The world, as a sociological ecosystem, is complex. There are a lot of moving pieces to the great machine that makes up humanity. But make no mistake, diversity is an asset.
To simplify things, look at it this way: if society is a fabric, then the strings that hold it together are the people. Those strings come in all shapes, textures, and colors. With an infinite number of strings available to you, an infinite number of possibilities open up.
But if you’re adamant about only sewing with grey cotton fabric (you’d have to learn to use those new patterns properly and that sounds like too much work) you’re going to wind up with a regiment of grey uniforms or napkins really only useful in the mildest of situations.
In less abstract terms, diversity can keep your company from falling into the black pit of homogeny. More diverse workplaces provide more opportunities for employees to nurture empathy and consciousness of other bubbles of the world around them.
So let’s get down to some of the biggest, most challenging roadblocks to true workplace diversity.
Disregard Everything We Said at the Beginning
All that stuff at the beginning? That’s what we call a hook.
But now that you bit, based on the positive results you’re bound to see within your company, the first thing we need to tell you is to forget about all that. A company that establishes true diversity shouldn’t be doing it to check a box, or for better end of year numbers.
A company that reaches for true diversity should do it because it’s the right thing -- because people in marginalized groups are too often undeservedly locked out of important meetings and decision-making.
If you want to make true diversity genuinely work in your company, you’re going to have to genuinely want your diverse employees to succeed.
The harder to swallow bit of this story is that you’ll also have to do a little bit of self-work to recognize your own internal racism. Everyone has it. It’s only through conscious effort and training that we’re able to remove the cultural biases and stigmas that we’ve learned all our lives.
But if we can successfully approach diversity from a humanist and moral standpoint, we’ll begin to see many of the complications fall away.
Be Fearless in Discussing Bigotry
This one is an important step. A lot of people are afraid to talk about bigotry in the workplace, let alone call it “racism” or “homophobia” outright, even if it happens right in front of them. You’ll notice newscasters are excellent gymnasts when it comes to avoiding these terms, often opting for coded terms such as “racially tinged language” and “politically incorrect behavior.”
This type of softened language has dug its roots into our HR vernacular, and it’s easy to let it happen without noticing. Often, well-meaning HR staff are desperate to deescalate the situation with the softest language possible, so that they can appear as impartial as possible.
The thing is, we all know that “racially tinged language” means someone was throwing slurs around the room. We all know that politically incorrect behavior is a euphemism for “harassment.”
The distinction is important. To understand why, you have to understand the function of speech as an action. Author and dialogue coach Robert McKee says this in his instructional manual Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen:
“To say something is to do something, and for that reason, I have expanded my redefinition of dialogue to name any and all words said by a character […]as an action taken to satisfy a need or desire.”
All speech, whether we consciously intend it or not, is a fulfillment of an action.
Now let’s look at our hypothetical scenario. Hypothetical-HR-Manager is approached by Hypothetical-Employee, who was called a racist slur by Hypothetical-Co-Worker. When Hypothetical-HR-Manager changes the word “racism” to “racially tinged language” what action is being taken?
Hypothetical-HR-Manager is subtly softening -- siphoning out the importance of -- the workplace harassment that just occurred. This technique is absolutely valid when two employees are unreasonably upset over something small. But it is not unreasonable for an employee to be upset over racism in the workplace.
Additionally, this redirect of language informs the offending employee that his or her behavior wasn’t as bad as it was initially made out to be. The victim of the harassment will likely feel embarrassed, upset, and angry -- not only with the offending employee, but with the institution that protects his actions.
This example is just one of the ways marginalized communities are frequently undermined in the workplace when we’re afraid that race is too much a hot-button topic. Conversely, a truly diverse workplace will stare down racism (and other forms of bigotry such as homophobia and transphobia) in both its institutional and interpersonal forms. It will be unafraid to confront the wrongdoings and stand for the humanity of its workers. It will not flinch at hurt feelings of employees who choose to engage in racist or bigoted behaviors against other employees.
Racism is one of the biggest monsters keeping any company from successfully employing a diverse workforce. It’s only by fighting it bravely and directly that you can defeat it.
Frustrating as it is, sugarcoating-racism isn’t rare. But black authors have been waiting to be heard on the topic for decades. If you’re interested in learning more, enhancing your ability to discuss racism in the workplace, and better yourself not only as a manager but as a human -- Robin DiAngelo has an excellent book on the topic.
Those of Diverse Backgrounds Will Have a Seat at Every Table
One of, if not the most essential step to building a truly diverse workforce is cultivating a truly equal sense of inclusion.
Tawny Newsome (Star Trek, Netflix’s Space Force) and Andrew Ti (Earwolf) talk frequently on their social diversity and inclusion podcast “Yo, Is This Racist?” (parental guidance, may contain strong language) about the need for minority groups in genuine creative roles and leadership positions.
This isn’t only because minorities deserve a seat at the table (they do). It’s also because, many an embarrassing gaff has occurred in the marketing department simply because not even one member of (insert minority group here) was around to check the work and tell the team they were being insensitive. For instance:
- In 2018, H&M printed some incredibly racist shirts and ads that literally anyone with a critical eye should have halted.
- Heineken pulled its “Lighter is Better” ad which some claimed had racist “subtext.” In viewing the ad, it seems the subtext was actually just text. Chance the Rapper talked about this one on Twitter, theorizing Heineken made the move on purpose to boost its views.
- Peloton lost $1.5 billion in value after a “dystopian” and “sexist” ad.
- In 2014, Ryders Eyewear ran a harsh transphobic ad that cost them sales and led to not one, but two separate apologies.
Almost all of these embarrassments could’ve been avoided if simply one member of the aggrieved minority group had been in a position of power to quality check the product. Imagine the damage that sort of embarrassment does not just to clientel, but to minorities who work for the offending company.
We’ve written a bit about the need to pair inclusion with diversity in our article here.
Let Complete Payroll Help You Manage Your HR Situation
Complete Payroll has all the information and processes you need to establish clear workplace guidelines, conduct investigations and handle these difficult cases. Visit our toolkit page here for more information, or read more about the process at our pillar page.