Diversity is not enough… we need a new word to describe our need for togetherness and belonging.
“Hey, Jon, the LLC Patrol is on line 1.” “What are they inquiring about, Julia?” “They want to know how diverse we are as a company?” “Are you kidding me?” Jon takes count of the Black Indigenous People of Color he sees in the department. “We have four black women at the register right now, like, we’re good.”
Diversity is not enough! Why does Jon think counting the presence of black individuals suffice as being a diverse organization? How often have we seen black women at registers, as nannies, or as nurses? The word diversity in the workplace has been present for 30+ years, and it can be triggering. I want to explain why and the need for better inclusive Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and then suggest some alternative strategies.
Diversity from a gay black man’s perspective sounds like a KPI used to count how many BIPOC are present. I’m thankful we are having conversations about inclusion, belonging, and cultural awareness because diversity is not enough in the workplace. I am currently transitioning back into the tech industry from non-profit management. And from my experience working in NYC’s retail industry, companies were eager to hire POC to fill certain positions (such as cashiers, guest room attendants, and assistants), however, would not develop them to gain more in the company compared to their white colleagues. When I asked an HR Director why this was so common in one of the organizations, I was told they “haven’t been trained” or “[said company] didn’t know it was happening” and that was the point. POC are seen so commonly as lower-class employees in businesses.
I was wearing a suit one day and got on the elevator, the next floor a young white lady got on. She immediately assumed I was a bell hopper or chauffeur and asked that I take her down. I was in a suit, but the building was not staffed with doormen. We must not keep putting our POC in positions that “fit their personality” but that will elevate and build equity in their lives. Diversity in the workplace should not be something that is just counted for a quota or goal however diversity should be coupled with something of inclusivity, culture awareness, and equity. We need a new word for diversity.
The word diversity is triggering for me as a black gay man because I have seen too many times in multiple industries where black people are there to fill and meet quotas and not hired to have a voice or be represented. I believe that the word diversity is also now being seen as a “sweet word”, like a façade for the public to make it seem as if you stand for inclusion in your organization. When I began doing this work over a year ago, I was not sure what my company had in-store for radical change. After a few months, it was clear that implementing a DEI committee was just a pacifier for POC who wanted to vent. A few members, including myself, had follow-up conversations with directors about what was expressed in the group and the need for action in the organization. And so it began.
- I started using survey tools to measure the temperature of the morale and assigning groups that paired different people from different backgrounds together on projects.
- I started creating policies and program material that reflects the POC internally and brought a sense of belonging to the meeting rooms.
Companies must be willing to roll up the sleeves and play in the mud a little.
Not asking for all organizations to dive in headfirst and mud-wrestle, yet stick your hands in and get a little dirty and get facts about your employees.
- Survey and acknowledge where your employees of color have been integrated and not included.
- Survey and acknowledge where the employees of systemic power are not open to change or willing to share equity and common language.
- Implement new policies and procedures that include transparency to all employees in the organization.
- Invite employees of color to sit at the table of decision-making for the expansion of new markets and relationships.
- And invest and build better opportunities for the employees of color.
These can all be real outcomes with the right strategies. One strategy may be to release the word diversity from training and use direct language instead, such as unity. Using words like unity instead of diversity gives everyone a new perspective on what diversity could become in the workplace. For example,
“Are we (united) diverse as a company?”
Strategies for making the workplace inclusive and cultured will look different depending on where companies are in their awareness. I believe it will take a clear understanding of the dynamic dichotomies that are present in the workplace and new processes and language that build unity and not just highlight it. Strategies will include the voices of top management officials down to entry-level positions and should increase awareness around the work your company is doing to make dynamic dichotomies productive and fulfilling for everyone. Strategies should foster new behaviors by using common language and facts, such as setting group agreements before meetings so that everyone in the room has an opportunity for growth and unity. This method allows for everyone to have a voice and state an agreement that everyone can respect, increasing unity and understanding with the person sharing.
We are reshaping organizations and realigning communities, and I love doing this work! This process is fun and engaging for me and maybe for you as well. Not every employee or staff member in your organization will find this work to be fun and worth the time, and we want to be mindful of those opinions because it can be those same employees’ opinions that are causing a divide. After all, diversity is not enough!