New report reveals that as many as 94% of African Americans downplay their “difference” to fit in at the office

sangeetaA new study just released describes the process of “covering” as those who attempt to downplay their relative areas of “difference” in order to fit into the corporate culture.  African Americans, women of color and women are most likely to minimize or cover their differences resulting in a number of trouble spots for corporate America.  This article is a new take on diversity and inclusion in the workplace that speaks to utilizing a innovative approaches to creating inclusive work environments.  Sangeeta Haindl blogs about the implications.

Diversity in the Workplace: More Work Ahead, by Sangeeta Haindl in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Companies are still failing to make significant progress when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the work place. A recent white paper titled, Uncovering Talent co-authored by Professor Kenji Yoshino at New York University School of Law, and Christie Smith Deloitte University Leadership Centre for Inclusion Managing Principal explain how little progress we have really made when it comes to full inclusion. The study draws on research from respondents spanning seven industries and a mix of ages, genders, race/ethnicities, orientations and seniority levels, as well as Yoshino’s award-winning book “Covering” and Smith’s work in researching leadership, values and organisational culture.

This study indicates widespread instances of “covering,” the process by which individuals downplay their differences relative to mainstream perceptions, in ways that are costly to their productivity and sense of self, at work. Three out of four (75 per cent) research participants state that they have covered their identity; and, surprisingly, half (50 per cent) of straight white male respondents report hiding their authentic selves on the job. The authors suggest that most inclusion programs require people to assimilate into the overall corporate culture. This leaves very little room for people to actually be who they are at work.  Read more here.

Incorporating the values of diversity & inclusion into the very fabric…

LIFT“Two years ago, LIFT embarked on a transformative journey to incorporate our values of diversity and inclusion in the fabric of our organization. We have a come a long way and we’re here to update you on our progress.”

-Kirsten Lodal,
LIFT CEO and Co-Founder

As more and more organizations realize that simple recruitment isn’t the answer, many of them are tuning in more deeply to the real lessons of racial diversity and inclusion – that it’s about a basic respect and appreciation for all people in the workplace.   This value and understanding must come from the top and be expressed throughout the structure of an organization – among all levels of staff and volunteers.

The first step is taking a good look at how inclusive your organization is right now – and finding out how people of color perceive it.   For historically white organizations, majority observations of inclusion are likely to be very different from the perspectives of people of color.  Learning about those differences and being open to exploring those differences is the first step toward building a truly inclusive environment within any organization.

LaTosch Consulting applauds LIFT for embarking upon an intentional and thoughtful process of both exploration and discovery.  To learn more about their journey, read here.

The “R” Word: Racist

On Thursday (May 17, 2012), the U.S. Census Bureau reported that for the first time in American History the majority of babies born in the U.S. were to parents of color.  Twenty-six percent of those babies were Latino, 15 percent were African American, and 4 percent Asian.  Researchers estimate that by the year 2050, there will be more people of color alive in the U.S. than whites, making it the first time ever that whites have not held a majority population since arriving on American soil hundreds of years ago.

My question is What Will The Whites Do About This?  What will you do about this?  I did a quick facebook search of groups, searching for “whites against racism” and what I found was not what I was looking for.  In that one small search, I did not find any groups for whites who support anti-racism efforts.  Instead, I found five groups titled, W.A.R.R. (Whites Against Reverse Racism), Racism Against “Whites” Is Still Racism, Racism Against Whites, and again Racism Against Whites.  Granted, not a very creative grouping of titles, except perhaps the first which raises serious concerns of its own.

That seems to answer, at least briefly, my What Will The Whites Do About This query.  The more important question here is what are you going to do about it?  In my experience, the progressive white voice typically falls into one of three camps: 1) the annoyed person who doesn’t get what all the fuss is about and is sick and tired of talking about race; 2) the “bleeding heart liberal” who almost wishes he/she were born a person of color; and 3) the silent and largely uncomfortable majority.  I acknowledge here that there is always a portion of that silent majority who remains quiet in deference and respect for the voices of color and experiences they speak to.  However, I believe quite a few of them are silent out of fear and/or a lack of education on issues of race and culture.

In fact, I believe most whites remain silent out of fear of being called the dreaded “R” word.  I remember being silent many times when the issue of race would come up in a group.  I was fearful I would say the wrong thing – use the wrong words, say something that someone would take offense to – fearful that someone would say or think I was a racist.  The dreaded “R” word.  It’s the name that strikes fear into the heart of many a white person.

By many definitions, I am a racist.  Can I really escape being a racist if my actions or inactions benefit me simply because of the color of my skin or the way I speak?  The way I look wholesome to shop owners, never suspicious.  The way I get smiled at because I look conventional, even conservative to some – with my medium blonde hair, blue eyes, clear and slightly pinkish Germanic-descended skin tone.  The way I can go joy-riding in a stolen car at the age of 15 and never see a jail cell, have my mom pick me up at the station crying and then send me back to the same family whose car I “borrowed” while babysitting, to apologize.  It’s called white privilege because if I had a different skin tone, I’d have a record, a mugshot and fingerprints on file;  I certainly wouldn’t have been treated so sweetly by the police or that family – I never even wore handcuffs that night.

If I take advantage of that privilege, some might call that racism.   There’s not a single white person in America who has not benefited from this kind of privilege and taken advantage of it.  There’s not a single white person who’s not racist in some way or another.  Still, white people are so afraid of that “R” word that we remain locked in our own fear, unwilling to engage in the conversation.

But now is a good time to end that.  When I do a search on “whites against racism” I don’t want to see WAR shout back at me.  I want to see white people speaking up and out in support of our entire community – and denouncing inequality wherever it hides, saying something as simple as, “hey, that’s not right!”

White mens restroomIn his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote “Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection.” It was in reference to asking white Birmingham business owners to take down the signs of segregation from their storefronts.  Encouraged by the nodding heads, it was indeed bewildering when the following week he found the signs still proudly posted in the front windows of the shops, “whites only.”

I appeal to the silent majority to end your silence.  Don’t nod your head.  Speak up and take part in the conversation.  Risk being called the “R” word.   I don’t know a single person of color who has the luxury of choosing whether or not they get insulted.

Re-posted December 5, 2014.

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