It’s February, Black History Month, and the return of #BlackBlogsMatter. I love this time of the year – not only because we champion the contributions of African Americans, but because this is a great opportunity for some of us to challenge our thinking, our perspectives, and quite frankly, our privilege.
This is hard. Many people believe that our country gives everyone the chance to succeed. The point to the “self-made” folk like Oprah, Jay-Z, or Robert Johnson as people who have made it. However, when we point to these wildly successful people, we are also suggesting that those who haven’t made it just haven’t worked hard enough. This is a problem – maybe even the problem with pushing the “pull yourself up from the bootstraps” American narrative. Our society and our workplaces have been built on this narrative with built-in advantages for white people (particularly white men).
Here are some ways we may be perpetuating the privilege:
- We recruit from our networks, begging our current employees to mine their LinkedIn and Facebook networks to find our next great hire. However, there’s overwhelming evidence that we flock to people who look like us, creating networks without a great deal of diversity.
- We recruit from educational institutions we or one of our friends graduated from. While some have made great strides, white folk still take up a greater percentage of college graduates.
- Unconscious bias affects our hiring and promotions. We have started doing blind hiring, which can help, but we cannot hold this technique as the end-all, be-all that solves the problem.
- We avoid having discussions of race. While our avoidance makes for a great SNL skit, our avoidance only allows the problem to continue to fester.
We have to be more proactive, more intentional with how we build workplaces that accurately reflect the world around us with the diversity of race, age, religion, gender, thought, etc. If we don’t, we’re missing out. Missing out on better decision-making, better business, and a better place for everyone. This means taking a hard look at our current practices, having hard discussions, and confronting the problems whether we intentionally created them or not. We can’t simply watch the documentaries, revise policies, or give lip service to our desire to build more inclusive workplaces. We actually have to self-reflect as organizations and individuals even though the guilt seizes us with paralysis.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers here. I do know that the best way to start is by listening to those voices we haven’t been very good about listening to and then lending our voices to help. In a recent blog post, Jazmine Wilkes (a member of the #HRTribe) lamented the lack of white voices speaking up to combat the ongoing prejudice and injustice facing so many. To Jazmine, Sarah, Keirsten, Tamara, Janine, Rachel, and all the folks writing this month for #BlackBlogsMatter, I hear you and here’s my voice.