The year 2018 will mark fifty years of what many consider to be the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Fifty years and a Black president later, one thing is clear: No one is coming to save us. We will have to save ourselves. Saving ourselves starts with how we think and treat one another. A new year can bring an opportunity for Black people to think differently; an opportunity for a "Black Year's resolution."
Much has been written about Black hair. As of late, the narrative has been complimentary and focused on celebrating those of us who wear so-called “natural hair.” But what hasn’t been said about the topic of Black women’s hair is this: it is really none of anyone else’s business how a Black woman chooses to wear her hair.
But for all of the encouragement to talk about race at work, we do not have guidance on how to do it. Companies begin the process of talking about race at work, only to quickly abandon it out of frustration or objections from those who felt it was uncomfortable or unproductive. There are things that companies should do prior to talking about race.
It is time for us to discard the quick, easy fixes to racism and brace ourselves to do the work in changing policy and advancing solutions that may not be equal, but are equitable. “Come Meet a Black Person” makes us think we are doing something, but it centers whiteness and encourages superficial actions. “Well, something is better than nothing”, some might say. Well, actually no, it’s not.
The first and most important step, to truly valuing diversity and inclusion is to rely less on informal processes where people of color are excluded because of the history of your organization or your own relationships. When you look across your company or organization and see little diversity and less inclusion, before you run that ad, before you staff that department, look at HOW you are hiring people.
TIKI Brand, the maker of TIKI torches, was recently thrust into the national spotlight and linked to racism. TIKI Brand’s response to this potential crisis should be replicated by other organizations of all types and sizes. Here is a 5-step guide for how you can be successful in these instances, too.
Non-teaching and/or support staff in schools are important. They have the ability to make a difference in lives of students. This category includes bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria staff, playground aides, teachers’ aides and more. The people in these roles are overwhelmingly Black. They can be voices of support, love, and encouragement to all children, but particularly to Black children in schools who seldom see adults who look like them. But, we miss this additional resource for Black children because we have rendered this group of people invisible.
Deloitte has announced it will eliminate affinity groups and replace them with “inclusion councils.” This action taken by Deloitte is problematic and does not effectively address the issues related to African Americans, in particular, as it relates to diversity and inclusion.
Note: This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn on April 11, 2017.
One of the biggest challenges in the area of equity and inclusion is language. “What do we say? How do we say it? What if we get it wrong?” These are just a few of the questions that keep diversity folks up at night and many who want to engage in honest conversation on the sidelines. The truth is in today’s environment we get it wrong more than we get it right. Yes, we have been explicit in our diversity related objectives to recruit, retain, and reform cultures; it’s articulated in nearly every mission statement and often discussed. But more than being explicit is required. We must also be specific.
Specificity in diversity means naming the particular group you are talking about and understanding when umbrella and shorthand terms like “minorities” and “people of color” do not suffice. These terms often mask differences in the workforce representation among Asians, Latinos, and Blacks and create blind-spots for diversity teams. They can undermine diversity goals and objectives as the strategies for recruiting, retaining, and creating a culture for each group are not the same. And most damaging is, in the intent to be all-inclusive, such terms can result in erasing a particular group – recreating the very harm that diversity initiatives were designed to fix.
This week in his annual letter to shareholders, JPMorgan Chase Chairman & CEO Jamie Dimon was explicit and specific. He got it right. Mr. Dimon demonstrated something that every organization can learn when talking about equity and inclusion; the importance moving beyond being explicit and using specific with language to achieve results.
In sharing the diversity numbers of the global company, Mr. Dimon was explicit. Yet, he was also specific when he said:
But there is one area in particular where we simply have not met the standards JPMorgan Chase has set for itself – and that is in increasing African-American talent at the firm. While we think our effort to attract and retain black talent is as good as at most other companies, it simply is not good enough.
The specificity in talking about equity and inclusion is rare in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. However, it is critical to make sure that initiatives are more than nice soundbites and good PR talking points. Peter Drucker said, “What is measured is improved.” But before we can measure anything we have to name it. So a better way to communicate this maxim might be, “What is named can be measured, and what is measured can be improved.” There are reasons why naming doesn’t happen nearly often enough.
JUST SAY IT
Americans are enamored with the idea of having a “big tent.” The thinking is if the tent is big enough then everyone will fit underneath and all of our problems will disappear. Diversity has become the proverbial “big tent.” No longer is the focus of diversity on providing consideration to those who have been historically underrepresented and systematically deprived of opportunities based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and/or sexual orientation. The diversity “tent” now includes an array of factors such as right /left brain dominance, rural/urban communities, introversion/extroversion tendencies, and the like. One consequence of the tent getting too big when it comes to diversity is an inability and unwillingness to use specific language that drives results; we don’t, we can’t, we won’t get specific.
A big tent does not mean that individual groups do not warrant specific consideration. Let’s think about common examples. Consider a continent; there is a large land mass, yet each country has borders. We might have multiple children and/or family members, yet their membership in the group does not erase their individual differences. An elementary school building houses grades K-5, but we would not always put 1st and 5th graders together or speak of them as “the students.” There are times when that might make sense and there are times when it would not. Because of our cultural discomfort with talking about race and ethnicity we have become too comfortable with umbrella terms and ignoring distinctions and differences. This is why so many diversity efforts fail: you cannot improve what you cannot name.
The lack of specificity can be solved by diversity and inclusion professionals asking the following questions when they find themselves using a terms such as “minorities”, “people of color”, and “women of color”:
1. Why am I using an umbrella term at this moment? (Note: Efficiency is not an acceptable answer)
2. Who am I really talking about?
3. Does this statement/issue/situation apply to each distinct group within our diversity initiatives?
4. What is the impact of using a common term in this instance? Are there things that I might overlook?
5. What are the differences within the group of underrepresented individuals that our policies and procedures may not have addressed?
Taking the time to consider these things is an easy step towards having meaningful communications and achieving diversity and inclusion goal and objectives across the board.
This is advice you can take to the bank – compliments of JPMorgan Chase.
Jyarland Daniels, MBA, JD is CEO & Founder of Harriet Speaks℠, a racial equity and inclusion consultancy that offers training, coaching, and communications strategies for non-profits, educational institutions, and corporations. She is a sought after commentator and writer on topics of equity and inclusion. Jyarland has worked for non-profit organizations and Fortune 100 companies in the areas of Marketing, Strategy, and PR. She holds an MBA in Marketing & Finance from the Stephen Ross School of Business at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a Juris Doctor from Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan.
* Note: This blog post was originally published on LinkedIn on April 6, 2017
By now, many of you have seen the Pepsi commercial that featured Kendall Jenner and attempted to show the company as a supporter of activism. The outcry and criticism on social media was immediate. After at first defending the ad, within 24 hours of its release Pepsi decided to pull it, creating what I now call, "PepsiGate." A Google search shows nearly a half million pieces have been written on this story, the overwhelming majority critical of the ad and Kendall Jenner. However, I write this piece from the perspective of a racial equity and inclusion expert to offer thoughts on how diversity staffing in corporations contributed to this problem and how even in missteps there is an opportunity to learn and build your brand.
But before we talk about diversity staffing, let's review (in short) the history of the concept, and what the term means in companies today. The concept of diversity has shifted over time. Executive Order 11246 issued in 1965 required government contractors to take "affirmative action", meaning positive steps, to reverse past patterns of discrimination. Diversity's primary function was to include groups who had previously been excluded. In the decades that followed, affirmative action became the target of public outcry, prior rulings were reversed by courts, and it was deemed insufficient to create inclusiveness in organizations. In response, management teams began to promote a different kind of "diversity" - one that was more acceptable to Whites and that shifted the focus from issues of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. In today's corporate environment diversity the word "diversity" has no limitations. In a departure from what diversity once meant, today it essentially includes everyone in an attempt not to offend anyone. The lack of specificity and ambiguity of the term is why I refrain from using it in my consulting work, but for this sake of this discussion I will use it. The lack of specificity and ambiguity of the term "diversity" is also a problem for corporations and it is how you get "PepsiGate."
To illustrate the harmfulness of this change, I will use examples of a few companies I have had the pleasure of working for. What if Hallmark Cards created one card that attempted to express the sentiments for all types of individuals? What if Johnson & Johnson patented and sold pharmaceutical drugs that claimed efficacy regardless of disease state? What if Ford Motor Company sold one vehicle to all of its customers? I believe that most of us can see that any of these situations would have catastrophic consequences for the organization.
However, this is exactly what has happened to the concept of diversity and it is a key contributor that led to Pepsi's recent marketing misstep. A diversity that doesn't properly recognize the challenges and struggles of different groups, that insists that all groups are the same, attempts to "plug and play" by using a white woman in the place of a Black woman will have catastrophic consequences for an organization. It isn't diversity at all, but a faux, colorblind diversity that is guaranteed to create the kind of outcry we have seen targeted at Pepsi in the past few days.
SOLUTIONS TO CONSIDER
By and large, companies staff diversity positions with individuals with human resource backgrounds. Many progressive companies have moved away from this staffing model, however, it remains far too prevalent. The problem with this staffing model is it assumes that diversity and inclusion is best achieved through hiring. This is flawed reasoning. What Pepsi got right is they understood that their best public testament to diversity was what they said publicly through their advertising. So, they did what all major companies do, they turned to their outside agency of record. But statistics tell us the advertising industry is sorely missing the mark when it comes to inclusion. According to a 2015 report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, African-Americans make up only 5.3% of the workforce (vs 11.7% of the total workforce) in advertising and PR. Madison Avenue agencies lack cultural competency. This fact can be mitigated by companies by having diversity professionals with an advertising, marketing, and or communications background. While I understand that companies have Multicultural advertising teams, departments, and/or initiatives, these teams work with agencies on campaigns targeted at specific groups; Black people work (internally) on advertising to Black consumers, Hispanics work (internally) on advertising targeted at Hispanic consumers, Asians work (internally) on advertising to the Asian community. But what happens when the new and all-inclusive definition of "diversity" suggests that a general market campaign is the way to go? The work is assigned to the general market agency with almost no African-American representation and you get PepsiGate.
Perhaps, then companies would do well to make sure their diversity professionals have strong marketing, advertising and/or communications backgrounds AND their marketing, advertising and communications professionals have experience and exposure to different groups and cultures. This kind of "diversity" goes beyond what someone looks like and reflects what they believe and what they advocate for. However, the conservatism of many corporations results in hiring individuals who are of a different race, ethnicity, religion, and/or gender, but have the same views of many mainstream Whites; views that while not hostile, are harmful due to their absence. Had someone in the room had a true understanding of Black Lives Matter and felt safe sharing that knowledge in their professional environment, this commercial would have never been launched in the form we saw it. The lack of diversity teams that understand marketing, advertising, and communications failed Pepsi and it will fail other companies unless it is intentionally countered.
The other illustrative aspect of this saga can be found in the company's response. As previously stated, Pepsi initially defended the ad. This defense compounded the problem and caused Pepsi to lose an opportunity. The opportunity lost was the opportunity to learn. Pepsi presented itself as an ally in the work of racial and social justice, however the most important thing for an ally to do is to learn from the groups they claim to be in solidarity with. When the first criticisms of the ad began on social media a company with diversity embedded in its communications team would have called for a forum for the people who were most offended to teach them where they went wrong and be involved in the process to do something different - something better. This is the opportunity that was lost.
I applaud companies and individuals who take risks in what should be our shared attempt to eradicate racism. Taking any risk always comes the possibility of getting it wrong. I hope these two suggestions 1) having diversity professionals with marketing, advertising, and communications backgrounds, and 2) looking for the opportunity to learn in the face of a misstep will increase the chances that the risk will be rewarded.