Navigating Diversity Initiatives
Updated: Jul 8
I want to start by saying that I believe this year's racial injustice events were truly tragedies and I know that we have to work towards real change for the better. But as a white guy in 2020, I feel like I’ve just been cast as the supervillain in a movie, even though I auditioned to play the good guy! Everyone talks about white privilege. Nothing about my life feels particularly privileged. I had to work really hard in school to get into a good college so I could build a successful career.
I worked hard to get to where I am, pay off student loans and make a name for myself. I’m up for a promotion with my company at the end of the year—one I would normally feel pretty confident about. But lately my company has been rolling out plans and programs for diversity and inclusion and to “encourage greater diversity among upper management.” Now I think I’m likely to get passed up for the promotion in favor of one of my “more diverse” colleagues. Black, Hispanic, Asian, Female, LGBTQ.
So here’s my question for you: For all these companies focusing on “diversifying their workplace,” at the end of the day if they’re still making decisions based on the color of a person's skin - how is that a step in the right direction?
Thanks for your question. Congratulations on your hard work in getting you to where you are and your persistence.
To address your question, I’d like you to imagine the ways in which that journey might have been harder if you had been a person of color. For instance, research shows the ways the journey would have been harder because:
you would have been less likely to be hired, and
once hired, less likely to be given high-profile work,
you would be given fewer opportunities to interact with “higher ups,”
you would be less likely to receive mentoring and sponsorship, and
you would receive less compensation for the work you do compared to your white colleagues.
Research shows that your journey would also have been made harder in more subtle ways, such as:
people making negative assumptions about you (e.g., you only got the job because of the color of your skin, but you weren’t really up to the task),
giving your ideas less consideration,
challenging your authority more.
Outside the office, there are additional daily disadvantages, such as:
available taxis that pass you by to pick up a white passenger further down the street,
when entering a store, having an employee follow you around (because they assume you might steal something),
the inability to move freely in some neighborhoods without being the subject of suspicion, harassment, or being killed
the increased risk of being stopped by police simply because of the color of your skin.
Diversity initiatives are intended not to give people of other colors an advantage. Rather, the goal is to “level the playing field.” For instance, by ensuring that work opportunities that arise such as plum assignments or promotions, qualified people of color are deliberately made part of the candidate pool. Previously, the default actions may have been to give these opportunities to white people—men in particular. I encourage you to accept that they are in the candidate pool because they have the potential to do the job as well as you can. Biases may have prevented them from being in the pool previously; thus, extra efforts are made to encourage qualified people of color to join the pool. A diversity initiative means primarily that the pool is larger, and the company has an opportunity to bring new ideas and perspectives to be applied, not that you will automatically lose to a person less qualified.
In fact, qualified diverse candidates bring an understanding of the experience of people outside the norm, a diversity of life experience and perspective. That life experience and perspective, rather than the color of their skin (or some other aspect about them that makes them considered diverse candidates) may be that extra added value they bring to the workplace.
You may get the promotion, or you may not. Many of the candidates are likely qualified in their own ways. If you don’t get it, consider what you would tell yourself if you lost the role to a white man. If that were the case, would you assume it was because of the color of his skin? Or would you go immediately to the belief, as you have in this case, that he was promoted for reasons other than his competence?
Although it can be tempting to assume that if you don’t get the promotion it wasn’t because of something about you. But many companies will help you in your professional development and provide feedback about what skills and abilities you should develop to get to the next level.
Disclaimer: This question and response is provided for informational purposes only, and you should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this content. It is strongly recommended that you immediately seek legal or other professional advice if you believe you are experiencing a problem requiring professional assistance. Robin Rosenberg and Live in Their World, Inc. disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on Dear Robin content.
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