Remain Silent, We’re All Complicit

None of us can remain silent.

I work in Diversity and Inclusion and have conducted Unconscious Bias workshops for over a decade. Some things have changed and some remain the same. I’m concerned we’ve avoided the hard work of actual inclusion. There’s definitely been progress for women in the workplace, but focusing on one area of diversity, gender equity, while remaining overly silent about racial equity, is problematic, at a minimum. We must refuse to choose, instead, promoting and working to ensure both are addressed.

After watching the stories in the US unfold, I can’t remain silent. Who can? Collectively we must now address the simmering issues of workplace inequality, moving beyond talk to action.

Let’s look at racialized realities in two industries: tech and banking.

Among 8 of the largest U.S. tech companies, the portion of black workers in technical jobs rose from 2.5 percent in 2014 to 3.1 percent in 2017.”

At JPMorgan Chase, Women and African Americans respectively made up 25.8 percent and 2.9 percent of senior executives in 2015. That rose to 26.3 percent and 3.7 percent in 2018.”

It’s not hard to see there’s been a greater focus on gender diversity than on racial inclusion in corporate governance. As of 2019, women hold a seat at every single S&P 500 company! While we can rightly celebrate no more all-male boards, here’s another statistic: In 2019, 37% of S&P 500 companies had not one single black board member. Some may say the tide is changing. After all, Facebook, Alphabet, and HP have two African Americans on their boards. However, a wholesale change in board diversity has lagged. As we tackle systemic racism, we must also address how both gender and race intersect to empower or disempower people.

If we really value diversity, let’s ramp up the conversation on race and racism, remembering that race is also gendered. Remain silent, we’re all complicit.

We’ve been hearing and reading how large corporations and CEO’s are speaking out against racism. Generous donations, passionate pleas for change, and commitments to acknowledge and responsibly use privilege are undoubtedly heartfelt, and great to see. This week alone, US firms donated $450 million to Civil Rights organizations. Dialogue and donations are absolutely vital, but more is needed to make a tangible difference.

Real change requires all of us to take a stand and commit to racial equality in the workplace.

What can we do now to make things truly better? First, let’s educate ourselves. We can start here:

This data doesn’t lie. The figures have not substantially changed in years. What needs to change? Looking at recruitment, the bias chain often begins with a preference for one school over another. Janice Gassam Ph.D. calls it Heterogeneous Sourcing, companies recruit from the same schools, which produces the same results — homogenous candidates.

Bias training challenges our thinking but hasn’t erased this indelible problem of racial inequality. As Mellody Hobson, president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, shared last week ‘’ ’Working’ on diversity is unacceptable. We must hold ourselves accountable, set targets like we set targets on everything else.”

Targets, KPI’s, and measurable goals; manage what you measure. If organizations are going to visibly be “standing in solidarity with the Black communities,’’ then it’s time to change the trajectory and commit to concrete outcomes.

More Diversity and Inclusion training is not the answer. Action is what’s needed right now.

Action means staring straight into the communities where we work and being clear about the gaps and agree on actions required to steer a new course. For organizations, this means changing hiring practices. For individuals, this requires using our voices and [pointedly] calling out systemic racism. Change begins when we collectively invest in the communities that use any corporate product or service.

Reflecting on the current situation, I pulled on research and practical experience in Diversity and Inclusion, suggesting steps for measurable change. Eleven practical steps we can start today:

Re-evaluate Recruitment

1. Overhaul hiring practices. Crunch the numbers again to get more accurate data on the diversity mix and recruiting pipeline.

2. Establish targets for internal and external Talent Acquisition teams. Demand diverse slates of candidates. If there isn’t one, push back and start again.

3. Move beyond the checklist. Review the ‘candidate experience’ and assess how candidates are treated in the interviewing process.

4. Ignore the myths about the pipeline problem. In the past two decades, the percentage of underrepresented minority women earning Science and Engineering degrees has more than doubled at the Master’s and Doctoral levels.

Recharge Employee Experience

5. Re-examine the on-boarding process. Develop a robust, tailored onboarding plan. Not a soulless presentation with charts, but a series of conversations, connecting new employees to formal and informal networks. Put the same investment in on-boarding as in recruiting, and retain more than twice the talent.

6. Embed bias awareness across employee life-cycles before a recruitment drive, performance reviews, and talent discussions. This is where training investments deliver results. Measure it!

7. Fix the pay gap. CIO Research shows that besides the problem of under-representation, tech professionals of color lag behind ‘equal pay for equal work’, regardless of gender. Hired’s 2019 salary research shows that black tech employees earn $13k less than their Asian counterparts and $5k less than their white colleagues. This is not only a tech issue. The black-white wage gaps today are larger than in the late 1970s. Comparing the average hourly wages of white men with the same education and experience, black men make 22.0 percent less; black women make 34.2 percent less.

Reengage the community

8. Bridge your talent gap. Expand your search to professional networks, Code2040, university alumni networks, and organizations helping college students achieve success, College Possible, and Achieve.

9. Learn from others. Take a page from Thoughtworks, a global software consultancy, empowering communities in tech. Discover talent within organizations and potential hires who’ve been overlooked. Thoughtworks calls this talent rediscovery, taking a deeper dive into resumes within an organizations’ applicant tracking systems.

10. Invest in the communities served. Employee Resource Groups reflect new generations and intersections in the workforce, as 45% focus on outreach now would be the time to connect with community schools. Organizations must have better peripheral vision, not just straight ahead. As US schools rank 36th out of 39 countries in math, offer mentorships, guidance, and support.

11. Pay it forward. Join forces with Donors Choice or Scholarship America. Don’t stop there. Ask what else can be done to change the trajectory of a student’s life?

We all know the challenges of returning to work (or not) after Covid-19, but there must now be more laser-like focus on rearranging corporate Diversity and Inclusion actions.

This is a pivotal moment. The global protests are a clear sign of unity against embedded racial inequality. The outpouring of corporate giving and testimonials is, of course, commendable and to be applauded.

But it’s not enough. Not today. This is not a fleeting moment. No longer can any of us sit on the sidelines and remain silent. No longer.

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A huge thank you to Hayden Majajas, Dr. Staci Ford, and Irene Tsang for your insights, wisdom, and time.

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