By Jenai Charles
Let’s face it, the American workforce and economy have a systemic racial inclusivity problem. When companies go out of their way to promote their core values and emphasize the importance of diversity, what exactly do they mean?
It could depend on the industry and the company, for starters. Many companies have different definitions for how they execute the word diversity, and that definition is usually skewed in the favor of their shareholders, customers, and what they feel most comfortable working around on a daily basis.
If you have a predominantly white male workforce, the conversations around diversity may tend to focus more on gender-based hiring, with an emphasis on more white female candidates as opposed to female candidates in general. They can also focus their recruiting efforts on bringing in different ethnic groups, nationalities or cultures of white males, presenting multinational diversity but not in a full spectrum as it relates to multiculturalism. And while the idea of neurodiversity is a very important and necessary part of the conversation, it cannot be used to opt-out of the larger conversation that needs to be had surrounding the systemic lack of racial inclusiveness in practically all levels of the American economy.
We’re all guilty to some degree. As the old saying goes “Birds of a feather flock together.” We’re naturally drawn to connect to the people who are most like us, share our interests, speak our language and who understand our culture. But here’s what we in America might have missed if everyone was rigid in their thinking and only stuck to what they knew: Celine Dion, an internationally recognized Canadian megastar. I shudder at the thought of being so closed-minded that I could have missed out on someone so great because I lacked a diverse interest in musical taste.
It is easy, and fairly convenient, to fall into the trap of thinking of diversity as a limited, singular ideology: male or female, rich or poor, black or white. But the goal should be a diverse, robust toolbox of ideas and life perspectives, which can only come from a varied set of life experiences. Exposure to different races, cultures, genders, education systems, sexualities, physical limitations, and more are all things that help diversify our life experiences.
So on a grand scale, why does diversity matter? The easy answer is – diversity makes us richer as a culture, and as people. Ask anyone who trades on the stock market. They know that figuratively speaking, putting all their eggs in one basket robs them of opportunities for growth and expansion. It might seem like a safer option for some, but it is driven by fear. Fear is the culprit behind much of the reluctance or resistance by some to open up their spaces and be more inclusive. Fear rooted in, perhaps, the possibility of losing their identity or losing some perceived (or real) advantage. But we all know that fear does not enrich – it robs. It does not cause us to expand – it causes us to shrink. What we really want, what any business wants, is growth. And that is the true point of creating diversely rich work environments. Creating a culturally, economically, racially and socially diverse workplace enriches us all. It also enriches the company and is shown to positively promote business growth and employee satisfaction.
How does diversity enrich a company? When a business has a diverse workforce, it can reach a more diverse market; its advertising and marketing are more creative, they produce more innovative work because of the diversity of talent in skills, ideas, and perspectives. Another avoided offense is a company’s public image. With a more diverse workforce, there is less likely to be accusation of discriminatory hiring practices (not saying there couldn’t be a rise in other issues).
Many businesses are now stepping into the forefront to combat the lack of diversity and visibility as trendsetters in the marketplace after Rihanna nearly broke the internet and shifted the beauty industry by offering a shade range of 50 foundations inclusive of nearly all shades of color. Hollywood, on the other hand, had a slap on the wrist when “Oscars So White” became a trending topic when people of color were still not being recognized or nominated for their art during the 2016 Academy Awards season. This started a wave of slow changes to the Academy that are still a work in progress.
On a more human or individual level, a more inclusive workforce helps us avoid and become more cognizant of stereotyping. It helps us humanize one another and it provides the added benefit of helping employees become all-around better people. Becoming more understanding of each other and more respectful makes us less ignorant, and racially insensitive or otherwise tone-deaf to the comments that we may hear and sometimes say from time to time. There are many ways people can de-humanize one another through negative comments about minorities, poor people, gay people, the disabled, or women’s body parts. And in an environment where prejudice goes unchecked, you can be sure that creativity is nowhere in sight. And since your workplace is probably not Vegas, what happens there certainly does not stay there. It seeps out. It shows up when you go to the bar, a party, or when you’re with a client. And at the worst possible time, it slips out. That phrase that you have been using that no one told you was inappropriate will slip out. It’s a Freudian slip, to be sure. But now you have to pretend that what you said does not represent who you are. But it does. And deep down, you know it.
A diverse workplace, like a blended family, does not happen by accident. It is intentional, thoughtful, mindful, inclusive and beautiful. Like all things created with intention, it has the potential to be chaotic, and lead to misunderstandings – but that is part of natural growing pains. As you grow and shift to greater heights, your company will transform and you will learn the true value of diversity and it will all be worth it.
Jenai Charles is a writer from Antigua & Barbuda with a passion for sparking discussion through her words. She can be found @dearjenai on Instagram and Twitter. Visit her website, www.dearjenai.com to learn more about her.