Diversity executives often speak about the arrested development in social and workplace diversity. Some say there hasn’t been significant progress since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, when the United States Supreme Court declared that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.
I wouldn’t go quite that far back. Leaders during the civil rights movement set quite a few things in motion, but minorities are still fighting many of the same battles, and this is likely to continue.
In some cases we may be standing in our own way. Sure, it’s ridiculous that many minorities have to work harder to get to the same place as their white peers. Sure, it’s silly that LGBT people can’t marry and enjoy many of the same benefits as their straight peers, and it is unreasonable that veterans or people with disabilities aren’t given the same employment opportunities that others are offered without question.
Still, when we rail against the reality that many systems in the world and in our workplaces are unfair, we’re really just wasting time. We’re not helping to change things. We’re just complaining, whining or being depressed and wondering purposelessly, why?
When it comes to diversity, even when you identify something that needs to be changed and uncover the reasons why it occurred, you still have to do the work. Asking why usually leads to defensiveness, stonewalling and finger pointing. It doesn’t get the work done.
There are any number of reasons why hiring or promoting practices are unfair, why work demands are exacting for some and lenient for others, why one group’s strengths are considered another group’s weaknesses and one group is rewarded and the other punished. These inequities exist, and while I can hope that one day fairness, equality and inclusion are so ingrained that they are just words in history books, today I’ve got to live.
Today, I’ve got to be happy. I’ve got to be happy and productive as a black woman working in a world run by a white, male power structure. People are not going to understand some things about me. They don’t need to. People are not going to believe some of the things that have happened to me, things that shaped who I am and why I behave the way I do. They can’t fathom, and quite honestly, they shouldn’t always have to. Conversely, I should not always be forced to relive someone else’s unfortunate or unsavory realities.
White people don’t always want to hear how “you or your people did this to me,” and they certainly don’t want to hear it in a loud voice at the end of a stabbing finger. Just like black people don’t always want to hear how many black friends a white person has or fend off requests to touch our hair like some animal in a petting zoo.
It’s like having that one friend who always shares bad news. At some point, if you’re trying to remain upbeat, keep your stress levels down and focus on putting your life on a mobile, successful track, you don’t want to hear that noise.
Things are no different in the diversity space, and I say this for one reason and one reason only: In this particular game, any accomplishment is worth celebrating. Just know that once the trumpets stop blaring and the fanfare has died down, there is more work to be done, and the work is what’s important.
Leaders in successful companies aren’t hiring for color, whether it’s in a flag or on someone’s skin, not if they have any sense. They’re hiring for performance. We, and here I mean everyone, have got to focus on the best way to get the work done. Who is the best person to do a job? Where is that person in the world? Who is the best, most promising person to stand in line when that first best person steps down or aside, and how do we train him or her?
Leaders and employees alike have got to be humble and occasionally put personal needs behind the company’s. There will always be someone who stands in the way of progress. Just be sure it’s not you.