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How Big Companies Are Getting ‘Diversity’ Wrong

Important new research from Catalyst, a leading non-profit focused on women and workplace inclusion, highlights how painful work can be for people who feel like “the other.” Despite all the effort employers put into making their companies more inclusive, it’s the feeling of being overlooked that employees tend to remember most. “If inclusion is the air we breathe, exclusion is suffocating,” says the report.

The Day-to-Day Experiences of Workplace Inclusion and Exclusion” is filled with insights from employees at 42 mostly large firms in five countries, collected in phases over a three-year period. It highlights in very stark terms the dilemma that leaders face when they try to design a more welcoming workplace.

“Part of the problem is that there is a great deal of confusion about what inclusion is,” says Dr. Dnika J. Travis, one of the three researchers who contributed to the report. But, there is no confusion about what it isn’t:

“People try to behave in a way that sometimes doesn’t feel natural. They try to be extremely happy or extremely friendly to Hispanics or extremely friendly to Black people…It feels that they are doing [this] because they are aware you are Hispanic, and they want to make sure that you don’t think they are racist or that they are discriminating [against] you because of that….. It makes me feel sometimes that I am part of a minority and not part of the whole [work] group…What I would really like to feel inside is just to be seen as normal and not to be seen as an Hispanic every time I step into a room.”

The cost of feeling excluded was cumulative, and ultimately, very painful. “Most people can easily recall the stories about feeling dismissed at work, and they build up over time,” said Travis. “Bottom line, when inclusion works, you don’t see it. But when you feel excluded, it’s all you feel.” The problem is that experiences of inclusion and exclusion often happen many times during the course of a workday. For women and people of color, that sense of feeling emotionally whipsawed becomes exhausting.

The report identifies the “exclusionary events” that the interviewees found to be the most painful: tokenism, bias and stereotyping, and mixed messages related to flexible work arrangements and work-life balance. “These events tend to be small moments,” says Travis – like thoughtlessly leaving someone off an email chain, over-policing someone working from home, or being in a meeting when a person of color is ignored, and not saying anything. Because people either don’t recognize their own behavior or are unsure how to fix it if they do, they tend to do nothing. And that makes things worse.

The report details some remedies, but a good place to start is to ask why work matters to everyone. “Rooting out exclusionary behaviors requires developing a shared definition of inclusion,” says Travis. “Ask people why they get up and go to work,” she says. “What is their purpose for being there?” Establishing a language around shared purpose helps people connect with each other in ways that can transcend stereotypes.

And that makes the difficult conversations that inevitably must happen much easier. What works, says Travis, are real relationships. If something happens that you recognize as an “exclusionary event,” bring it up, even if you’re unsure what to say. “Take a breath,” says Travis. “Say, ‘hey, I saw that you seemed upset. Can we set up a time to talk about it? I think it would help me learn.’” Good conversations build authentic relationships over time. “When we can actually talk about these things, people feel included.”

On Point

President Obama asks the national security agencies to diversify their ranksPresident Obama has issued a new memorandum directing national security agencies to do more to hire and retain qualified minority employees. Data shows that the diversity stats for the defense and intelligence agencies lag behind the rest of the federal workforce. The memorandum carries the same weight as an executive order.USA Today

A new report highlights the struggles faced by black women business owners
New research conducted by the National Women’s Business Council and Walker’s Legacy, a global advocacy group for business women, found that access to capital and quality mentors remain key barriers for black women entrepreneurs. Women need to take the lead in diversifying their own networks, but more black angel investors and better resources are sorely needed.
Walker's Legacy

Why don’t political candidates do more to court Asian voters?
This piece from the Atlantic makes a strong case: Asians in the U.S. are a diverse, polyglot bunch, the fastest-growing voting bloc and highly engaged in American life. So why are they largely invisible in the political debate? Relatively small in number, Asian demographic power is still fairly new. But that’s changing. As Asian people increasingly weigh in on issues of representation in Hollywood and in media, for example, the “model minority” is developing a real voice.
The Atlantic

When algorithms decide how much you pay
This is the second in a series of reports that explores how algorithms impact our lives. In this installment, ProPublica reveals how website customization also “customizes” the price you’re charged for things based on your zip code. They found that people living in predominantly Asian neighborhoods were nearly twice as likely to be charged more for online SAT tutoring from The Princeton Review than people who live in predominantly white neighborhoods, for example.
ProPublica

Leaked salary data shows big pay gaps between white TV stars and everyone else
Well, this is going to get awkward. The salary gaps are profound, exacerbated by the fact that the minority actors tend to win the most critical acclaim without commensurate compensation. One glaring example: White actors from The Big Bang Theory get a million dollars an episode. The two main stars of the highly watched, Emmy-nominated hit Black-ish? Per episode salaries for Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are $100,000 and $80,000, respectively.
Newsweek

The new National Museum of African American History is a huge hit
So much so, that the museum is having trouble accommodating all the people who want to come. Timed passes, designed to help regulate the crowds, are not as helpful as they’d expected. Hopeful visitors without them are queuing up as early as 4am to get in. Anecdotal evidence shows that people are lingering in the museum as long as six hours, three times the normal “dwell time” for most museums.
Washington Post

The Woke Leader

 
Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” is not a good movie
The new remake of Birth of a Nation – which opens tomorrow – has been controversial from the beginning, in large part because the director and star, Nate Parker, has been in the spotlight for an ugly rape charge in his past. But, says the New Yorker’s Vinson Cunningham, the movie ultimately fails for a variety of reasons that have more to do with Parker’s fundamental misunderstanding of both the story and the medium. One of the best critiques I’ve read in a long, long time.
The New Yorker

How deep learning will change the world
Fortune’s Roger Parloff has written a brilliant piece on deep learning technology, how it’s changing our lives, and how, it “will soon transform corporate America.” This is the same technology that is responsible for recent breakthroughs in speech recognition, and why software will soon be better at reading x-rays than people are. What are the implications for a rapidly changing and diverse world? A must read. 
Fortune

To be an indigenous American today
Photographer Carlotta Cardana and writer Danielle SeeWalker have driven more than 15,000 miles across the U.S, sharing the stories of Native American people and their identities today in a series of photographs and blog posts. The collection offers a poignant counterpoint to the dismal narrative of addiction and despair that tends to be the only story that gets told about indigenous American life.
Red Road Project

Quote

When you grow up in an Indian community, you’re taught how we’re like, “Keepers of the Land.” And here we were in a HUD project, that was not about being keepers of the land in any way. It was about creating kind of a suburbia that didn’t really fit – not even in South Dakota. They took a city concept, and took it out to the reservation – I’m sure it was for economic reasons – and they created a different kind of slum.
—Suzanne Blue Star Boy