Are Diversity Efforts Stifling Employees of Color?

During the alarming reality of Covid-19, another major pandemic has further unsettled the world: racism. And as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has ignited organizations to prioritize and place renewed focus on diversity, many corporations are turning to Black, Hispanic or Latinx staff to solve diversity issues. Employers are leaning on their minority workers to suggest initiatives, engage in committees and assist with developing strategies to address poor representation. 

While this is a positive step in the right direction, these diversity and inclusion initiatives can also be an unwelcome burden on employees of color. 

What’s Driving Companies to Turn to Diverse Employees?

There is a general default belief that being a Black, Hispanic, Latinx, or indigenous American person makes you an authority on and a representative for your entire race. At the same time, employers feel extreme anxiety about getting D&I wrong. So having a person from a race that is not equally represented in your leadership or employee population to deliver your corporate strategy on race and inclusion seems to mitigate that risk. 

Now, sure, there is validity in the notion that someone from a given community should have some lived experience to deliver authentic and credible insight. However, being a person of color does not make you a history major or DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) practitioner. 

Consequently, defaulting to diverse employees feels like operational efficiency and is perhaps a little lazy. 

Doing the research, learning the facts, and gaining verification and feedback from those who truly want to share their experiences, such as members from Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), may be a better course.

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Pressured to Produce

What’s more, as many corporations are depending on and, in some instances, pressuring employees of color to volunteer — notably without their permission and without pay — this can be taxing on diverse employees shouldering diversity initiatives. 

“Participation” can take a toll, both in terms of emotional health and dealing with workload. Being a flag-bearer for your community as a second job can be very time-consuming and fraught with conflict and challenge, not always in equal measure with agreement and success. Additionally, this emotional burden is heightened even more during the pandemic. Companies should encourage people to be DEI champions and allies, but not make assumptions about their inclination or capacity to do so.

To Engage or Not to Engage?

If minority employees want to engage and participate in diversity initiatives, they should do so voluntarily and consciously, with a full understanding of the commitment for which they are signing up. Like any extracurricular activity, people will get out what they put in. So it’s important that anyone tapped to take greater responsibility for driving D&I forward will be ready and willing to put in the work.

Ultimately, companies should encourage people to be DEI champions and allies, but not make assumptions about their inclination or capacity to do so. 

Felicity Hassan is U.S. managing director at Audeliss & INvolve.  She is passionate about leading a business dedicated to leveling the playing field for diverse talent. In her early career ,Felicity developed a new business stream for a FTSE 250 company who asked her to launch their legal practice in New York. She later developed the corporate functions practice for a search boutique and was approached by one of the firm’s clients, Bloomberg, to come in-house and help them build their talent acquisition capability. Felicity created an “internal agency” approach and a sustainable talent strategy for Bloomberg and then Audible (an Amazon Company) on a global scale.