company can change that.

    I know multiple women and PoC who work in white male dominated fields, and have had candid conversations with them about diversity. While they want more diversity in their workplaces, they’re sympathetic to their employer’s struggles in creating diverse teams when they don’t get many applicants who aren’t white or Asian men. And also, something that happens is the highest paying companies (or top grad programs, in academia) will hoover up a lot of the relatively small number diverse candidates because they can simply offer more. A second tier company or school can’t compete with that.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      While I agree that it can be hard to hire [women, people of color, etc.] in certain fields, and that success for many companies is not going to look like a perfect microcosm of the local or broader community, and that sometimes the answer is “this is who we could hire for what the company was willing to pay, and that’s as good as it’s going to get right now” — I don’t think the grace should be given BEFORE the work is put in.

      I can’t say from the context how much work has already been put in (though, three out of 20 is not great even in my field, which is very cishet white male), but I do want to caution against saying, “Well, it’s hard, so we can’t!” and throwing up one’s hands without trying at all.

      1. Spearmint*

        Well, yeah, 3 out of 20 is not great, but that’s still 15%, which in some fields I could see happening just out of random chance/bad luck, even at a good employer. So I’d say it’s worth investigating and taking seriously, but it’s possible that the LW isn’t doing anything wrong.

    2. PX*

      Personally – its this statement for me:

      when they don’t get many applicants who aren’t white or Asian men

      If a company cares enough, they will do the work to improve their pipeline/conversion. Sure the numbers might be small, but is the company attractive enough and making the effort to even try to keep those who are eligible? Or do they just go *shrug, too hard, lets not even bother* ?

      1. Texan In Exile*

        The VP of HR at a former company sighed that although she wanted to increase the number of Black engineers, she just couldn’t recruit enough.

        “What’s your HBCU recruiting strategy?” I asked her.

        “What’s an HBCU?” she answered.

        That’s an example of *shrug, too hard, lets not even bother*

        1. Ruth*

          THIS! I worked at a large company in DC that did campus recruiting at every large university in the District…except Howard.

          I was just an admin at the time but I asked lots of annoying questions about why we didn’t do campus recruiting there :)

        2. The Real Fran Fine*

          And not even just targeting HBCUs – there are black student unions at virtually every PWI I’ve ever heard of, so they could even start there with recruiting if they know nothing about HBCUs. Many companies just don’t want to.

      2. Emily*

        Yep. I work at a large organization. I attended a DEI workshop with colleagues from other units. A person from IT mentioned to me that it’s hard to hire people of color when none of them apply. I suggested some ways to build a pipeline to recruit a wider applicant pool and also a retention and development strategy that would help build internal capacity long-term. Now I’m at a different organization in the same field and I attended a workshop about how common hiring and promotion processes can inadvertently exclude neurodiverse people from the pool. It was so enlightening! There’s similar work on all kinds of diversity. It’s not always easy or comfortable, but white people and people with other privileged identities *can* educate themselves.

    3. Jules*

      At my company, the DEI committee is giving recommendations to HR about more places to recruit with a higher chance of getting applications from BIPOC, LGBTQ, and other underrepresented communities; making sure that, if a job description requires a certain level of education, it’s actually needed to do that job; etc. (I can’t remember all of our recommendations). If a company “can’t” find candidates who are not from the dominant culture, they need to start looking more broadly.

      1. Spearmint*

        Those are great things to do, and I’m sure they’re often effective, but I think in some fields, especially at less prestigious employers, it will only go so far. In some fields, you really do need extensive, technical education for even an entry level job. You can’t simply take a college graduate with an unrelated major and train them up on the job.

        1. Engineer*

          At that point, the question becomes two-pronged: how do we encourage a more diverse group with these skills to apply to our company, and how can we encourage a diverse group to learn these skills from an earlier age? Aka, are there educational outreach opportunities that the company can sponsor that target disenfranchised groups?

          If a highly technical skill is only being learned by a very specific group of similar people, then that means that there’s a barrier somewhere earlier in the process that’s keeping others out. Support initiatives that try to remove those barriers.

          1. Mill Miker*

            And then there’s a third prong being found in spaces where “the pipeline” is much better already: How do you make sure more diverse groups aren’t chased out of the field once they’ve got the education and the job.

            1. Pierrot*

              100%. My workplace (a nonprofit) recently unionized and I am part of the committee that’s working on negotiating a contract. There are definitely areas where the organization’s recruitement could improve, but I think many staff feel that retention is a larger issue for the organization to grapple with. It involves building in actual accountability and consequences towards members of management who have engaged in biased behavior and microaggressions or have allowed it to persist in their departments. We have had a lot of brilliant and talented people leave who wanted to stay but saw that when they reported issues with their supervisors, their reports weren’t taken seriously.

        2. SnackAttack*

          See, I hate this line of thinking, because it indirectly implies that white men have more technical talent than women of people of color, and that when people in marginalized communities are hired, it’s because the employer is taking pity on them or trying to meet a diversity quota. It’s like when actors of color or women win lots of awards at the Oscars, and people online start complaining about how “it shouldn’t be about diversity, it should go to the best work.” So…you’re saying that white men always produce the best work, and if they don’t win, it’s because they were snubbed for diversity’s sake?

          There are lots of women and POC with extensive technical educations. And even if someone does have to be trained a little, it’s still beneficial to the company because the employee is providing a unique perspective that ultimately improves the company’s product.

          1. Spearmint*

            I’m not saying that white men have more technical talent in general, but the reality in some fields is that, for instance, only 20% of computer science majors are women. It’s not that white men are smarter, but that they’re more likely to have the base qualifications. And the reasons for that have nothing to do with women’s or PoC’s innate intelligence or aptitude, but structural forces that lead to these pipeline issues.

        3. Your Mate in Oz*

          I’ve also seen the problem of “we trained up a minority person into a senior STEM role but then they got bribed away by one of our funders… and part of their new job is to ask us why there are no people like them in senior roles in our organisation”.

          I don’t blame them for taking an offer at more than double the pay, but at the same time it felt like a kick in the teeth to the place I worked. Not only did we lose that person, they’re effectively lost to STEM in general because their new role is diversity-based rather than STEM-based.

          Although since they were part of a pipeline we have new people like them through eventually.

    4. SometimesMaybe*

      I sympathize with this statement. I have worked in education and while my organization had a very ethnically diverse team, we had almost no men apply for positions, even with the aid of unions. I do not want to encourage the “best people for the job crowd”, but we many times had to reject male candidates for better qualified female candidates. It can be frustrating when good intentions do not translate to real world application. But I do agree with the commentors advocating increasing access to the education pipeline rather than starting the work at the hiring process.

      1. Bystander*

        Did you mean to write this?

        “we many times had to reject male candidates for better qualified female candidates.”

        1. L*

          I assume they work in a female-dominated field! Which would mean that trying to get more male applicants/employees is striving toward diversity in their situation.

        2. SometimesMaybe*

          Yes women far far out number men in the industry I was referring too, education (primary level). I wanted to illustrate the point that solving inequality in the work place should not start and end with hiring practices, especially when dealing with industries that have been historically dominated by one gender (or even one ethnicity).

    5. Bystander*

      I heard a story from a female IT manager of color recently.

      She posted a job and literally every candidate HR sent was male. She pushed back and asked for female candidates – they found great candidates, and it ended up being 50/50 male/female.

      But a male manager likely wouldn’t have even noticed, or pushed HR, and the inequity would just have kept piling up, unnoticed.

  12. Uhura*

    For # 3 – I am confused as to what is happening to the LW.

    They say: “To give just one example, I sit next to many physical signs on the topic of all the offensive things white people do and say in the workplace. Some of the phrases on these signs include: “Demanding proximity to whiteness,” “Diminishing my melanin,” “Unsolicited feedback,” “Tone policing,” “Minimizing the experiences of people of color,” “Defensiveness,” “The white experience is not the norm/superior,” “White-splaining,” “Who is allowed to take up space,” among others.”

    Are they being made to sit next to signs that say these things? Was this part of some kind of workshop or are these signs posted next to their work space and must remain up forever?

    As a black woman, I agree it is important to address diversity and inclusion in the work place, but I don’t understand what posting these kinds of signs next to the only white person in the office will accomplish. I think having a conversation about these sort of things, say in some kind of workshop might be better. That might also help educate LW so she’s not so “terrified” to say anything. A lot of times people say things they don’t even know is offensive, but it is sometimes out of ignorance and not malice. Doing what the LW’s company is doing is not going to help her learn what to say and what’s not appropriate. People need education, not shaming.

    1. Garblesnark*

      I’m white, and while I agree with this, it’s also been really important for me to learn when comments about white people are about me, and when the comments are just about white people in general and not necessarily about me specifically.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Yeah, on a second read of the letter, I’m getting a bit of #notallwhitepeople from the LW. That they feel targeted by these signs instead of recognizing them as like those educational posters for STI prevention. If you always use condoms, this isn’t aimed at you!

        1. amoeba*

          I understood the mention of the posters less as a complaint and more as context on how present the topic is at that workplace (and the actual problem was more how to participate in the discussions effectively, as they’re being asked to). But maybe I’m wrong!

      2. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Yes, this. My only real criticism of the signs is that they assume everyone is at the same place on their journey through understanding this topic, which seems like a bad assumption.

        There is a lot of shorthand for specific concepts that if you’re not familiar with the concept itself, you’re definitely not going to understand the shorthand and you’re going to think it’s a personal attack and not something to keep in mind in general. What can feel like Racism 101 in a racial justice organization might still be Racism 301: Advanced Topics to someone still thinking “white people” means “you, specific white person.” That’s on the white person to fix, obviously, but it’s still a disconnect that needs to be seen and understood if improvements are to be made.

      3. Looper*

        But couldn’t any person decide that? If the signs are to remind “bad” white people how to be “good”, what’s stopping the “bad” person from deciding it doesn’t pertain to them? Who decides how much space is enough to make, what the difference between participating in a conversation vs whitesplaining is, how much feedback from a manager is considered racially oppressive? If someone is already saying racist things at work, how is leaving everything up to vague signs and self-awareness going to help anyone?

        1. Dina*

          I would let go of the “good” and “bad” thinking here. There aren’t “the good white people who do the right thing all the time” and “the bad white racists”. There is only behaviour, and sometimes that behaviour can come from a racist place despite our best intentions. That’s because we (or at least most people reading this website) live in white supremacist societies that can feel like the air we breathe.

          1. Looper*

            I agree with you, my response is to the idea that “if the signs don’t apply to you then don’t worry about them”, which is an impossibility as a white person living in a white supremacist culture. The signs are ABSOLUTELY about you, they are de facto for white people in that space to ostensibly learn from. But as others have pointed out, “awareness” can only go so far. The signs seem taken out of context of a larger learning experience and now are just creating confusion in the primary target of their message.

      4. Boof*

        I mean, that logic applies to all stereotypes “oh I didn’t mean you!” isn’t an excuse to neg people by protected characteristics

    2. ThatGirl*

      My read (just spitballing here) is it’s a list of microaggressions or something similar? Ways that racism can manifest in the workplace perhaps? I do wonder if it’s like, an official poster or something that came from a workshop or what.

      1. Uhura*

        Yeah, I wonder if it’s a poster and not several individual signs, LOL. That would change things a bit. I’d like to know what these “signs” actually look like and how close they are to LW’s work space because the LW makes it seem like they are being singled out and made to sit next to all these signs. But maybe it’s just a poster in a common area that is close to where LW’s desk is. That doesn’t sound as confrontational as it first seems.

        1. LW3*

          Original poster here: These are large, handwritten signs that are handwritten and posted directly next to my desk (I am looking at them right now). They are not in a common area. No context has ever been provided for them, but I imagine they came from a past workshop.

          1. Mill Miker*

            I have so many more questions now. Are you in an open area and your desk is just near the signs, or is it more like the signs are at your desk?

            I don’t think I’d be able to resist asking my manager about their history. Even just like “Are these from a workshop? Do they happen often?”

            It should be fine to ask legitimate questions about your workspace, the team’s history, company culture, expectations, the job, etc. without it coming across as trying to centre your comfort. Those are normal things for a new hire to ask, and as long as your asking in good faith and not in some kind of accusatory, condescending way, then anyone getting upset at you even asking is the one being odd.

          2. Claire*

            “No context has ever been provided for them…” Tbh, I think this comment says a lot. Why haven’t you asked about them?

          3. amoeba*

            Is that the only place where anything like that is displayed in the office? I mean, if it’s part of a lot of posters etc. all over the office, then it would read quite different to me than if it’s literally only next to your desk and not anywhere else.

          4. boof*

            I would start by asking someone about the signs. Start open ended; maybe they’re from a workshop and got left up and no one else notices them they’ve been there so long. I personally think it’s ok to ask they get taken down, eventually, especially if they’ve already served whatever their original purpose was. But I’d start with open ended questions, take time to digest, and then request an action once you’ve thought about it. Pretty much what Michelle Silverthorn wisely suggests, but the signs seem a particularly visible manifestation of what you’re struggling with so may be a reasonable opening point.

          5. Uhura*

            The more I think about it, it seems like those signs were the product of a venting session from a workshop about microagressions.

            LW3, you say you haven’t been given any training and don’t know how to participate in racial justice work as a white person. I have to say, if you can’t work up the nerve to go “Hey, what are all these signs about?” I wonder if you’re really ready to work in a place like this.

            It seems like you don’t even understand what the signs are about and you haven’t even bothered to ask anyone. Seriously, are you THAT terrified of your black co-workers you’re afraid to ask what the signs are about?

            If you are SO worried that any input you give will not be exactly, perfectly right, if you are SO afraid of saying the “wrong” thing to the point that you are limiting your contributions and your manager is noticing it, then maybe this is not the right job for you.

            I’m not saying you’re a bad person or unqualified for any job, it just sounds like you don’t have the right background for a place like this. If you don’t know what the “right” thing to say and the “wrong” thing to say is, then maybe you haven’t worked enough with enough POC to know what is appropriate or not, and maybe this place is expecting too much for someone like you. I’m not trying to attack you, I think you just don’t have enough of the appropriate experience to work at a place like this.

          6. An Honest Nudibranch*

            Mm, I was imagining signs fairly equally spaced along the office. What you’re describing does sound more targeted, ya. Were the signs there when you moved into the office?

            It’s definitely worth asking your manager about, at an absolute minimum. I think some fact checking could help a lot! You don’t have to frame it as “I don’t like the signs” if that makes you uncomfortable, or if you worry that might lead to pushback! But with the information that they’re pretty much only in front of your desk, I would start wondering if that was someone being passive-aggressive.

            And really, I think it’s worth talking to your manager about how to handle the things on that sign that when taken literally would interfere with your job. That’s part of your manager’s job! And it’s needed for you to be able to do *your* job. If your manager does end up responding with a lot of skepticism and aggression, well, that‘s probably useful information on what this job will be like. But seriously, with a reasonable manager, they’d rather you ask than freeze.

            And you might find out they’re from something like a vent session about microaggressions and no one thought through the optics of having them next to the only white person, and that the level of “things that will offend someone” is smaller than you’d expect.

            (Actually, in regards to the above: have you seen a lot of evidence that your coworkers will take offense at nearly everything / that the pushback against mistakes would be severe? E.g., how have they reacted if you’ve made a misstep in the past?

            The reason I ask is because reflexive “oh my god I will say the wrong social justice thing” feelings are super duper common for people new to racial justice work, lots of books have been written about it, and it isn’t always reflective of reality – a lot of places that work deeply with racial justice are aware that people will mess up and that people will have questions. But I don’t know *your specific* workplace, and certainly toxic workplaces exist. So like, it’s worth looking around to confirm if you’re seeing things like people being ridiculed or frozen out for handling these convos imperfectly. )

  13. Just Thinkin' Here*

    OP#2 – it is well beyond the age where you should have a 20 person tech team with no women. You are doing something in your hiring process that is excluding them. Are they getting screened out by HR? Are they not being recruited on-campus or in job fairs? Are the job announcements discouraging mothers or women who are of child-bearing age?

    Are you interviewing in a way that diminishes women’s skills? I’ve sat in way too many interviews where tech women have to spend the whole time demonstrating tech knowledge (minimum job requirements) while men interviewed for the same job are taken at their word per their resume and spend the entire time talking about accomplishments.

    1. Roland*

      As the only female engineer on my team, cosigned. I mentioned it during my first week – I was genuinely surprised as it wasn’t like that on other teams I know at the company – and was met with jovial “haha yeah”s. Uh, it wasn’t a funny joke fellas.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I remember hearing about my company’s various recruitment initiatives and thinking “every single one of those would miss me.” I still don’t understand why we sponsored a Starcraft video game team.

    3. Spicy Tuna*

      I don’t work in HR, but at my last job, I was very close to the HR Director. He was trying to hire more diverse candidates but wasn’t even getting resumes from people who were not white or white Hispanic (our city is one where Latino/as are the majority).

      He opened up the schools they were recruiting from and holding job fairs at to include more state universities and that one simple change went a long way towards diversifying the applicant pool.

    4. An Honest Nudibranch*

      Seriously. Also a woman in tech – like, look, while I have *some* sympathy for factors narrowing the pipeline outside of employer’s control. . . the number of times I have brought up tangible things they were doing that were increasing the bias in their applicants and discouraging women from staying, and ended up completely ignored, is astounding.

      There is a difference between “difficult problem that requires some time, effort, and money to solve” and “impossible problem.”

      How are your applications getting screened (I’ll give you a hint: if the answer is “AI,” that’s part of your problem, many AI are notorious for being biased towards people who aren’t cis white guys)? Are you being overly rigid on things like “should have experience in X specific industry” or “should have graduated from XYZ specific college”? Where are you recruiting from? How do you talk about things maternity leave on your information packets? How does your company’s PR talk about gender, or their products, if relevant? How do your interviewers respond to female candidates? How your interviewers respond to questions about what being the only woman on the team would be like?

      Just because you’re not intentionally not hiring women doesn’t mean there’s no bias in your recruitment strategies.

  14. Garblesnark*

    LW #3 – I am also a white person who spends time in spaces where I am the only, or one of very few, white people. In most of these spaces, it is fine to speak up with your point of view – especially when it is specifically requested!

    The advice I have is, if you are challenged or there is pushback of any kind, never double down right away.

    Instead, if the response to your contribution is in any way critical, respond with “thank you for sharing that with me.” Write it down. Return to it later when you are not feeling vulnerable. See if you have questions. See if you need a second opinion. Check whether it’s something you can Google. Find merits in the push back, even if you don’t agree with all of it.

    After you’ve done all that, if your perspective is unchanged, you can still go back and double down or ask for more feedback. A place folks get in a rut is often from just pushing through feedback as though it’s irrelevant when there might be more to it than you’re aware of.

    1. Safflower*

      I think this is good advice. Starting from a place of curiosity instead of judgement will give you room for understanding.

    2. Professional Cat Lady*

      Agree with Garblesnark! LW #3, this is good advice for processing things that we have knee-jerk defense reactions to. I am a white woman who married into a large Black and Afro-Latino family, and taking a step back/giving room to feelings on your own time is very valuable.

    3. Beth*

      This is really good advice. OP3, your workplace is what it is. I hear your feelings about this being a anxiety-provoking and antagonistic environment for you, and I hear Michelle’s suggestion that you examine where those feelings are coming from and see whether that changes your feelings. But setting feelings aside for a moment, it sounds like part of what you’re struggling with is not whether this environment is right or wrong, or whether you’re right or wrong, but simply that you’re struggling to function in this environment and need tips on how to change that.

      Garblesnark’s suggestions to accept and incorporate pushback on your opinion without getting defensive are really good practical tips for functioning in an environment where you don’t want to center yourself. If you want to contribute to discussions without talking over people, focus on asking questions instead of stating facts or opinions–asking useful questions shows engagement, furthers the discussion, but keeps the center of focus on your colleagues’ ideas rather than your experiences. Ask for help more, not necessarily in a broad “make me feel better” way but about specific struggle spots–maybe tell your manager that you want to contribute but are worried about over-centering yourself, and ask if they have any tips on finding a balance or can share any more detail on what kinds of contributions they’re hoping you’ll bring to the table.

      And also maybe consider seeing a therapist. It sounds like this is a really anxiety-provoking environment for you (no judgment meant on either the environment or you in this–I’m an anxious person too, sometimes it’s just our brains) and getting some support on that anxiety might make it a lot easier to navigate that. Having someone who you know you can talk to about these kinds of fears–whose job it is to help you process them–can be a huge help.

    4. White Person*

      Helpful also as a white person who has been in spaces where I’m in the minority: Comments on whiteness in general aren’t necessarily comments about you, or aimed at you. Most of the time they aren’t!

      For white people generally, we’re often not taught a lot of basic history and perspective that would help us navigate relationships with people from other races, so we can reach adulthood and be *painfully* horrified at our ignorance and fear offending. This isn’t your individual fault as a white person! It’s simply the culture in which you were raised. No one reasonable will hate you simply for being white.

      “White culture” is generally co-opted by white supremacists, so we’re afraid of approaching it (for very good reasons). But there were lots of white people who worked for racial justice, too. They were abolitionists, members of the Civil Rights Movement, members of the Freedman’s Bureau. Let them inspire you.

      Useful skills mentioned elsewhere in the comments: Give your perspective, but be mindful that it’s not the default or universal experience. Use your privilege to raise the voice of others. Be curious and open. Listen.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I was intentionally raised to be “colorblind”, because ignorance=innocence, and you can’t be racist if you don’t know any stereotypes… or, you know, anything at all. I feel like I should apologize to every person of color I ever interacted with *at least* through grad school, except that would be all about me.

        Curiosity is the way forward (while realizing there are hundreds of people out there who have already answered my questions, so it’s up to me to find those answers instead of burdening acquaintances of color).

        1. Sleve*

          Also raised “colourblind” but in a more helpful way. I was still taught about many racial stereotypes – but they were taught as ancient history, in the same way I learned that some people used to believe that women shouldn’t work, that poor people deserved to be poor, or that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Such opinions were taught in a tone of derision, as amusing anecdotes on the bizarre thoughts of the same naïve societies who thought radium suppositories were a good idea. They were historical ideas I needed to be aware of because of the ways they still impact our current society, but they certainly weren’t accurate in any way.

          You can imagine my disappointment in humanity when I grew up and discovered some troglodytes actually still believe this rubbish.

          1. amoeba*

            Hah, yeah. It was a bit like that for me concerning sexism and gender roles. “People still believe… WHAT??” Quite the rude awakening.

    5. Bystander*

      That’s really good advice.

      “Thanks so much for that feedback, I really appreciate it. Can you tell me more?” is something I practice, to try to short-circuit my own defensiveness.

      1. Garblesnark*

        I love that too! but also, I think it’s important to wait to ask “can you tell me more?” until you are ready to hear and incorporate the more.

  15. BellyButton*

    Can we stop putting “worker bees” on culture committees, without at least one expert to drive the group? It takes an expert in people development, organizational development, DEI, etc to make any significant culture changes. It also takes about 5 yrs of very strategic actions before those changes are truly part of the culture.

    As someone who works in this space, I second the recommendation for ERGs. You can write some policy and guidelines for ERGs and then call for volunteers to be on the council for that ERG, to take over the running over it, and to get an executive sponsor.

    1. Sally*

      I agree about having at least one expert. We had some terrific consultants help us learn about unconscious bias and develop the diversity presentation part of onboarding. However, it seems like we’re trying to wing it with setting up the process for establishing ERGs. I keep thinking – lots of companies do this. Why are we reinventing the wheel when we have no experience with it? I was literally the only person in the committee who had experience being in an ERG. I decided I needed to search for resources, and I’m now in the process of educating myself about establishing ERGs. I will also suggest to our committee that we all learn more before we try to set any policies. And I’ll ask if we have the budget for another session with our consultants on this particular topic.

      1. BellyButton*

        You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Search “ERG tool kit” you will find a bunch of step by step guides. Make sure you have policies; it is important to make sure no one feels excluded so most ERGs are clear that all are welcome, create guidelines for ERG leadership- what are the positions, how long is their term. Write missions, get exec sponsors.

  16. Gritter*

    LW1. I’m curious as to why Asian people are not considered a racial minority in the world of Tech? Is it to do with the number of Asian people employed in IT, or the demographics or your area?

    1. Mill Miker*

      My understanding is it’s because of the stereotype that Asian people are naturally good at tech stuff, so they get the same kind of “Assumed to be competent at the job until proven otherwise” boost that the white applicants get, combined with a similar over-representation in tech-related degree programs.

      Or, alternatively: They’re not considered a racial minority in tech because, by the numbers, they’re not.

      1. ThatGirl*

        It’s more the second than the first. You can argue over why that might be, but in a lot of tech spaces, especially on the west coast, there are a lot of Asian people in tech spaces.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          One reason is that tech recruits heavily from overseas using H1B1 skilled worker visas, particularly from India and China, so it doesn’t even make sense to compare the tech hiring pool to the US or regional population.

      2. Tech-Specific*

        Just because I just looked this up: MIT’s undergrad computer science major is 37% Asian and 25% white. (And 13% “international,” which I assume implies that the people in all the other categories are from the US.) Obviously MIT isn’t the entire industry, but it’s roughly ballpark!

    2. Spearmint*

      It’s because in a lot of technical fields Asians are very over represented relative to their share of the population. About 7% of US adults are Asian, but a much higher percentage of computer science majors are Asian (~20% according to one source), and that’s even more true at top programs (at Stanford they’re almost half). And this includes founders and executives as well, lots of tech CEOs are Asian.

      By analogy, hiring a woman in a female-dominated field like nursing doesn’t count as a “diverse hire”, whereas hiring a woman would count as one in tech.

      1. MEH Squared*

        Asian MEN. Asian women are much less represented. They are the highest demo of minority (by race) women in tech, but that’s roughly 7% of the women in tech (which is about 25% of the total tech employees). Plus, they report facing more discrimination than their white counterparts. We really need to be more intentional about intersectionality when we talk about diversity issues.

    3. Roland*

      In terms of numbers Asians aren’t underrepresented in tech, and on some teams aren’t even a minority by absolute numbers. Of course there are still workplaces where they are a minority due to chance or racism, and structural barriers still exist – as we’ve seen with various higher-ed conversations and lawsuits, just because Asians are overrepresented somewhere doesn’t mean they aren’t also being discriminated against. So I don’t think it’s something to completely write off, but overall there’s a different set of problems than with other racial groups in tech.

      1. Roland*

        Adding on, I wouldn’t agree with OP that they aren’t a racial minority in tech full stop. It’s a different set of problem but they still exist and also, they are quite literally a racial minority in the US as well as in many workplaces when you look at absolute numbers.

  17. Eliot Waugh*

    Might be one of those comment aecurons where it’s worthwhile to ask us white folks to step back and avoid centering our voices…

  18. Jaybeetee*

    LW3: One thing missing from your letter, is how your colleagues (above, peer, and below) actually interact with you.

    The thing with the signs – I’d be a bit uncomfortable, but I also understand, just as women sometimes talk about jerky things men do and queer people talk about jerky things cishets do, no sane person is actually thinking, “Yes, every single individual member of this demographic is Bad.” There are jerky things white people do, but if anyone is actually being hostile towards you, that’s a different kettle of fish.

    Regarding the conversations, I understand the need to step lightly. If it were me, I’d also name the thing – it’s not like people there don’t know you’re white and that of course you’re going to talk about race from your perspective. I’d try to come at it from the angle of being an ally, and being willing to hear (constructive) feedback along those lines.

    I’ll also note, speaking as someone who has been the only white person in a room, the only straight person in a room full of nonstraight people, etc – most people can and do recognize a good faith effort, even if you stumble or say the wrong thing. It’s not on anyone to educate you, but just anecdotally, I’ve found people are often willing to engage with those who are trying, even if imperfectly so. The “I got chewed out for using an outdated term” stories tend to pertain more to online spaces, spaces where you’re an unknown quantity, and, uh, people who actually aren’t engaging in good faith, but who are sure happy to be offended about something.

    1. Mel99*

      I mean, it would absolutely be inappropriate for women to talk badly about men in the way you’re describing in a work environment. (Which is different to raising issues of sexism, I’m talking about ‘ugh men are pigs’ vs ‘why are you asking me, the only woman here, to write the notes?’).

      I’m a woman and if I saw the gender-equivalent of those posters at work I’d find it very uncomfortable and unprofessional, and consider it a red flag for the company.

      1. White person*

        I feel like these aren’t quite the same thing, though. No one is calling white people pigs; they are expressing common annoyances that people of color experience from white people at work.

        The male/female example would be: “Asked to take notes all the time” or, heck, “tone policing” applies too!

        It sounds like the signs are quite probably a past DEI exercise. I doubt very much they’re a bunch of messages particularly targeting the LW.

        I do think it would be totally fair if the LW asked to move the signs to a common area, so that the signs aren’t sitting right next to their desk. Their goal is to NOT do all the things on that list, after all.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          +1 to your last paragraph. I’m shocked I made it this far down the thread and you’re the only one who brought this up as an option. That would have been my first question, lol.

        2. Mel99*

          Well sure, I was referring to the comment I replied to who was talking about women speaking ‘jerkily’ about men, and how while it’s understandable socially it’s not appropriate in a work environment. I realise the posters are different.

          Personally I’ve changed my opinion a bit because I’ve re-read the letter and I missed that it was a racial justice organisation. It’s more understandable there, but I still don’t think it’s appropriate for a work environment. For a public place where clients come to get help, sure. But not in the actual office.

          I’d also imagine asking for the posters to be moved would cause issues.

          1. White person*

            The comment you were replying to was talking about, for example, women discussing common jerk behaviors by men, not women being jerks about how they talk about men.

  19. kiki*

    For LW1, I would ask how often problematic race-related discussions are coming up during meetings and why they aren’t being nipped in the bud. Not to say that all race-related conversations should be shut down, but ones that are problematic and you can tell will cause members of your team pain shouldn’t be allowed to keep going in a meeting.

    1. Shirley B*

      Absolutely agree. And if you realize you dropped the ball in the moment, have a one-on-one chat afterward with each person who made problematic comments and explain why those kind of comments aren’t OK on a work call (without referencing your Black team member). Yes this will feel awkward for you — but this is the hard work you have to do if you truly want to support your team member.

    2. Busy Middle Manager*

      this is one I struggle with managing remote. In person I feel like people responded to dramatic “no” gestures to shut down mostly political talk. When I am just a box on teams or zoom it’s apparently way to easy to just talk over me and pretend you didn’t see/hear me. They went on for two minutes about the debate last week before I was finally able to crowd out the voices!

  20. Dulcinea47*

    Glad to see this topic here. My workplace has recently mentioned wanting to have more BIPOC people on their DEI committee…. but b/c the majority of employees are white, I don’t know how you do that without making it burdensome for the exact people it’s supposed to be helping.

  21. BellyButton*

    The easiest thing you can do to increase diversity on a team is to start with recruiting. Something I noticed in the US is that people are very loyal to their universities and will often go to job fairs there, as opposed to specifically looking at a school/program that is more diverse. The other thing that is really easy to do, is don’t allow hiring managers to see names. This alone, at my last job, increased the number of women being interviewed (in male dominated tech) by 32%. The more women being interviewed, the more women who will be hired. The women being hired increased by 22% in less than 3 months. That is huge.

    1. Generic Name*

      This. My last company was overwhelmingly white. They instituted a system where names and identifying information was stripped from candidates’ resumes. There was a TON of pushback from managers because it made it harder to tell which resumes they were reviewing were from referrals (you know, friends and family). All I could think was, “Well yeah. No wonder there’s a diversity problem here when we rely so heavily on personal referrals and recruiting from the founder’s (very white) alma mater.”

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes we introduced name blind recruitment in my company so we no longer see the personal details (name, address etc) for applicants. I think it’s a great way to improve the diversity of the hiring pool and am definitely a fan.

  22. Hiring Mgr*

    #3 sounds difficult. Self reflection is always a good idea but are the signs, the first week grilling on the projects and their racial component really part of a good DEI program? Seems like the LW was thrown into this with no explanation, no training, no guidance..

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      A lot of DEI initiatives are better in concept than execution – which is NOT a criticism of DEI programs in general, it’s a reality of a focus that has taken off exponentially in the last few years and by nature is experiencing growing pains. As a manager I think OP has some room to address this, after being there for awhile, but in the meantime the fear and anxiety are going to get in the way of making any meaningful headway to build that capital. I think the suggestions Michelle makes are good starting points for getting over that hurdle.

    2. NotAManager*

      LW seems to have high anxiety around these discussions and (as someone who also has high anxiety that results in perceptions about interactions that skew more negative than they realistically were), I wonder if LW was feeling grilled when they were just being asked fairly rote questions as part of a pre-existing check-in system.

      If the company prides itself on being progressive (or is actually engaged in social justice work, it wasn’t clear to me from the letter), questions like that about their work could just be part of the rubric for how they measure outcomes on projects. It could have been totally fine for LW to say, “Honestly, I’m not sure, since I’m still very new to the project and I don’t want to misrepresent the work.” I’m not getting the sense from the letter that their colleagues are particularly harsh folks, so I think Michelle had it right when asking LW to examine how much of their stress is being generated internally rather than externally.

  23. Tech-Specific*

    So, in the US, roughly 5% of professional software engineers are black, compared to about 50% white and 33% Asian (which I think includes both East Asian and South Asian). At the upper end of the field (think PhD computer science programs at elite universities), typically the numbers for white and Asian students are flipped and black students are even less represented (but I think a lot of the Asian students are not American citizens and are less likely to end up permanently employed here, so employment looks different than enrollment).

    The general advice to people who want to make their teams more demographically diverse (aside from the obvious “make sure you’re not inadvertently discriminating against whatever group is under-represented”) is to improve their pipeline and make sure job ads are being seen by lots of different people. But when you’re dealing with small numbers, even doing that might not show up in who gets hired! If only 5% of software engineers nationally are black, we’d expect to see maybe one black engineer on LW2’s team. If LW2 lives in an area with relatively few black people (Seattle, just as an example because it has a lot of tech, is only 7% black) it might not be surprising not to have any black software engineers.

    “Why do the demographics of software engineers look the way they do” is a separate and interesting, but not germane, question — if you’re recruiting from a non-representative subpopulation, your team is not going to look like the general population. It just can’t.

  24. Michelle Smith*

    My org is just starting to roll out ERGs and I ultimately decided not to participate. There doesn’t seem to be any interest from executives in actually creating culture change – I expect the ERGs are only to make the org look better and make the execs feel like they are doing something responsive to our concerns, while not giving them any real power, funding, etc. So why bother spending my time on it?

    1. Derivative Poster*

      Because the knowledge and relationships you gain from networking with coworkers you might not have otherwise met can help you navigate the culture.

  25. Zarniwoop*

    “ The lack of training and guidance has even made me feel resentful at times of being forced into conversations where I feel I cannot possibly contribute in a positive and meaningful way. ”
    It’s totally justified to resent being given job duties without adequate training.
    Ask for training!

  26. Washi*

    I think I am interpreting #3 slightly differently in that the signs sound very much like the product of a DEI discussion/brainstorming session and were left up on the wall, and have nothing to do with LW3. I don’t think the posters need to be replaced, LW just needs to reframe this as “not about me.”

    I worked somewhere for several years where I was frequently the only white person in the room and it was a huge growth experience for me, and could be to the LW as well. The big thing I took away from it is the only way to never make a mistake and say something offensive is if you never talk about race at all. If you’re really passionate about being in these spaces it WILL get messy and you WILL mess up. But my experience was that as long as I stayed honest, vulnerable (without crying) and most of all really listened, I was met with a huge amount of understanding and willingness to discuss. It sounds like this environment is new for the LW but I think after giving it a couple months, they may adjust and feel more comfortable than terrified.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think this is correct. It sounds like this environment is very forward about their DEI in a way OP is not used to experiencing, particularly as the only white person, and being in a management position is compounding that confusion and uncertainty. I would encourage OP to talk to their manager about this in a direct way, while emphasizing their desire to contribute meaningfully to this culture and still be an effective manager. Sounds like they need support, but I think it will eventually work out.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I came to say the same. I recently participated in an allyship workshop tackling a variety of nuanced DEI topics. Statements like that were used; they came from questions in pre-work where people were invited to write about their experiences in the workplace. They had to do with race, gender/gender identity, class, first language… and several were very confronting for me. But they weren’t articulated AT me, and they were also a good reminder that just because I try to be educated on DEI issues and act in allyship doesn’t mean people KNOW that the second they meet me.

    3. Generic Name*

      YES. A big component of allyship is making a good faith effort and owning it when your efforts fall short or you screw up.

    4. Claire*

      +1 to this comment. And the OP said upthread that they don’t actually know the context for the signs. I think they need to get curious and ask a colleague about the signs ASAP before more assumptions are made.

  27. A nonny nonny a mous*

    I am going incognito for this. I just wanted to say something about ERGS. I worked for a company that was very proud of its employee resource groups, and had quite a few of them. I worked at one of several production sites in the company, but was not at HQ. I joined an ERG because I was excited about being able to drive it on my site with the hourly team members who were also part of that ERGS audience. I was the site representative on its committee, and it felt like every time there was an event, or programming, or anything, I would say “Hey what about the hourly people at our sites who could really benefit from this” and they would be “Oh we don’t have the resources to do it at every site, so we are just doing it at HQ.”

    I don’t know if this is common in other organizations, but that was my experience.

    1. Chirpy*

      I’m pretty sure this is what my company does – plenty of resources for the headquarters/ corporate, useless crumbs for the hourly people at the actual stores, who can’t afford to pay for the resources on their own.

      * For example, I don’t need “health tips” like “get up from your desk and walk around”, I am not allowed to sit down at all during the day!! I need to get paid enough to afford good groceries, and a decent apartment…

  28. Ink*

    Oof, seeing these all lined up together really underscores how often vague platitudes take the place of specific goals, and how that can prevent people from actually getting things done. The questions for narrowing in on what’s actually relevant for your specific context are great

  29. AvoidingTokenism*

    The challenge I see with the answer to #2 is that the answers, even from reasons that Silverthorn names, reasonably might look like this:
    (1) Why are we doing this? So that we don’t look bad, whether to investors, customers, or prospective hires.
    (2) What does success look like? When we have hired enough people that our composition matches (or even leads!) industry benchmarks for diversity.

    This feels performative, superficial, and tokenizing – and yet is probably pretty close to the thought process most managers would give when pressed to answer the two questions Silverthorn proposes.

    1. Wintermute*

      This is a good point. a lot of companies really don’t care, they just see this as a box to check just like any compliance matter: they will be criticized if they don’t do it, so they do the bare minimum that legally (or in this case, socially, since there is no regulatory issue) counts.

      Changing that part is a good 80% of successful diversity. Making it everyone’s job not just the DEI officer, incorporated at a fundamental level into the decisionmaking process not just tacked on at the end, and making it something that people actually think about when making decisions.

  30. No way!*

    I’m going to have to disagree with Allison on Letter #1. If I found out my manager reported something I told them in confidence and actively asked them not to report, it would permanently damage our relationship.

    Unless it’s something you’ve seen firsthand, you need to respect your employee’s wishes regarding speaking out. Being a POC doesn’t mean she obligated to martyr herself for the greater good.

    1. Roland*

      Unfortunately, managers don’t get to ignore their legal responsibilities because you asked them to.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Then she could at least give the employee a heads up that she is legally required to report, and discuss ways to make the employee most comfortable.

  31. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Biracial (Asian & White) person here to comment on Letter # 2. OP, you wrote that:
    ” Another wrinkle is that two of three of the non-white-and-male employees are Asian, which isn’t even considered a racial minority in tech! ”

    Okaaay…so, after taking a couple of very deep breaths, I’d offer the following. True, people of Asian descent are not “considered a racial minority in tech” but please keep in mind that we are indeed “considered a racial minority” in the country at large. When a certain American president started referring to COVID-19 as the “kung flu” and made pointed comments about its origin in China, attacks on Asian-Americans skyrocketed. Many non-Asians here were shocked, SHOCKED at this – after all, weren’t we the “model minority” who kept our heads down and our noses to the grindstone – so why were Asians suddenly under attack?

    Know who WASN’T surprised at this exploding sewer pipe of hate crimes? Asian-Americans. We may not be a minority in certain fields, but believe me, we are indeed regarded as the “other” and are “othered” all. the. time. OP, please consider that this may be true in your company as well. It won’t manifest itself as openly as anti-Black racism, but don’t assume that because your colleagues aren’t hurling slurs such as “gook” and “chink” that anti-Asian prejudice doesn’t exist. Believe me, it does!

  32. LW1*

    LW1 here: Just wanted to thank Alison for posting and Michelle and commenters for your thoughtful feedback and the emotional labor that went into your responses. I’ll try to follow along in the comments and am happy to answer any questions you have. Thanks again!

  33. Raida*

    “It’s not the job of my coworkers to make me feel comfortable in this environment.”

    I’m sorry what? No mate, it should be expected that co-workers will make co-workers – especially new ones – feel comfortable in the working environment.
    It doesn’t matter that you’re White, or a Man, or a Manager – you don’t simply get the short end of the stick, especially when you’re in an environment that’s saying everyone should be treated with understanding and respect.
    You haven’t been given training? WTF, do they think that just group-think will get them through?

    Read all the code of conduct, read all the processes for complaints and performance management – maybe they are different to places you’ve worked before or maybe they are bog-standard and also don’t provide guidance or insight.

    Then… Talk to your manager. Tell them that with all of this so very visible and at front of mind you feel under prepared and without the tools required to perform your job well.
    They are somewhat responsible for your performance, so tell them what you need.

    Have regular one on one meetings with your staff, if you aren’t already, and ask each of them if they’d like to include in these regular catch ups how they’re feeling about the workplace. Not everyone will, and some people (not all!) will arc up at the idea *they* need to explain to the White Guy their physical appearance or cultural background. But you can ask them, and ask them if they suggest any particular podcasts, books, articles, online training that they felt was really good at covering their perspective or experience.
    Also, after that, get on with your job – figure out how each person likes to be managed. What are their thoughts on the efficacy of meetings in your area? What do they need and want in a manager? Ideas on options for a team lunch. Is there anything they’d like sent up the chain? Red tape you could look into and see *if* there’s wiggle room to streamline it?

    By treating all of your staff like professionals, and encouraging them to give you feedback in these regular catch ups, you’re more likely to get fair warning if you’ve stepped on someone’s toes and correct course/confirm they understand what’s happened from a strategic perspective or performance management perspective or staff feeling comfortable perspective.

    I don’t think your business wants to create an environment where staff feel uncomfortable or where staff use their skin colour to attack others that don’t agree with them.
    So on that basis – tell your manager that the business hasn’t onboarded you sufficiently, talk to your staff, and do both after looking up the business’ own charter, code of conduct, HR processes.

    And honestly – you *should* have done this sooner. Just being uncomfortable isn’t a good reason for a manager to not do their job. That’s just a bad manager. So own that, when discussing with your boss. But also be honest about the business not providing the onboarding necessary for you to feel supported in performing your job as a manager, leading to you floundering and feeling that you can’t ask questions.
    If you were telling me this, like, two weeks into the job I’d give you the same advice – treat everyone as professionals and specifically request appropriate onboarding to the culture. Have regular meetings with your staff to just be a good manager.


      I am going to give a little pushback on this. It kind of does matter if you are of higher status vs lower status in terms of how all this works. One thing I suggest is to do most of the research on your own; I always wonder does Google, libraries, newspapers, etc. not work for these people? My sister, an HR executive, had to deal with endless horrible questions interrogating questions from guilty colleagues during the BLM protests. I described her as the “Racial Sherpa” since these people expected her to carry the “mountain”.
      It is important to remember that we have different viewpoints. I worked in a laboratory that was prone to attracting the unbalanced. One day, I was eating lunch in our lab’s lunchroom and a man asked me if we worked on our particular subject. I told him we did but we don’t have any medical interactions with public. He wandered away and left our floor. My boss asked me why I didn’t call the campus police. I explained that he was calm and it was pretty much a non event. I realize for her that any unbalanced man could potentially be a threat. For me, as a Black man who has dealt with the same campus system police from the time I was an undergrad, through grad school, and through most of my employment, frankly I am more scared of the campus police. My late father, a policeman and detective, would always remind me that the police are not my police in his version of the Talk. Both of our views are valid.
      So I would remind everyone that your employees are not your personal Wikipedia so it is incumbent on you to learn how to be polite and realize cultural and societal differentials of power.

      1. An Honest Nudibranch*

        Ya – I do think it’s very worth doing at least some research on your own, first. If you have questions or need clarification after doing your own research on how these concepts interact with your specific job (and you very well might!), I do think it’s reasonable to direct those questions to your manager or to your HR – making sure you have what you need to do *your* job is part of their job, and they get compensated for that work.

        But I’d be wary of asking your employees for educational resources. There’s a power dynamic there, and they might not feel comfortable saying no the way someone above you would. And also, it likely wouldn’t be considered billable hours for them, which is a problem. It’s one thing to express openness to if people have suggestions off the top of their heads, but asking for them, as a manager they don’t know well yet, could come across as “you must do extra work for me to take this seriously” even if you don’t mean it to.

  34. Lorgar*

    I appreciated the response to LW3 here. I have bad anxiety that will manifest as a belief that my presence hurts people. I moved to a workplace with more of a focus on DEI than I’m used to and a combination of that, new workplace jitters, and an issue with medication caused me to become erratic and start thinking the exact same things LW3 talked about in their letter. There’s lots of good suggestions for what people should do, but the most useful thing was taking the time to break down where those feelings were coming from and what the underlying source was. Each thing needed a different response and actions on my part, from addressing irrational thinking with my therapist to finding resources to read on my own so I could address my own feelings once the anxiety subsided.

    In the meantime, while I took care of my own feelings, the suggestions above about asking questions and uplifting other voices helped – it showed that I was genuinely interested in the needs of others and gave me valuable information about how others spoke about their thoughts. Something about knowing how others think about the world and process things helps me think more complexly about others, which led to feeling less frightened about being a burden or about feeling out of place while I learned to be a better ally.

  35. Zarniwoop*

    “Is there anything I’m missing?”
    “What are leaders hoping to get out of these groups?”
    To be able to claim they’re doing something
    “I would love any suggestions you have.”
    Don’t waste your time.

  36. DJ Abbott*

    Re #1, I’m white and I would not be comfortable with problematic discussions of race at work either. I would be looking for a job in a more peaceful and collaborative office.
    IMHO discussions of race have no place at work, unless the work is actually about race relations. Especially in these times, when everyone is so polarized it escalates instantly. I can only imagine what the culture is like at a place that tolerates this.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      Thought experiment here: Imagine a call center, with a gender-mixed staff. On the whole, women tend to get yelled at and verbally abused by customers more often than men, because that’s how far too many people treat women in customer service roles, especially when they’re frustrated. Would you agree that it’s appropriate to have discussions about gender in this workplace, both practical discussions of strategies, and attempts to support the women, who are dealing with a more unpleasant and aggressive workplace than their male peers (and, very possibly, receiving customer pushback in a way that makes it more difficult for them to meet their metrics)?

      I hope that that above scenario seems plausible to you, and that talking about gender in that context seems appropriate.

      This is happening to racial minories, in most workplaces. Even if they don’t work customer-facing roles, they frequently experience slightly more friction among their colleagues than their white peers. Most workplaces are (unintentionally. probably unintentionally) designed as institutions to meet the needs of white people. To tell the racial minorities, “Discussions of race have no place in the workplace” is the equivalent of telling the women in the call center, “This isn’t a problem and you aren’t allowed to talk about it.”

  37. LW2*

    I really appreciate Alison and Michelle’s response to my question! I think I knew that at some level, leadership probably doesn’t care enough about diversity for the team to look the way it does, but the framework around how to sell it as something worth investing in is super helpful.

    I didn’t realize that there’d be a kerfuffle around being Asian in tech – I personally believe there is enough of a difference in representation for Asian (and in this case, pretty well represented Asian ethnicities) and other racial minority groups to make the distinction. If it helps, I’m coming from the perspective of (the sole) Asian woman, but I do recognize how it comes off.

    Regardless, thanks for the advice in the comments – your perspectives are very helpful for me!

  38. ToS*

    I just finished Barnard Woods memoir Inheritance, and while his youth was tough to read, the genealogy part onward was really trying to show by lived example, of working toward being better as a white person in a diverse, post-colonial, post-slavery country.

  39. boof*

    LW1: commenters and (if reading) advisors please feel free to correct me, but I actually think maybe you do need to make it a bit more about you. Meaning, yes, the ultimate goal is for your employee to have a safe and welcoming environment, and you need to keep your eyes on the prize, BUT putting it all on your employee to decide what’s worth escalating is not really doing that. Do the comments and things you see upset YOU? You are their manager, and I think you are allowed to step in and get a little offended when you see your employee being undermined.
    What you should do depends a lot on what you are seeing. Maybe it’s introducing and emphasizing their title/role, and correcting anyone who assigns them something lesser. Maybe it’s amplifying their ideas “yes I like [my employee’s] idea, let’s hear more from them about how to implement this” if they are getting sidelined/ignored. But if you hear anything overt, or are hearing repeated “microaggressions” from the same person, then I think you have a duty to decide YOU think the way your employee is being treated is unacceptable and take that weight off their shoulders. Yes check in with them, but it should more be like “I saw what Y did and I didn’t like it, I plan to report it to HR, but wanted to give you a heads up.” Also try to speak up in the moment too “woah, that’s out of line” etc. If it is. (please anyone feel free to tell me if this is too much but I think from letters past managers have to be a little more proactive than putting the onus on their employee to report to HR if they are also actively observing problems)

  40. CommanderBanana*

    I realize I’m super late to the comments here, but re: the experience of not wanting to report something: I totally get it. I’m not saying I disagree with Alison’s advice, because you wrote to her and your direct report didn’t, but I was assaulted at a work event but an association member and, in accordance with my organization’s policies, reported it. I was then lied to about whether the organization would actually follow it’s own stated zero tolerance policy by banning that member from future events.

    I was pulled off of an event I had worked on annually for several years, retaliated against by having chunks of my job taken away and given to someone else, and then put on a PIP (after 6+ years of consistently excellent performance evaluations) because the organization was trying to force me to quit rather than follow their own policy.

    All this is to say, I absolutely understand why your direct report does not want to escalate this. Had I known what would happen to me for following my former organization’s own policies, I wouldn’t have bothered following it.

  41. Anonymous For Now*

    If I were LW3, I would figure that they hired me because they wanted People of Color to be able to give a White person a bad time without repercussions as a sort of payback for whatever they had gone through in their lives/work lives.

    Those signs are a real giveaway as to what this is really about. It’s not about being progressive. Unlike all the nonsense about how teaching CRT is to make White people feel bad, the point of such signs is to make White people feel bad.

    I suggest that this White manager leave as soon as she [I’m guessing the LW is female because of the use of the word “terror”] can get another job and when asked, simply say it wasn’t a good fit.

    1. An Honest Nudibranch*

      . . . Is the point of those signs “to make white people feel bad,” though? Like, if it was slightly relabeled “common racial microaggressions that happen in the workplace,” would it still be taken as proof it’s just a cover to attack people? Would you feel the same way about it if they were about a different -ism (“man-splaining, sexual harassment, assuming women should take notes and make coffee, taking credit for a woman’s work”)?

      Like, what you’re saying here does sound an awful lot like how people talk about “CRT is just supposed to make white people feel guilty” – it’s interpreting general statements about how racism manifests in workplaces as a direct insult. It’s hearing comments on specific racist behaviors that people have experienced as a call to discriminate against white people or claim white people are intrinsically bad. Have you considered that, perhaps, the point is “hey this happens to me and you might not see it”? Or “sometimes people do this unintentionally but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause damage, so be mindful of it”?

      By the reactions in this comment section, you’d think the signs said “All white people are terrible heartless monsters” or something. Is it the fact they didn’t explicitly emphasize “but not literally every white person” that’s riling people up so much?

      Like, to be clear: if someone went out of their way to direct this *at the letter writer*, like say, if it was purchased after they got hired and intentionally placed only in their specific office, that would indeed be a problem. But from what’s described. . . I really am wondering if it was leftover from a workshop or something asking people to describe their experiences with racial bias, and they didn’t think through the optics when LW got hired.

Comments are closed.