Editor’s Note: Bookmark this page. These articles are must-reads.
Dr. Janice Gassam Asare is one of the most popular current voices in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion profession. With over 41,000 LinkedIn followers, you’d think that her writing career on the subject was decades old. In fact, her skyrocket to the forefront of our minds came just three years ago with the publication of her July 2018 Forbes article “Why Your Diverse Talent is Leaving — And What Your Organization Can Do about it?” Since then, she’s delivered two indispensable book titles, a podcast, and over 250+ articles that challenge racial norms in corporate America. Digging into her bibliography can be gratifying but overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin. For that reason, I recommend these 10 articles to get new readers up to speed on Dr. Asare’s work and her best #DEI workplace advice.
1 – If she’s known for anything, it’s action. That’s why I’d suggest starting with her 2021 list of 6 DEI Resolutions Your Company Should Commit To In 2021, which is about as foundational as it gets for workplaces looking to improve their inclusion footprint. Some lessons are as simple as putting an end to performative allyship, but others are as complicated as “Stop firing truthtellers.” On its face, this might seem like a no-brainer. Employees who allege discriminatory treatment are supposed to be protected by law and integrity, but 2020 offered many examples proving that those who report quickly become targets for removal.
2 – How To Get White Men On Board With Diversity And Inclusion Efforts is a doozie for anyone who thinks DEI is only about people of color. Although this piece dates back to 2018, it makes points that are salient today. We have to talk about those in power just as much as we talk about those who are not. White men’s role as privileged gatekeepers for non-white people of color and non-male identifying people must be acknowledged in order to be transformed. The 2013 study that undergirds this article shows that White men usually aren’t included in diversity conversations and their pivotal role in office culture requires that they, too, see themselves in the future of a company or industry. In true anti-racist fashion, Dr. Asare shows how to ensure that White male colleagues can see their potential as fierce advocates and accountability keepers in the march towards a more equitable future.
3 – How To Create Effective Online Diversity Trainings should be read by every HR and employee training division in America today. The ringing endorsement isn’t because this article holds a golden ticket, but because it’s a who’s who guide of trainers and coaches who are actively creating accessible virtual resources that could be duplicated and replicated for our remote workplaces. The training philosophies built around “get everybody in the same room” is out of the window in our post-pandemic world. Dr. Janice Gassam-Asare’s suggestions will move us all forward, given the limitations on the people-to-people interactions that used to be the cornerstone of in-person diversity training.
4 – Just in case you think corporate America is the only place where DEI efforts are falling flat, Dr. Asare reminds us that a variety of institutions are struggling with their historical privilege. Academia Is Not Doing Enough To Support Black Professors: A Black Queer Non-Binary Femme’s Story Of Being Pushed Out Of The Ivory Tower is an interview with sex educator Ericka Hart. Tackling the intersectionality of gender, sexuality, and race, this piece helps us understand how privilege pervades even institutions of higher learning. Hart recounts her adjunct teaching experience at Columbia University. An excerpt reads:
“I had had students complain about their grade and demean the fact that I do not have a Ph.D. so ‘what could I possibly know about teaching?’ These sorts of attacks happen when a student wants a different grade than what has been given and can’t justify a change based on their knowledge of content or performance expectation. There is no structure in place that stops students from lodging these complaints that are often just coded racialized bullying. You get a very clear reminder that schools are businesses when places like Columbia will change student’s grades just to keep students happy, as a result [of] continuing to pay tuition.”
The article goes deeper from there.
5 – Dear Companies: Rainbow Flags Are Cool But How Are You Creating Safer Space for your LGBTQIA+ Employees? similarly tackles performative gestures towards true inclusion of all people along the gender and sexuality spectrums. Much like the earlier articles about superficial allyship regarding anti-racism, here Dr. Asare delves into what safe space creation must look like today. Policies are good, practices are better, but a climate inventory assessment is the gold standard.
6 – In the wake of retail company’s statements of support of Black Lives Matter and condemnation of George Floyd’s murder, Asare penned 5 Actionable Ways to Create an Anti-Racist Workplace, From a D&I Expert for Business Insider. This piece offers many suggestions, but the real call to action is to “conduct a pay audit to see if you equally pay employees of all races.” Putting your money where your mouth is doesn’t require an immediate cash investment, as much as it does unadulterated honesty. That’s where this article makes the difference in the field. Other suggestions, like making leadership pay contingent upon D&I efforts, seem equally as intuitive, but you’d be surprised by how many companies are just circling the drain.
7 – This particular article woke me up to the fact that not only was Dr. Asare talking about me, she was speaking for me. Me and so many other Black women like her who weren’t called to the carpet for some gross transgression, but were actually being sidelined for a particular type of gaslighting known as tone policing that seems to particularly direct its negative consequences at women of color in leadership roles. How Tone-policing is Harming Your Employees of Color explained to me what I had been feeling for years but did not know how to verbalize. This article validated my hidden belief that if I was anything but deadpan I simply wasn’t professional—even in the face of extremely emotional or offensive situations. I find this piece extremely useful for allies who are trying to cultivate safe spaces, since rarely are racial epithets the biggest transgression. Spotting microaggressions and combating them head on is also an important act of anti-racism.
8 – If you’ve ever sat through any companies’ spiel on this subject you’ll know that there’s always a call to speak up and share thoughts. That call to action is rarely heeded because staff know when conversations are meant for one party to talk and for the other to listen. Asking employees to share requires a true investment in active listening and direct language about issues of hate and marginalization. 3 Considerations To Make When Conducting Employee Listening Sessions makes a number of great points that you can take straight to the bank. The most pertinent would be that facilitators shouldn’t use muted language and expect a flood of honest opinions in return: “Using words like ‘nationalist’ in place of ‘white supremacist’ humanizes the racist and similarly using a term like ‘rioting’ instead of ‘protesting’ conjures up a villainous image. During listening sessions, we must be willing to call bigotry, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and all other forms of hate out for what they are.” When leaders and facilitators use euphemisms, they likely send mixed signals to those they hope to engage and empower.
9 – Black maternal mortality rates in the US are appalling, and this staggering phenomenon persists, despite modern medicine and advanced patient care policies. I, and many women of color, decided not to deliver our children in hospitals because we didn’t want to take the risk. After Serena Williams and the New York Times called BS on maternity care in the US, many other voices have stepped up to acknowledge racial bias in healthcare, hospital care, and medical practice in other specialties too. The crux of those calls were around how—despite education and class—reports consistently showed that Black and Brown patients, particularly women, were ill-treated and underserved. How One Woman’s Story of Medical Neglect Highlights the Pervasive Issue of Racism in Healthcare illustrates yet another recent example. This time it happened to leadership educator, Dr. Angela Anderson, who is also married to a physician. In her own words, Dr. Anderson tells her own near-fatal experience (which you have to read the article to believe). Further, this article reminds us that COVID-19 mortality disparities should not be ignored or forgotten, as they are just the most recent example of the pervasive reality of bias in medical care.
10 – The last article on the must-read list focuses on our babies, the next generation that has the opportunity to benefit from our successes or suffer through our failures. This one shows how the premature adultification of Black children leads to their harm at best and their deaths at worst. She focuses on Ma’Khia Bryant’s murder at the hands of police, but she takes us back in time to similar cases. The vicious brutality experienced by Aiyana Jones and Tamir Rice deeply contrast the careful care and handling of armed white murderers like Dylann Roof and Kyle Rittenhouse. This piece is not only infuriating, it is downright terrifying. This fear is truly at the heart of why diversity and inclusion matter. It is not simply a cosmetic issue of having browner faces in boardrooms. Instead, it is an essential governing ethos that reaffirms actions to protect marginalized people’s basic right to life and safety.
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Nafeesah is a freelance writer and independent researcher with a particular interest in literature, gender identity, and diaspora studies within the global South. She graduated cum laude from Barnard College in 2006, earned a Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University in 2009, and completed the postgraduate program in Folklore & Cultural Studies at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in India in 2013. Nafeesah received her Ph.D. in Forced Migration from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 2019.