Part 6.2:
Still have some objections, nagging doubts, or points of confusion? (cont'd)

"I get that people of color have it rough. But I own a business, or I'm a leader who's held to high standards in my company.

I need to give the job to the most qualified person. That's great if they're a POC, but if not then it's unfair to have to hire them anyway."

  • To me, it's misguided for anyone to claim that you should have to hire an unqualified person of color to work for your company. Putting someone into a position they're not well-suited or ready for would just hurt both of you
  • You should give the job to the most qualified person. But the trick is to recognize all the unconscious bias that might cause you to feel like someone is less qualified even if that's not accurate
  • Unconscious bias at work is a huge topic, but here are some starting points to consider:
    • We're constantly bombarded with exponentially more information than we can consciously process. So, our brains are designed to filter out most of that information. Then, they pattern-match the rest based our past experiences, what we've seen in media, what we've been told, etc.
      • While pattern-matching, the primitive part of your brain is constantly on the lookout for threats. It just wants to keep you safe, and it evolved in a time when a rustle in the bushes could mean a poisonous snake or a tiger about to attack. So, just to be safe, it labels a lot of things threats that might not actually be (e.g., people you're not used to)
    • Thousands of years ago, humans lived in small tribes with limited resources, so it was important for us to prioritize people within our tribe to make sure no one starved. That's where a lot of our unconscious bias comes from that leads us to prefer people who look like us
      • This is why the top orchestras implemented blind auditions—because they realized that the male judges had been discounting the abilities of female musicians because they didn't look like them (or they didn't look like what they imagined the best musicians looked like, i.e., male). Once they put up a physical wall in front of the people auditioning, the percentage of women who were chosen rose by 500%
    • Nobel prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow that—when faced with a complex question—our brains will often unconsciously substitute a simpler question that's easier for us to answer
      • For example, if I'm wondering, "Should I invest in Ford Motor Company stock?" I might find myself instead asking, "Do I like Ford cars?"
      • Or, instead of asking the question of, "Would this person make an effective CEO?" our minds might unconsciously ask, "Does this person look like an effective CEO?" or "Does this person remind me of effective CEOs I've seen on TV or read about in magazines?" or "Does this person have the attributes I associate with effective CEOs?"
      • As you can see, the answers to many of those questions would likely bias you toward imagining a tall white man as the representative example of a great CEO, and thus the short woman of color applying for the job might not "feel right" (even though Indra Nooyi, a woman of color, was named one of the best CEOs in the world)
      • I deliberately say "feel right" here because the primitive part of your brain doesn't work in terms of language―all it can do is send you information via feelings
  • So, the request here is not to hire people who aren't qualified, but rather to implement hiring systems that reduce subjective unconscious bias and make the hiring process more objective
    • Then, yes, hire the best person for the job, but make sure that you're not being swayed by false assumptions or discounting the variety of types of experience that someone might have (e.g., maybe a white candidate was able to get a degree from a fancy university but that opportunity wasn't available to the POC candidate; however, maybe the POC demonstrated their abilities in a different way such as through entrepreneurship)

"This stuff wouldn’t be accepted where I work.

HR wouldn’t approve, or my organization just doesn't care about all this as long as we get our work done.

This is nice in a workshop setting or in super-progressive organizations, but I wouldn't be able to apply it where I work."

  • First of all, a lot of organizations are already taking anti-racism work seriously
    • Many companies are becoming less tolerant of words and behaviors that might be harmful to employees in marginalized groups
    • Diversity & Inclusion initiatives are becoming a lot more common. If your organization hasn't started one yet, that's likely to change soon if it wants to stay competitive in terms of talent acquisition (since a lot of high-performing, in-demand people want to work for companies who prioritize equity)
    • According to Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers said that diversity is important to them when evaluating where to work. And, the younger generation of Americans is more diverse themselves: Of the 76 million baby boomers, 72% are white. But of the 87 million millennials, only 56% are white. So, inclusion & diversity in the workplace is more personally relevant to them
    • According to management consulting company Deloitte, 2/3 of leaders in 2017 cited diversity and inclusion as "important" or "very important" to business. And, there are endless articles published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, etc. nowadays about all the business benefits of diversity
    • Please be careful if you're involved in planning a training at work, though. Many trainings around diversity and bias in the workplace actually fail
  • That said, every organization is at a different place on this journey. Certainly some will be more supportive than others if you choose to champion the anti-racism cause at work
  • You shouldn't expect everything to change at once or expect that everything you've read on this website will be welcome where you work
    • I encourage you to start slow, by introducing the concept of unconscious bias, for example, rather than immediately throwing around phrases like "white fragility" or "white supremacy culture." Those ideas might belong in, say, corporate diversity workshop #3 or #4—not the first one
    • However, work is one of the places where people of color can be most impacted by racism, so please don't give up just because everyone else isn't as far along in their education as you. Start by trying to find like-minded allies, and you can even send them to this website
  • Another thing to remember is that people of color at work want to be treated as individuals with their own unique identities, not just as token representatives of their race or as people to be "saved" by well-meaning white people
    • People of color in the workplace can sometimes feel an enormous amount of pressure to not only look good in general (as we all feel thanks to white supremacy culture), but they can feel an additional requirement to look good specifically as representatives of their race
    • As a white person, it probably never crossed your mind that your behavior at work might influence others' impressions of white people in general. But if you're the only black person in your department, it can be easy to feel a range of things: 
      • That you might be judged according to different standards
      • That white people might assume you were only hired to fulfill a diversity quota (and thus you're not actually competent)
      • That your successes or failures will reflect on your entire race (e.g., that your failure might cause them to think, "I knew it! I knew they didn't really belong here!")
      • That you represent your race (e.g., that you're a typical example of your race and thus others of that race are probably similar to you)
    • I've heard from people of color that they walk into every meeting with new people expecting that they're going to have to prove themselves
    • In contrast, as a white man, sure, I feel a little imposter syndrome like nearly everyone; but, I can also walk into most meetings assuming that their first impression of me will be at least neutral if not good and that my resume, experience, and reputation will start us off on the right foot (rather than their first impression including some doubt about my competence based on how I look)
  • So yes, there's a lot of complexity here and it might not be easy, but supporting people of color at work can be one of the most impactful ways you can be an anti-racist
    • You can start by joining a Diversity & Inclusion group if it exists or starting one if it doesn't. Then, you can work on convincing other white people to tell your leaders that diversity and inclusion is important to all of you and that you want training on unconscious bias, equitable hiring practices, etc. If no one at your organization is capable of providing that training, advocate to bring in an outside expert. It's not only the right thing to do, but it makes business sense too

How can businesses and organizations support the anti-racism cause?

It can feel like there's no winning—staying silent seems wrong, but tweeting out the wrong message can be even worse. What can we do?

If unconscious bias training doesn't work, what does?