HR Insights, Talent Management

What I’ve Learned About How Diverse Candidates Perceive Their Value

Janine Truitt

As we continue to discuss diversity and inclusion concerns, it is important that companies that are serious about attracting, retaining and promoting diverse candidates understand how we think about our value in the workplace.

From a child, it was drilled into me that my skin color was not a roadblock, but an opportunity often seen as a threat. I was warned that I would have to work a gazillion times harder than any of my Caucasian counterparts to achieve success.

To round out my coaching on getting ahead, I was advised to keep my head on, study hard, keep things formal on the job, work hard and it would all pay off.

“The disconnect … has been startling”

More than a decade into my career, I see that my cultural and familial coaching has served me fairly well. In speaking to other minority colleagues over the years, I know that they were also told many of the same things growing up and have also found success in those tidbits.

It might be sobering to read, but a person’s only barometer for how life works is experience. Having emigrated to the U.S. from the West Indies and South America in and around the 1970’s, I don’t have to tell you what it was like for my parents and grandparents to assimilate into the “American way,” let alone garner gainful employment.

The disconnect between what I was taught and my real life experience is and has been startling.

For one, I have found that most employers have no clue that their minority employees are carrying all of this. It is like the worst, best-kept secret.

Subconsciously, minorities often believe that employers see them as less of a value. That perception has caused me to over-compensate with efforts that have had no real correlation to my success.

This has been my reality

When your message as a company is simply “we are an equal opportunity employer,” this appears to be more employer semantics that really says nothing more than “we will hire you, because we must.” Furthermore, if minority representation at all levels is scarce, I have more proof that you aren’t truly dedicated to promoting a diverse workforce — all things validating what I have been told.

To further test the validity of what I have been told over the years, here has been my reality:

  1. For more 50 percent of my career, I have been the only black woman either on my team, in the region or in the company I worked for.
  2. I have traditionally made less in compensation than most of my Caucasian counterparts. How do I know? People like to talk about what they make, especially when they make a lot of money, so there’s that.
  3. More than once, I have resigned from a job because I was overlooked, overshadowed and underutilized in my job. This was in stark contrast to the applause for other Caucasian employees that were not nearly as productive or useful as I was.
  4. I went to college, possess several certifications pertinent to my field as well as Master’s credits and have been managed three or more times by Caucasian women and men who not only possess less education than me, but have benefited from my efforts.
  5. Lastly, I have had to fight for simple luxuries and leniency that was afforded to my Caucasian co-workers with no contest.

The end game: understanding and execution

For the most part, minorities have been urged out of necessity to be better than everyone else to get ahead. To some extent, it is great advice. However, it becomes disheartening when being better isn’t the standard for everyone else and doesn’t result in the desired outcomes.

It would help companies to market themselves and attract diverse candidate — if they understood how we approach our work in thought and practice. Once you understand, you have to have a genuine willingness for changing these cemented impressions, realities and perceptions.

The end game of diversity and inclusion has to be understanding and execution. If you don’t get that diverse isn’t just a buzzword but a broader meaning for different, well, you aren’t ready to have a discussion about diversity. Companies have to be willing to identify, understand, and embrace the differences that exist among employees before they endeavor inclusion initiatives.

The truth is I have always navigated my career in excellence, because that is my standard. I have done this despite the unfair circumstances I have been met with.

“If it walk like a duck, quacks like a duck …”

I’m not a fan of pulling the race card, but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck … you know the rest. Also, when my knowledge, skills, abilities, and efforts are shelved for the purposes of rewarding other people’s mediocre efforts, it is hard not to see the truth in what I have been told.

As you consider you own diversity and inclusion efforts, how will you ensure that your diverse employees are fairly and equitably supported and recognized for their efforts?

This was originally published on Janine Truitt’s The Aristocracy of HR blog.

Janine N. Truitt is a human resources professional as well as an HR blogger/founder of “The Aristocracy of HR” blog. Follow her blog "The Aristocracy of HR" at http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/aristocracy-hr/ . Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her tweets on Twitter @CzarinaofHR. The opinions shared in her articles are her own and are in no way a reflection of the views of her employer.
  • Scott Boulton, CHRP

    Janine – great post as always. Thank you for sharing your personal experience(s). This really resonates. Unfortunately, a lot of what you shared as part of your “reality” often gets rationalized by others who haven’t had to experience it. I have always encouraged others to read Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” As a white male, I have a “full knapsack” and can count on most of the privileges contained within – I can not even imagine what it would be like to NOT count on most if not all of these privileges. When I hear stories like yours (and thank you again for sharing) it really strikes a chord with me that “we” still have a long way to go. Hopefully by sharing your story, we can all come to a great understanding of what it means to respect and embrace diversity and most importantly, it is about actions..not words.
    Thanks Janine!

    • ranavain

      Super agree with this! I’m a white woman, and it’s so wonderful that people like Janine, and like Peggy McIntosh, and others, are willing to put themselves out there and inform us of this stuff, because I obviously have very little context to understand a lot of it, with my pretty-full knapsack. :)

      • Janine Truitt

        Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad the article resonated with you.

        All the best,

        Janine

  • Janine Truitt

    Scott,

    Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment. I like the analogy of a “full knapsack”. I would like to think mine is full as well. The only difference is very few care about its contents. I am conditioned to persevere and so I continue on with the idea that I am worthy of accolades, recognition etc. I hope we will get to a point where this message no longer has to be passed down. I have little ones to raise and while I dread having to be truthful on this subject and related topics- I realize it is a necessary evil that will contribute to their success.

    I appreciate your support of my articles as always.

    All the best,

    Janine

  • HR Peer

    Mirroring, Scott’s “Thank You!”

    As a young
    African-American HR Professional, as well, I applaud your published insight and
    hope that it resonates with the HR world. I can personally attest to each of
    your experiences. It can be difficult to succeed when the Caucasian superiors
    do not understand and lack the will to understand their diverse workforce. Even
    more harrowing is corporate America’s sloth in this area. It takes work; which
    leads me to ask: Do they really want to
    engage the diverse workforce?

    • Janine Truitt

      You are very welcome. To answer your question, I would say many like the outward appearance of being an employer that champions diversity. That option allows them to keep up appearances while keeping their actual workforce mostly monochromatic. There are some big players that have been well documented for having diverse representation throughout staff levels, but I see them as a minority. The fact that this topic is still so regularly discussed let’s you know it’s still an issue to be resolved.

      Thank you for reading and your kind commentary. Keep pushing and striving.

      Janine

  • Guest

    Yes! So many good points.