Diversity Matters

Diversity matters. Period.

Imagine being the only white person sitting in a crowded boardroom, courtroom or classroom and hearing a black person of authority, in a self-assured manner, shout out "We value diversity from every corner in this room..."

Chances are you might pick up on the notion that diversity might be defined differently than what you expected.

Too often I'm in a crowded room or banquet hall where scores of organizations are represented but I'm the only black communications/public relations professional present or invited.

And too often I hear speakers dote on how "diverse" they are-- clinging to the fact that they have people in their organizations working in advertising, product launch, financial communications, automotive and other areas.

But the one thing many of these professionals have in common is that the people they're referring to are almost always. Overwhelmingly. White.

As the Red Cross debacle shows us, organizations can't afford to define diversity solely by geographic region, skill set or some other measure that forgets about the influence race and ethnicity has on an organization's performance. That influence is real.

Race and ethnicity are woven into the fabric of our American society.

For the Red Cross' communications staff not to notice that all of the white patrons are described as 'cool' while all of the patrons of color are described as 'not cool' might not adversely affect a white child's self esteem because it promotes a positive attribute about the racial group to which he/she belongs.

The picture promotes a perception that "white is right" while people of color, who engage in mischief are wrong or as the picture points out: "not cool."

What do you say to the white children who, after seeing another depiction of people of color doing wrong, ask "Do brown people always do bad things?"

What about, to a child of color who sees this and asks: "Why aren't any of the people who look like me doing nice things?"

How can you explain the nuances of a naive communications team?

This picture rips at the sense of self for a child of color because it attributes a negative connotation to the group for which he/she belongs.

This is what media stereotypes, media bias, cultural bias, cultural insensitivity, cultural etc. etc. etc. looks like. But where does the lack of cultural awareness come from?

Answer: The organization. And the organization's hiring practices.

Organizations' diversity hiring, promoting and retention practices often cower behind lofty statements claiming to "value diversity" or how hiring is "without regard to race, gender, ethnicity... etc etc" But peeling back the statements to look inside many organizations, you hardly see racial diversity.

LinkedIn, social media and often a company's own "Meet the Team" page expose organizations that boldly showcase homogeneity in their staff.

The irony between what organizations say and what their people do, lands on you like a ton of bricks, for perceptive observers.

The absence of a culture at the Red Cross that hires, trains, invests in and promotes talented people of color--an employment practice once buried in the dark-- in one fell swoop became evident before a national audience.

I wanted to get a sample of what diversity looks like on Red Cross' communications staff, so I went to LinkedIn. I entered "communications" for the keyword and "Red Cross" for the company.

After sifting through more than 10 pages of LinkedIn profiles, I found two minorities out of more than 100 people who did not appear to be minorities.

I discovered a minority, who appeared to be a black male, who worked in 'field communications.' Admittedly, I'm not sure what that means but it was an outlier. Other profiles contained titles with: manager, vice president, communications specialist, intern, chief communications officer, director, etc.

The Red Cross' hiring practices are different from their promotional material. The American Red Cross' homepage dotes a picture of a young black female. Meanwhile, black males and other underrepresented minorities appear lavishly in the Red Cross' promotional material.

WHY THE DISSONANCE BETWEEN PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL & HIRING PRACTICES?

Because our organizations remain willfully and blissfully unaware of how bias at individual levels escalate and permeate across their organizations-- especially through their cultures.

I'm concerned that the lovely kids the Red Cross dotes don't stand a chance at landing jobs at the Red Cross when they become of age. If a sampling of LinkedIn pages, and current hiring practices is any indicator, the answer seems pretty clear.

Despite a lack of diversity in the American Red Cross' communications team, I believe them when they state that it wasn't their intent to convey a racist message.

But I also believe they didn't make a good enough effort toward taking action to see to it that messages are culturally sensitive and that their organization becomes conscious of race.

Instead, the Red Cross accepted, on face value, the often feigned buzzwords of "diversity & inclusion" that have become too cliche in our organizational lexicon.

The research shows diverse teams that include its people of color would've probably noticed this long before network TV stations and newspapers brought it to the nation's attention.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Will thought leaders and media outlets grapple with the root causes that led to the Red Cross publishing this controversial picture or will they simply drive foot traffic with fodder from the effects?

Will organizations realize that they too can suffer from such unsophistication? Or will they do something? Do something to prevent these and like situations from happening again?

WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION:

(1) Believe that better decisions come through diversity

(2) Tie Diversity to Performance evaluations & Incentives

(3) Lift the veil of ignorance and discover enlightenment. Remove over-reliance on qualitative barriers, like "cultural fit" that tend to exclude certain groups while welcoming the ole boys club. The tension at your organization will prove beneficial to your bottom-line results.

(4) Integrate diverse candidates that aren't so "cookie cutter" --candidates who have experiences other than always being the only minority in their community, classrooms and volunteer organizations. More specifically, if the minority reminds you of Tiger Woods or Carlton Banks from 90s sitcom, "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," then you're not likely benefiting from a truly diverse staff. The aforementioned hiring practice is counterproductive because it's a diverse perspective that causes greater performance results--not simply someone's skin color and/or gender.

Also, "NO COUNTING UP" for EEOC purposes

(ie: gay + Hispanic + woman= three boxes we can check).

(5) Supplement traditional outreach efforts-- word of mouth, family, friends and referrals, etc. with more nontraditional outreach efforts. Create an internal group tasked with bringing in top talent and mentoring them both formally and informally-- and provide reverse mentoring for senior leadership with targeted minority groups.

(6) Search LinkedIn for diverse professionals.

(7) Enlighten your social media connections about employment opportunities--current and future within your organization

(8) Have your company sponsor and join minority professional organizations and send a group of non-minorities.

(9) If you're on a plane, at a social gathering or some online social network offering diverse groups of people, then inquire and don't be bashful to refer them to your company. It's literally that simple.

WHAT YOU CAN'T DO WITHIN YOUR ORGANIZATION

(1) Diversity numbers can't be glorified by having disproportionate numbers of nonprofessional minority staff in janitorial, secretarial and/or security positions.

That's just not good enough.

(2) Say you don't see race-- or even worse-- don't actually see race

(3) Remain silent on a lack of diversity at your organization

Few of us truly want to be left out. Let the Red Cross' communications mishap be a reminder that we all can strive to become more inclusive at our organizations and that there are tangible bottom line implications and justifications behind doing so.

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© 2018 by Benjamin B. Bowman 

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