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Employers: Don’t check the box for diversity’s sake

June 25, 2021, 8:32 PM UTC

George Floyd’s murderer is sentenced, Black campus police sue white colleagues for racial harassment, and Tik Tok loses its competitive advantage. Bonus: My colleague Jonathan Vanian explains why employers have to get serious about selecting and onboarding talent of color.

But first, here’s your post-Juneteenth week in review, in Haiku.

This Is Just To Say
I have eaten the plums that
were in the icebox

which I was saving
to share with Black voters as they
stood on line to cast

their protected vote.
They would have been so sweet and 
cold. Oh well! Enjoy the

Juneteenth victory:
Overdue, insufficient,
maybe good shopping.

Wishing you a delicious weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

For companies that want to improve the diversity of their workforce, I urge you to not rely on checkbox hiring. Please.

When I say checkbox hiring, I’m referring to the notion of recruiting a person of color simply because the company needs to improve its diversity metrics. As Beena Ammanath, the A.I. and tech ethics lead for Deloitte, recently told Fortune, “That’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

If management doesn’t check a recruit’s skill set or “appetite to learn,” and instead hires the person “because she's a woman, or he's a black man,” they may be setting up that new worker to fail. That new hire may not be suited for the role, and executives may come to believe that hiring people of color is not in their best interests. They may make the uninformed conclusion that people of color are less capable at certain jobs because they had a bad experience with a particular hire who was chosen to merely meet a quota.

“It’s going to fail and that's just going to leave a really bad impression,” Ammanath said.

One of Ammanath’s areas of expertise involves helping companies build diverse A.I. teams, a challenge because the field of machine learning is dominated by white men, as the AI Now Institute has previously discovered. Companies, particularly tech giants like Google and Facebook, that have traditionally hired A.I. researchers from prestigious universities like Stanford or Carnegie Mellon may be overlooking qualified people of color who lack the pedigree.

“So, you know the big myth that I've learned, being in the space for a while, is that everybody needs a PhD in machine learning or A.I.,” Ammanath said.

She explained that A.I. projects, just like all software projects, are built by teams containing a multitude of roles. Although data scientists are crucial to creating A.I. products like voice-activated digital assistants, these complex projects require workers who are skilled at project management, quality assurance (QA), product design, and other tasks.

A Black worker who is a project manager helping to guide an A.I. project may be more inclined to notice potential flaws in the A.I. software, such as a voice-activated digital assistant failing to understand the unique vernacular of African American communities.

If a company’s team of data scientists consists of mostly white men, “surround them with diversity,” Ammanath said. Consider the Black and Brown people at your work who may have been overlooked, as often it is the case, and “train them to become that QA person or that project manager” of an A.I. project.

And when you do train or hire that person of color, make sure that they feel included and valued.

Because hiring people of color, especially in the homogenous field of A.I., is one thing. Getting them to stay on the job is another issue altogether.


Jonathan Vanian 

On point

Derek Chauvin is sentenced After being denied a requested retrial earlier in the day, Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd. The former Minneapolis police officer was convicted in April of second and third degree murder, along with second-degree manslaughter. The sentencing hearing included wrenching video testimony from Floyd's daughter Gianna and witness impact statements from his two brothers. "What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck?" Terrence Floyd asked, addressing Chauvin directly. Chauvin is expected to appeal the sentence.

Black campus police report racial harassment from peers Serving on a campus in one of the country’s most progressive cities has not shielded the Black police officers at the University of Washington in Seattle from seeking legal remedy. Five Black officers filed a multi-million damage suit this week, saying they’ve endured a racist and hostile work culture, and shared allegations of racist slurs, harassment and threatened violence. The alleged behaviors are retrograde and ugly, and in some cases have lasted for years. “I can’t sleep sometimes,” said one officer. “This has affected me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.”
New York Times

Black TikTok creators on strike until they get the credit they deserve Megan Thee Stallion released her latest song called “Thot Shit” this week, a clear and compelling response to last summer’s controversial-among-conservatives smash hit with Cardi B, W.A.P. (She is not subtle in her critique.) But the song was also clearly designed to stoke a dance viral dance craze on TikTok — the song details dance moves in the lyrics, after all. But Black creators are not taking the bait and using their collective boycott to protest the persistent theft of dance moves by white creators and celebrities. "We observed over the years on TikTok that most dances on the app are originated by Black creators. And creators who aren't Black will water it down to do the bare minimum of the dance and claim it as their own," said Black TikTokker Jazmine Moore on her support of the action.

This edition of raceAhead is edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

On background

Thank you for Juneteenth. Now what? Heather McGee, the author of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, takes on the fundamental tension described by the arrival of a federal holiday nobody saw coming, and the hysteria over education that encompasses information about the U.S.’s racist roots. With the push to add true historical accounts to curricula, the teaching of the Tulsa Race Massacre is the most visible, recent victory. Conservative backlash reveals a power struggle as old as the nation. “It has become a truism to say people who don’t learn from their history are doomed to repeat it, but I’d go further: People who are deliberately robbed of their shared history are doomed to be manipulated by those in power, again and again,” McGee says in this reported opinion piece.
USA Today

Whiteness is not our savior Put your out-of-office notifications on, pour yourself a cuppa something good, and savor this take from Taylor Harris: a slow-moving exploration of roots, faith, family, and racism. It is, she declares up front, her testimony, which starts with the occasional white face in her home church as child, There, the Jesus on the altar didn’t bleed, but “wore a cloak, a triumphant robe that offered shelter within its folds.” In her future husband’s home church where Holy Spirit felled members of the all-Black congregation on the regular, whiteness was a faraway existence. Now, raising three Black children on the brink of adolescence, discussions of whiteness are searing and close. “Mommy, why are some white people bad?” her three-year-old asks. “Did she get alive?” her eight-year-old asks of Breonna Taylor. “I don’t know if he was asking if the pain struck her awake before she died,” says Harris, “or if she became alive again when she saw Jesus in the air.”

Today's mood board

Megan Thee Stallion isn't doing the bare minimum, and neither are Black TikTok creators.
Kevin Mazur—Getty Images

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