Diversity and Inclusion in My Eyes and in the Eyes of My Children

Ask any HR professional and they will tell you that “diversity and inclusion” as we like to call it is trending in our world.   In fact, Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends Report points to this rule of work by emphasizing that,

Leading organizations now see diversity and inclusion as a comprehensive strategy woven into every aspect of the talent life cycle to enhance employee engagement, improve brand, and drive performance. The era of diversity as a ‘check the box’ initiative owned by HR is over.”

The issue is so big, its no longer just HR’s job.

But as business professionals, we can read and hear about diversity and inclusion and the best practices out there until we are blue the face.   And we can talk about it ad nauseam seeking ways to implement tactics to eliminate bias and select and retain diverse talent pools.  In fact, I spent no less than 30 minutes yesterday on the phone with a client examining the idiosyncrasies that relate to diversity and inclusion in formulating strong hiring processes and practices, and the purpose of our call was on their employee handbook!

But, as distant past and not-so-distant-past personal experiences remind me, you’ve got to look inward and be honest to tackle the topic effectively.

My first personal observation comes from giving a presentation over five years ago on “Recruiting and Retaining the Best”.  In the presentation, I displayed a slide with a picture of pretty and sweet country singer side by side with a tough rapper.   The country singer happened to be a white female, the rapper happened to be a black male.   I displayed the slide to point to the fact that you need to know your work culture and then select people who fit in with your culture.

I didn’t mean to imply that one of the singers was better than the other, just that one might be best for one environment, and one might be better for another. But apparently to my audience, I conveyed that you needed to screen the black rapper with the tattoos out. Hire the pretty white girl I must have implied, because that same day I got a call from the person putting on the workshop who told me that a person in the audience (who happened to be a black male) was offended.

Given that the person who called me happened to be a black female and actually knows me, she assured me that she told him I in no way was a bigot and did not mean to imply anything racially motivated.  I thanked her, but obviously the offense I caused still sticks with me five years later.  Can I ever get diversity and inclusion right as a practitioner if, potentially, I have unconscious biases that play out in my speaking especially when someone else saw it as conscious and deliberate?

Fast forward to last weekend.  We are all in the car as a family and the topic comes up as to why our almost three year old has so many princess dolls.  (I’ll blame it on grandparents, as I do her endless collection of purses as well.) Our six year old then chimes in naming the princesses she has.  “She’s got Elsa and Belle and Ariel and Cinderella he says…” then he stops for a second and says, “Mom, why doesn’t Paige have any darker princesses?”

What is a mom to say?  I think I responded with something along the lines of,  “A darker princess would be nice to get, racking my brain trying to come up with a “darker” one.   I said, “How about the one from The Princess and the Frog?”  I didn’t even know the “darker” one’s name.  Before my kids could respond, they were on to talking about something else.

But I was still stuck on my obvious need to do some reflection on my worldview and how I tout myself as an open-minded and inclusive person. Who am I to give anyone advice on how to create a diverse and inclusive workplace? Our toy shelf isn’t even diverse.

In fact, culturally our stores aren’t diverse and our movies aren’t diverse.  There seems to be only one “darker” princess present in a slew of mostly white blonds, just like the pretty country singer in my presentation slide. No wonder we struggle with diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

But as I walk through Target a few days later, I tell my son to go pick out a birthday present for his sister. He runs towards the toy section excited to take a detour from the bottled water and toilet paper we were there to buy.

I catch up with him, thinking this is going to take forever, but yet he comes straight back to meet me, and without a word, drops her present in the cart. The Princess and the Frog Princess, Tiana, is what he has chosen for his sister’s third birthday present.

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These personal examples point to only one area of diversity, and that is of race. There are so many more areas of diversity I could discuss, in both specific and generic terms. I echo Deliotte’s report stating that, “Diversity is defined in a broader context, including contexts of ‘diversity of thought’, also addressing people with autism and other cognitive differences.” Too often we boil diversity and inclusion down to something far narrower than it should be.

And I could also wrap up this post with a list of ways to try to overcome unconscious bias or how to create a diversity and inclusion program at your place of work (and mine).

But maybe the first step in thinking about diversity and inclusion is to look in the mirror and be self-aware. We need to be honest about how the environments we have grown up in and quite possibly still work in, shape us to think and decide in ways that we may not even be aware of.  And then and only then, once we are honest with ourselves and vocalize that honesty to others are we are aware enough to change our course.

I need my six year old to remind and help me learn that diversity and inclusion starts quite simply with being aware of when we’re off the mark and buying the right doll (or hiring/promoting the right person) to begin to fix it.

 

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Mary Ila Ward

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