Your Social Network Isn’t Diverse Enough
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It’s post-impeachment day. RaceAhead will continue the fight for diversity and inclusion.
Today’s guest opinion piece is authored by Ruchika Tulshyan, founder of an inclusion strategy practice. Read more about raceAhead’s call for essay submissions here.
If we know diversity and inclusion are good for business (and we do), why have diversity numbers, especially in leadership roles, barely moved?
At the start of the year, only 24 Fortune 500 CEOs (less than 5%) were female, only three were Black, and three were LGBTQ. Numbers of women of color in senior management, especially, remain dismally low: While women hold 24% of C-Suite positions, less than 5% are women of color according to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace 2019” report.
And that lack of diversity, for many Americans, pervades many aspects of life outside of the office. A 2013 survey by research non-profit Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that three-quarters (75%) of white Americans said their social network was almost entirely white. By contrast, 65% of Black Americans reported their network was comprised entirely of Black people, and 46% of Hispanic Americans said their network was entirely Hispanic.
A recent study by PRRI still found that 21% of Americans reported “never or seldom” interacting with someone of a different race or ethnicity. And even among those who did frequently interact with someone of a different racial or ethnic background, 74% said those interactions happened at the workplace, compared with 46% saying those interactions were in friendship groups. An Atlantic article on the same study notes that while not all Americans live deeply segregated lives, many have just a “cursory” interaction with someone different than them.
In fact, while the U.S. is becoming much more diverse as a country, many Americans still have neighbors of the same race, according to Washington Post analysis of U.S. Census data, a lasting legacy of race-based segregation in neighborhoods and schools in the U.S.
So even if they attend a racially-diverse school or live in a multi-ethnic city, many people’s views are still likely to largely be shaped by those who look like them. As a result, they can lack the cultural competency to work with peers of different backgrounds, or even rely on stereotypes and unconscious biases.
In a recent Deloitte survey, 64% of 3,000 employees polled reported experiencing bias at work. Yet, the overwhelmingly white and male leadership ranks—the ones who usually make funding and other decisions about corporate diversity initiatives—don’t see many of the problems that underrepresented employees face, according to a BCG report. For instance, these leaders often believe recruiting is one of the biggest obstacles to diversity in the workplace, says BCG. But employees from diverse backgrounds say challenges to workplace diversity span the “entire employee life cycle,” including retention, advancement, and leadership commitment.
Creating a truly diverse and inclusive work environment requires managers and leaders to develop personal awareness and understanding of unconscious bias and structural bias, by interacting with people different than them. At its core, workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion is linked deeply with understanding, engaging with, and collaborating with different people.
To move the needle on workplace diversity and inclusion, more business leaders need to actively cultivate greater relationships with people different from them.
These are some ways to start:
- Seek out diversity intentionally. Business leaders should choose diversity in the businesses they frequent (like buying from women- and minority-owned vendors), the neighborhoods they visit and live in (and not just seeking racially-homogenous neighborhoods), and in their social circle (develop a racially and culturally-diverse social network).
- Seek out diversity professionally. To create a diverse and inclusive workplace, managers must cultivate professional networks that are also diverse. Advertise job listings with identity-based networks. For example, don’t just list job openings on the company website, reach out to groups that focus on underrepresented groups—and there are many—like Black Girls Code or Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. And take time to attend events that are focused on serving minority groups. Seek recommendations on which networks are community-serving and led by community leaders from a diverse group of people. Cultivating these networks means management can draw upon them to more effectively diversify the workplace.
- Develop insight from a diverse slate of resources. To understand diversity, business leaders must prioritize looking for points of view that are different from their own. Seek out lesser-known films, festivals, cultural events, and media focused on diversity and inclusion. If a coworker is sharing an experience or opinion that is unfamiliar don’t shut it down. Listen without interruption or defensiveness, and thank them sincerely for sharing, especially if they are revealing something about their identity or heritage. Cultural awareness and sensitivity can’t be developed from reading, seeing, and hearing familiar perspectives—seek out information from diverse sources.
In my own work helping companies to develop strategies that foster diversity and inclusion, I’ve seen progress when white, male leaders regularly educate themselves and attend corporate events focused on advancing women or people of color. They learn to empathize with the barriers to diversity in the workplace: One male leader I spoke to said reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo urged him to engage in challenging but meaningful conversations about racial equality at work.
A lack of diversity in one’s personal life can have unintended consequences on creating lasting diversity and inclusion in workplaces. But intentional action to diversify who we engage with outside of the office can lead to real change within them.
Ruchika Tulshyan is the founder of Candour.
Tamara El-Waylly curated and wrote the blurbs in this edition of raceAhead.
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New York Times
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Harvard Business Review
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New York Times
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"I have a group of African American guys and gals, by the way, that follow me around and they think I pay them, and I don't... They're great people, just great."
—Donald Trump, at a campaign rally on Dec. 18, 2019, in Battle Creek, Mich.