3 red flags show that a company does not value diversity and equity

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About two years after her stint at a cannabis startup, Lauren Chanel Allen was brutally fired. As the company’s chief digital marketing officer, Allen was on the cusp of a substantial pay rise that would roughly double his salary. Then, a day before her raise took effect, Allen claims she was fired for the way she spoke to a white coworker.

“It wasn’t a complete shock to me,” Allen says. “There were little things that happened. I was the only black employee there. When Allen interviewed for the job, she made it clear that she would push the company to tackle the fact that white entrepreneurs are profiting massively from the cannabis industry, excluding the very communities that had been penalized for disproportionately by the war on drugs. At the time, she says, the company seemed receptive to her point of view. “What interests me in this situation is how the people in power know the rhetoric to use, up to a point,” she said. “They said all the right things because it was important for them to have a black face.”

As workers demand more from their employers, the balance of power in American workplaces is shifting. Even companies that were once reluctant to tackle social issues have taken a stand on racial equity and committed to working for a more diverse workforce. And in the past year in particular, following public pressure unleashed by a summer of protests, countless employers have made significant financial contributions to racial justice organizations and reorganized their fairness and accountability practices. inclusion. But companies have also become smarter over time, making it harder for job seekers to distinguish between companies that are truly invested in DCI’s work and those with vociferous commitments to fairness. are just a facade.

Diversity is so hot right now,” says Erin Ford, who leads learning and talent development at the General Assembly and helps students enter the workforce. “Companies kind of understand that this is how talent sees them. And I think it’s hard for people in the workforce to know if this company really lives up to those values ​​or if it’s performing quite well. Even so, there are signs that a potential employer is underinvesting in equity and inclusion, or investing more in the perspective of DCI as a business value.

When you’re the only one in the room

For Allen and others, it can be a glaring red flag if a company is so cohesive that it would be the only non-white employee in the room. “In general, I don’t think a black person should be looking for opportunities to be the only black person,” Allen says. “It is often not worth it for a black person to be the desegregating employee of a company.” (When Allen raised the hiring issue with his former employer, he was told that the company is trying to find non-white candidates, but “it’s so hard to find qualified people.”) Current role in a cryptocurrency firm, Allen is still the only black employee, but she’s not the only employee of color – an experience that she says is markedly different.

Lawrence Humphrey, Design Strategist and Consultant at IBM and Founder of Tech Can [Do] Better, agrees that it can be overwhelming when a company does not have black employees. But Humphrey doesn’t necessarily see it as a bugle signal. “I am of the opinion: you cannot change the nature of the game unless you have a seat at the table,” Humphrey says, adding that he has often been in spaces where he was the only black person. “If a company really wants to change its culture, there has to be a black first employee. It has to start somewhere.

In cases where a company has little or no diversity in its leadership ranks, Judene Small Jean-Louis says to be careful “if your keen sense starts to tingle” and the organization is dropping employees who look like you. “In past lives, people who are not part of the leadership team or decision makers were invited to join meetings, especially when they wanted to show that there was a face that seemed familiar to them.” , explains Petit Jean-Louis, who runs a strategic and operational marketing consulting firm and digital media company RootsxWings.

When top-down DEI investments are minimal

One way to determine a company’s commitment to equity and inclusion is to ask more specific questions about how the organization values ​​diversity and whether it can disclose workforce metrics. work or other benchmarks. If an employer’s efforts are outperforming, this may be reflected in the amount or little investment the company has invested in DCI initiatives, both in terms of human capital and financial resources. . A sprawling tech company, for example, shouldn’t have a level employee associated with the head of DEI, says Ford. “Whatever representation they have, it has to be appropriate for the size of the organization,” she says. “I wouldn’t expect an enterprise-level company to have anything less than a vice president of DCI.”

Humphrey also found that some companies are approaching him with DCI opportunities, rather than tech roles, or assume he will be interested in additional DCI work. “People reached out to me and basically tried to get me to work at DCI at other tech companies,” he says. “I don’t want to do this. I don’t intend to make DEI my goal.

Another indicator of an employer’s true intentions may be that the company seems to rely too much on ERGs or employee resource groups. These groups can be a source of support and camaraderie for under-represented workers, but should not be a substitute for DCI leadership or compensation-related diversity goals. “In my experience, ERGs still exist at the request of the parent company,” says Moses Harris, software architect at a large technology company. “It is above all a social place. So you can reach out and say, “Look, people like me exist. I have a connection. I have a place to go where my sanity is taken care of. People are going through the same problems as me. But it is more of a support structure than a real driver of change.

When corporate culture makes you think

Even a company’s approach to the hiring process can be revealing, says Small Jean-Louis. “If you see that they don’t intend to follow up and respect your time, that’s indicative of a habit in their culture,” she says. “When looking to join companies, take a good look at the process. A red flag that Small Jean-Louis has picked up on over the years, and especially in the midst of the pandemic, is when companies overlook her resume or outright reject her, but then express interest after being referred by someone. a – a model also observed by her Black girlfriends. “I think there is a lot to see about companies and their culture in the way they run [hiring],” she says.

In retrospect, Allen realizes that the lack of human resources foreshadowed his experience in the cannabis startup. “I didn’t think to ask, do we have HR now? ” she says. “It was a recurring joke, like, ‘We need HR now!’ And before Allen’s white friend encouraged him to negotiate, the company had even offered a title that didn’t fit the job responsibilities. “Looking back, I think a red flag is if you compare the title and the responsibilities, and the title is pretty basic; I think that’s due to how much they plan to value you, ”she says. “As a black woman, that was fine with me because the salary at the time was an improvement. The team seemed cool; I’m in this new space and I’m moving to LA, and they cover the moving expenses. “

Sometimes even seemingly innocuous comments about a company’s culture or employee attributes most valued can alert you. If a company has a bad workplace culture, chances are high that DCI is not a top priority and that black and brown employees can be disproportionately affected by these issues. “It’s things like, ‘The people who work here tend to believe in the business, and we don’t take a lot of time off,’” says Harris. ” I get it. And it lets you know [that] either you’re gonna work your ass and be successful there, or you’re not gonna stay there long.

Harris is also more sensitive to signs he might have overlooked earlier in his career. “At the time,” he says, “I heard about the lack of parental leave, and instead of [thinking] They don’t treat their employees very well, I [would think] Well, I don’t plan on having kids anytime soon. So I guess it’s good for me to work in this company. it doesn’t really affect me. “Now Harris sees it differently and recognizes that a corporate exclusion policy may indicate a broader lack of support for underrepresented employees.” It doesn’t affect me, but it does affect the person next door. about me, “he says of bad parental leave policies.” Do I want to be one of those who support this? “

While news articles and anonymous accounts on platforms like Glassdoor can offer insight into a company’s culture, Harris and others believe that the best way to assess a potential employer is to talk to former employees and current. “I really try to have some sort of inside information when I make these kinds of decisions,” he says. “You really need to contact your network because you will never get this information until you work for the company. All you will discover from the outside will be: they tick all of those boxes. “

These days, Little Jean-Louis does not even apply for a job without consulting someone who has worked in the company in question. “Somewhere between praise and absolute shit storm lies the truth,” she says. “Recognize that not all the press will give you the whole story, but you have to stay in control. You spend more hours [at work] than at home, and I think everyone is well aware of that now with the opening up to the world, so choose your spaces wisely.

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