Was I Only Hired To Increase Diversity?
I started at a new company a year ago and I love my job. The culture is great, people
are friendly, the pay is good. I don’t really have anything to complain about. For
reference, I am a woman of color.
The other day, we had a team meeting phone call (not video) and at the end of the
meeting, after I said “goodbye,” right when I was about to hang up, I heard another
employee mention my name to our supervisor. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on their
private conversation but I heard my name so I kept listening. I heard the employee say
to my supervisor “With this whole push for diversity going on right now, it’s a good thing
[the owners] hired [my name] when they did. With her, they were able to kill two birds
with one stone...” My supervisor just said “yea” in response.
I know I wasn’t supposed to hear it in the first place, but I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s
not like anyone at work treats me differently, but this comment has me wondering if I
was only hired because I’m a woman (in a rather male-dominated company) and Latina.
Did the owners “settle” on me for the job because they felt they needed to increase their
diversity? The culture feels inclusive, and attempting to diversify their employee base is
a good thing. What do you think I should do in this situation?
I’m sorry this happened to you. It sounds as if there are several issues to address here. The first is to address questions about why you were hired. As Gracie Johnson-Lopez, President of Diversity and HR solutions has said, “no savvy business would hire a candidate who wasn't qualified for a job. It's simply too expensive a mistake.” Johnson-Lopez is addressing your question about whether the company “settled” by hiring you. A way of thinking about diversity in hiring is that the process seeks to eliminate (or more realistically, minimize) biases in the hiring process.
Organizations that value and promote inclusion and a heterogeneity of perspectives (i.e., diversity) understand the bonus of what such employees bring to the organization. Based on how you describe your experience there, it sounds as if your company may well be one of those organizations, Thus, it’s possible that your colleague was voicing recognition that because the company hired you—rather than another man—the company and your colleague have been able to benefit from new perspectives you may have as a woman, as someone of Latinx heritage, and as a unique individual. Each employee brings something to the table. Given your description of the demographic makeup of your colleagues, you bring added advantages.
It’s also possible that the colleague was mistakenly referencing your hire solely as a “diversity hire” for appearances. To Johnson-Lopez’s point, though, the company may not have hired you for that reason but your colleague may not realize that. However, it’s not your job to explain.
Another issue is what to do going forward. You may want to consider speaking with your supervisor—explaining how you came to overhear them—and ask for clarification about what was said. If the comment was, in fact, about diversity by the numbers, ideally your supervisor would volunteer to speak with your colleague, explaining why the company is against such a diversity-numbers policy but rather seeks qualified applicants who help the organization be better and perform better.
You can ask your supervisor to speak to your colleague if your supervisor doesn’t volunteer to do so. Although it isn’t your job to speak with your colleague directly, you may decide to speak to the colleague about what happened. This decision could depend on your relationship, how closely you work together, and your own inclinations. Addressing the comment and your questions about it, respectfully, and working it through together can increase trust between the two of you.
The bottom line is that if your colleague’s comment, and your supervisor’s “yea,” negatively affect your relationships at work, and continue to be on your mind, it’s best to address it and not let it fester. As Johnson-Lopez notes, “Know yourself and refuse to be shamed or to carry the burdens of others' stereotypes…Maintain your dignity, integrity, confidence and keep an open heart.”
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.