As I started my journey into the world of IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) I had my first of many virtual meetings with a variety of professionals in and around the spaces for IDEA. One bit of insight still sticks with me.
"You're a white guy. You'll never get hired."
It shocked me. I wasn't sure what to say.
I brushed it off and continued down my journey of entrepreneurship, authenticity, and idealism. It's been a blessed six months of starting my own business centered on the work of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. I have presented 23 professional development workshops to 500+ college students across the nation, trained 200+ professionals in 6 companies around the world, and coached 15 individuals on their career path.
The journey of transitioning my years of Higher Education and IDEA experiences into the corporate world has been fulfilling and invigorating. A few interviews for possible roles have come my way and from those experiences, I know the type of corporate culture I want to join to create an IDEA culture. It's exciting, but "You're a white guy. You'll never get hired" still lingers.
I set out to research and have candid discourse with other D&I professionals. I read job descriptions and polled my network to gather thoughts and opinions. What I found was a little all over the place. Here are three points that stuck out to me.
Diversity & Inclusion is About Optics (to a point)
I understand the need to diversify your employees. To have your company infused with the experiences of different lived truths. After a few hours of scanning LinkedIn for "diversity" job titles and people, a question gave me pause. "Are companies tokenizing people of color and relegating them to just their Chief Diversity Officers?". Hiring committees and hiring managers seem to be very diligent and careful regarding who they hire and the optics of that hire when it comes to a Chief Diversity Officer, but why are they not practicing that same care for every role? Companies should be feeling the same pressure they'd feel about hiring a white person for a Chief Diversity Officer when they are hiring for all roles. Bias plays out in so many ways and this is one glaring example I’ve seen.
Diversity & Inclusion Defined
Every company that wants to make it in this climate is going to have their own D&I statement, culture inclusion practices, and ways they approach hiring However, depending on the Chief Diversity Officer or whoever manages the D&I Committee, the definition and overall strategy of diversity and inclusion can be skewed. Let me give you some examples. I spoke to one Diversity Consultant and they could not even say the proper LGBTQ+ acronym (a fundamental necessity for any D&I person to know, in my opinion). One company hadn't even considered increasing their area of hiring in applicants with a disability, even though it was an identity they measured and saw how low representation was. In most conversations I had, race was the driving factor and all other identities were an afterthought or not even a thought at all! Part of me believes this is due to the optics of visual diversity in a company and I see that race is important, but we must also think about the intersection of race, religion, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, place of birth, culture, and a whole other host of identities that make us who we are.
Remember to give your D&I strategies a three to five-year timeline. Each year try to integrate more identity work and education into your strategies. Always keep the idea of intersectionality in your mind.
IDEA is for Everyone
One resolution I have to the "You're a white guy. You'll never get hired" is, that it’s not true. Because if it was, we are all in trouble. It's going to take all of us doing our part to end systemic racism, call out the discriminatory practices, and bring about equitable reform for all marginalized groups. To say it’s tough work is an understatement, but just remember the work you do with your privileges' (able-bodied, white, straight, wealth, gender identity, etc.) gets everyone one-step closer to IDEA.
To dive in deeper. “You're a white guy. You'll never get hired.” was said to me by a white cisgender-gay man. He also elaborated that "...Diversity & Inclusion roles were normally occupied by women and men of color". That struck me as odd and I thought to myself:
"I have worked with hundreds if not thousands of individuals across the infinite line of identity spectrums and intersectionalities. I cared for each individual and their identities and how that difference is valuable. I am consistently looking for ways to improve processes, demonstrate inclusion, ask others to lean into the conversation, ensure accessibility, and work towards a more cohesive understanding of value around difference and identity."
That’s when I checked my own privileges. I had never thought I wouldn’t get a job because I was white. I always had a fear I wouldn’t get a role because I identify as gay, but my race never entered the equation in my mind. I personally always have my gay identity at the forefront, but others don’t have that luxury of only disclosing parts of their identity when they want to. I have a choice on disclosing my sexual identity, but my race is out in the open. Pulling on the privilege that whiteness brings me, whether I want it to or not.