To See a Difference, Be the Difference!

Small steps for being more inclusive

With all the significant media attention, it would be hard to miss the current conversations about racial injustice in our world. You may be thinking about what you can do to positively contribute to the solution (inclusion) yourself. It is natural to wait for some unknown person with significant power to do something – “to take action and fix” what is obviously broken. But the fact is, we each have a responsibility and opportunity to be part of the change. This isn’t about doing spectacular, memorable things like leading rallies, taking out full-page ads in the newspaper, writing bestselling books or creating new organizations (although that would be fine, too). This is about making small changes in your life and in your businesses, to work towards racial equity. If each of us can do our part on a small scale, change will happen.

Let’s take a look at some typical things we may tell ourselves, that cut short our well-meaning efforts related to racial injustice.

Line of thinking #1: “I am not against hiring people of color, but they don’t apply.”

It seems reasonable to think that you cannot hire people who don’t show an interest in working for you.  You might assume if someone doesn’t apply for a position, it’s because they don’t want the job.  However, if you are intent on making changes that lead to a more equitable workplace, you have to back up a step and ask yourself why candidates of diverse backgrounds are not applying for your jobs. What are you doing to reach that demographic and what are you doing to make your organization attractive to them?

I work for Centennial, an executive search firm. In addition to tapping into our extensive network, we use a lot of traditional means to find the right candidates for our clients such as job boards, social media and our website. We could say we make our jobs available to all types of people, and that would be correct. However, what changes can we make to ensure our jobs feel attainable to people who may have felt overlooked in the past?

To directly address this issue, Centennial, developed a partnership with Urban League of Greater SW Ohio (our local chapter) so that we can share our job openings with their network. We want to go the extra step, which is a fairly small but impactful change, to know we are reaching the very talented leaders of color who may have hesitated to apply for these executive roles in the past. When these leadership opportunities are sent out through a trusted organization such as the Urban League this provides the extra push for those leaders to go for it.

We can also socialize our opportunities, to our wide networks, and specifically ask if the contacts know of diverse candidates that might qualify.

Line of thinking #2: “I have a person of color on my board, so I am in good shape.”

One diverse person on a board does not really do much to open up diversity if everyone else looks the same. Depending on the board size you should aim for at least three (or at least a third for smaller organizations) diverse members to make a difference. When you only have one, or even two, people who are different from the rest, they may not feel comfortable speaking their mind. There is too much of a threat that their ideas will be overlooked or attacked because they are different, which ironically, is the very reason they add so much value to the group.

Line of thinking #3: “I need to make budget cuts and diversity and inclusion training is simply not a priority right now.”

When money is tight, everything is scrutinized and oftentimes DEI training is considered expendable. Please reconsider. This is a huge mistake! We need more diversity training, not less. Studies have proved that a company with a diverse workforce will lead to greater profits. And to have such a diverse team, you need to know how to work together and complement each other’s differences; that takes DEI training.

The fact that I am writing this article testifies to the fact that we still need to grow in our understanding of inclusion. Each of us has unconscious biases and it’s not until we recognize these and know how to adjust our behavior that we will have a welcoming corporate culture for people of all backgrounds.

Do a Personal Check

From a personal perspective, this lack of inclusion can look very much the same. In a recent webinar I attended, hosted by Talent Magnet Institute, the participants were challenged to quickly jot down the six people we trust the most, outside of family. Then we were asked to consider the diversity of the six names we wrote down. Were there any people of various physical abilities, race, religion, age or gender? This was very telling for me. My names were far too similar to myself, to provide a real perspective for me.

It’s very easy to excuse your non-diverse friend-group on the fact that you, just don’t know people of other backgrounds. I’ve learned over the years that that is just an excuse. If you don’t spend time with someone who is different than you, how do you grow? How do you learn other perspectives?

Do I know people of diverse backgrounds? Have I worked to keep them close so I can get their point of view on issues in my personal and professional life? This is how I will grow. We each need to stretch a bit and go beyond what is comfortable if we want to increase the inclusion in our lives.

In conclusion, the easy thing is to keep doing what we have always done, but that is not delivering the inclusion that is critical for a more unified world. It’s easy to say, “nothing seems to work,” but the question I want to ask is, “what have you tried?” “How hard did you pursue this initiative?” So, let us take a step outside our comfort zone for the purpose of making a difference. Will it take effort? Yes, but that’s the sign of work worth doing.

Jessica Baron

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