Since the BLM movement spread across the United States, businesses all over the world have started inviting women of color and people from minority communities to work with them. Job descriptions began encouraging “BIPOC folks to apply,” and Twitter feeds were full of calls for pitches for writers of color. While this sounds like a positive step for diversity and inclusion, it worsened the racial tensions, further distancing people of color from positions of power. This is how.
Hiring WOC because it is politically correct
“One of the worst things we can do as employers is to patronize POC and to hire minority groups just to check the diversity box. That's not true diversity” Cecille Maria Ahrens, LCSW tells LAPP Magazine. “Most employers want to be on the 'right side' of history and truly want to be sensitive and responsive to the issues of our day.” But these surface-level actions to show 'solidarity' don’t necessarily translate to equal workplace rights, fair pay, and open opportunities to grow in the role.
“Hiring just to fill diversity quotas will only reinforce the idea that a woman’s (or any other oppressed demographic’s) marketability lies not in her skills, but instead her ability to fill a quota,” Jessica Lim writes in a post on how the double-edged sword of “diversity hiring” might damage true equality in the long run. “Diversity hiring is like giving an apple to a starving family when equality would mean sharing the apple trees in your orchard.”
The cost of being a “diversity” hire
When a qualified woman is hired for a position because of her race or ethnic origins, it makes her question her abilities. “No one wants to be the token black girl. No one wants to be a poster child for diversity at their company” Lim adds. These labels are simply polite ways of saying “you were hired for your gender/sexual orientation/race, instead of your talent.”
According to the 2018 Women in the Workplace report by LeanIn.org and McKinsey, black women are more likely to get their judgment questioned and be asked to provide more evidence of their qualifications. “Women of color generally receive less support from managers than white women—and Black women receive the least support,” the report’s findings suggest. Black women are far less likely to get help navigating organizational politics and balancing work and personal lives, and managers are less likely to promote their accomplishments. The same dynamic holds true for access to managers: only about a third of Black women socialize with their manager outside of work, compared to about half of white women.
The toxic power dynamic between white managers and POC staff
Studies show that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted last year. As a result, women remained significantly outnumbered in entry-level management at the beginning of 2020—they held just 38 percent of manager-level positions, while men held 62 percent, the report adds.
Even when women of color are given a significant role in the company, they regularly find themselves in a toxic racial dynamic where they depend on a group of white males for approval. “There tends to be a hierarchy where the CEO and managers are white, and the support staff is BAME,” Evie Muir, Racial Justice Manager at Restless Network tells me. Muir worked as a BAMER domestic abuse specialist for a woman’s organization where she was denied basic healthcare rights. “We weren’t offered anything other than statutory maternity leave and [I] wasn’t allowed reasonable adjustments for my menstrual issues.” Along with a lacking or diminished access to physical healthcare, women of color are also denied mental health services despite working in an emotionally abusive environment where their symptoms are exacerbated.
Racist microaggressions and underhanded discriminative policies “cancel” or “mute” women’s needs. “I’ve had white managers cry in wellbeing meetings, use white fragility tactics, gaslight, and undermine [our] legitimate mental health needs,” Muir adds. “I had been on the waiting list [to receive mental health care] for a year and when I finally received it, the number of sessions was capped at 16,” she says while referring to her struggle to receive trauma therapy for her own experiences of abuse. “In the end, because I was so overwhelmed with work I didn’t have the capacity to work through my trauma, I instead had to use those sessions to work through the injustices at work. That speaks to how dysfunctional and dangerously unsupportive the industry is.”
What women of color can do to advocate for themselves
Sonya Barlow, founder of Like-Minded Females (LMF), an empowerment and diversity network to help women and underrepresented groups, believes that a lack of confidence holds women back from asking for what they deserve. I always tell my clients to ask for a higher pay rate, she tells me in an email. “As women of color and marginalized groups, we need to identify and own our worth.”
Equality and inclusion is not just their burden to bear
“Equality is a human issue, not just a women’s issue, and the thought that the responsibility of shifting societal or business norms lays on one group would be a disservice” Sara O Brien wrote for a report on International Women’s Day earlier this year.
Many companies respond to complaints of racism in a toxic manner of “if you want equality, you should fight harder for it.” This removes the responsibility from managers and CEOs (who are actually capable of bringing about structural changes) and thrusts it upon minorities who are already struggling to stay afloat.
Everybody loses when this happens. Employees lose opportunities and companies lose talent. But “diversity hires” don’t solve this problem. Employers need to go beyond ticking politically correct boxes to bring about real change. Because as Ahrens says “It's not about how many non-whites or non-majority groups we have in our workplace, it's about what each team member brings to the table and how we truly feel about one another. That's when the magic happens.”
Written by Sakshi Udavant