It’s Black History Month! And I’m going to talk about race and diversity in the workplace. A lot.
Because regardless of the progress made, there is still much work to be done. In fact, I think that’s what Black History Month is all about — measuring how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. And we should take a moment to give a damn about it. ALL of us.
There are still parts of the US where people can go through the activities of their day and never encounter a person of color. Even in 2012! I can’t imagine what that must feel like. Probably because I spend most of my days fully aware of my Blackness and the non-Blackness of those around me. And I don’t think that will change. I don’t think that should change. It matters. It is something that must be acknowledged, accepted and respected. Without this, diversity and any initiative toward that end is a myth and a joke and a figment of our imagination. Because diversity isn’t about not seeing our differences — it’s about looking our differences in the proverbial eye, discussing the differences, debating the differences, using the differences to fuel us to greater level of achievement and greater understanding so we can truly appreciate each other.
Instead, it seems we’ve lost perspective on what constitutes diversity. It has become a tool to exclude rather than include. Instead of focusing on ensuring varied perspectives of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and physical ability, we hide behind geography and socio-economics and even political ideology as equaling diversity. And while these things are a part of diversity, they aren’t the real deal, nitty-gritty of what diversity is about. When you stand people side by side, you can’t generally tell what region of the country they are from or their socio-economic standing or their political views. But race is always there. It can’t be disguised or hidden. It demands acknowledgement. Sincere and well-meaning acknowledgement.
Because failing to acknowledge it only leads to misunderstandings which hurt productivity and the bottom line. Don’t believe me? Check the stats on the number of discrimination claims filed at the EEOC last year. There are hundreds of thousands of employers who got caught up in claims because somewhere along the line their strategy or lack of strategy for handling race in the workplace caught up to them. And the numbers will likely be greater this year. We can try to palm off these stats on the economy and high unemployment rate, but the reality is there’s a lack of committment to true diversity and, until that changes, the problems will persist.
So instead of scheduling another potluck luncheon at the end of the month where employees gorge themselves on hamhocks, collards and marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes (more on that later this month), schedule some time to take a look at race and diversity in your workplace. Your screening and selection. Your training and development programs. Your promotion practices. Your employee relations processes. Are these things designed to achieve diversity? And if they are designed that way, are they succeeding at it? And if they aren’t succeeding, what are you going to do about it?
Brother, can you spare a damn?