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Diversity and inclusion is a global challenge, and that’s what makes it so hard

April 1, 2022, 8:14 PM UTC

Happy Friday! We have opinions about hair, yes we do. Jonathan Vanian breaks down the unique challenges facing inclusion professionals working in companies with offices in many countries. And this year’s Trans Day of Visibility finds the trans community under siege in some very troubling ways.

Here’s a reader roundup and an important request.

Plenty of you wrote this week to express your thoughts on the passage of the CROWN Act in the U.S., and my call to steer clear of dramatic distractions to better focus on the issue of hair discrimination in education and the workplace.

There were a number of new allies who were unfamiliar with the legislation. “I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t know this, but now I do and I’m paying attention,” was a common—and very welcome—refrain. We’re all on a journey together, right?

Others were happy to take a break from “slap” talk, though the political debate wasn’t much better.

Jonathan Dunnett noted that more education for key lawmakers was necessary. “Natural hair should be worn without fear of discrimination,” he wrote, quoting Democratic Congresswoman Jahana Hayes of Connecticut. (Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia had a far different response.) “The fact that anything other than that is deemed better… ugh.”

There was some soul-searching, too.

Jennifer Sanchez, currently the Arizona community affairs manager on the Global Public Affairs and Sustainability team for Intel, shared a LinkedIn post she made about the issue:

“Earlier in my career, my long, dark, naturally curly hair in the newsroom ignited unsolicited comments. ‘Your hair’s so puffy.’ ‘Your hair’s big.’ ‘Messy, beach hairdo.’ I eventually started blowing out my hair, and later, cut it short, so it was easier to make straight.

When I recently had to record a video for our #EquityinSTEAM Initiative with Intel Corporation and YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix, I had to check myself. Our team did an intentional, thoughtful job of representing skin tones, hair textures, backgrounds and diverse ages in our programming and marketing and communications. That inspired me to wear my now-thinning short curly hair – in hopes girls like me see it and feel represented,” she wrote.

Misasha Suzuki Graham, attorney, DEI advocate, and the co-founder of the must-listen podcast, Dear White Women, says hair is a conversation they have often in her household, particularly where it relates to kids—whether they’re hers, or someone else’s.

“My multiracial older son (I’m Japanese and White, my husband is Black) first told me that he didn’t have the right hair when he was six,” she said. It was a “Frank Sinatra and Doris Day” theme for a spring festival for the first grade (pre-COVID), that got it started.

“The kid who was picked to be Frank Sinatra was blond and had straight hair – my kiddo said he couldn’t be Frank because his hair wasn’t straight… and why didn’t he have straight hair too?” She reports having to intercept numerous attempts by playground moms to touch her younger son’s afro, “like he was a zoo animal,” and took the time to pay attention to the coded/racist language that was buried in their school dress policies. She got the headmaster on the phone to weigh in on behalf of kids with non-Frank or Doris hair. “Sometimes it requires those of us who have the privilege to speak up, to change things while centering the needs of others.”

And one reader is looking for a very specific kind of help from you, raceAhead readers.  

Next month, they’re planning to address a school board in their community in Texas, in support of needed revision to the dress and hair code policies in their district. It will be their third time up. The first time, “I expressed a unique story about myself to the board and the scars left on one,” about hair discrimination, they wrote. The second time, they referenced the importance of the CROWN Act and talked about a school district in suburban Houston which came under fire for policing hairstyles, particularly for boys and non-binary students.  

Will the third time be a charm? “You only get three minutes to speak,” so the pressure is on. How would you recommend they use this time? 

Hit me back with your best coaching, subject line: You Got This, Friend. I’ll pass it along. (Anonymously, if you prefer. Just let me know.)

Wishing you a joyous and naturally coily weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

Not every country holds the same beliefs about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

This means that for large companies with multiple offices worldwide, managers could have a challenging time creating DEI practices that take into account their global workforce, which likely contains a cornucopia of cultures.

Dr. Poornima Luthra, the CEO of TalentED Consultancy and an associate professor at Copenhagen Business School, knows about these global DEI challenges firsthand, a topic she explored in a recent Harvard Business Review piece. Sometimes, people overseas can view DEI as an “American issue,” not particularly relevant to their locale.

Luthra tells Fortune about the time she was working with a large Danish company about DEI issues and “no one out of the 20 leaders in front of me” knew what the word gaslighting referred to. And no, they were not trying to gaslight her by feigning ignorance.

In recent years, there’s been a rising awareness of the American culture of gaslighting, a manipulative tactic that’s used to minimize bad actions by sowing doubt. If you feel like you’re being discriminated against on account of your race and a manager says, “It’s all in your head,” you may have experienced gaslighting.

But while the Danish executives didn’t know about the word “gaslighting,” they knew the definition, particularly when Luthra gave them examples. The executives all “got it,” she says, once she gave them examples, such as a company manager telling a person who experienced discrimination, “Oh, you must be overthinking it.”

As Luthra explains, it’s not that these Danish executives weren’t “highly intelligent” or completely naïve about gaslighting, they just didn’t know the terminology.

Luthra believes that while people outside of the U.S. may not all know DEI lingo, it’s likely they understand the concepts. Racial discrimination seems to be borderless.

That’s why it’s so important for corporate leaders to articulate to their employees their specific stance and beliefs about DEI issues and policy. Everyone at work should act on a shared foundation of understanding.

Of course, there are still many challenges, as Luthra says.

Although U.S. companies often discuss diversity issues that pertain to race, European companies often view DEI through the prism of nationality, she explains. That’s partly because European companies, which operate under tougher data privacy laws, can often only collect data on employees through passports and other legal documents, she says. This makes it particularly challenging for global companies to know the racial makeup of their global workforce, she says.

In many ways, “we're at the early stages of companies getting to figure this out,” Luthra says.


Jonathan Vanian

On Background

Transgender Day of Visibility  Yesterday was Transgender Day of Visibility, and it falls at a time when transgender folks are experiencing extraordinary assaults to their dignity, safety, and civil rights in communities across the U.S. For those in a position to lobby or advocate, the ACLU has a regularly updated tracker of the nature and number of anti-trans legislation across the country. (You will be scrolling for a heartbreakingly long time.) GLSEN, a nonprofit devoted to helping educators create safe and affirming environments for LGBTQ youth, has a helpful guide for educators and interested community members to help trans kids at school. For allies, GLAAD has an excellent media guide that can help anyone learn how to better refer to or communicate about transgender people. The glossary is a gift but reading through their reference materials is a great way to better understand what it means to be transgender and how to respect the boundaries of people who are living lives that are unfamiliar to many.

Seven ways to calm a young brain in trauma As children continue to navigate the complexities of returning to school, daycare and other activities, I’m re-surfacing this piece from K-6 classroom teacher Dr. Lori Desautels. While it’s specifically about childhood trauma, the advice might be helpful with the transition (and now world events) trauma children are also experiencing.  “A traumatized brain can be tired, hungry, worried, rejected, or detached, and these states are often accompanied by feelings of isolation, worry, angst, and fear,” she says. Kids who have been traumatized are often in a constant state of agitation, unable to form healthy attachments or make progress in school. They need help feeling safe inside their own bodies, she says. The techniques are simple and work for everyone. Deep breathing, movement and dancing are all helpful, but my favorite is a rhythmic clapping or drumming exercise that gets the entire class moving in the same rhythm. “The collective sound brings a sense of community to the classroom,” says Desautels.

Cause of death: Hit by a rapidly lowering bar In an essay that starts with a light touch, and becomes progressively less funny and more painful, writer Anna Kegler conducts an autopsy of a recent attempt to win a job interview by pitching a story idea assigned by her interviewers. “I was asked to come prepared to pitch a piece of scientific research that could be packaged into a compact training for someone in a manager role,” she says, noting the homogeneity of the company. “So I ... gulp... chose to talk about diversity research.” And it went downhill from there.
Huffington Post


This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

Parting Words

"When trans people can’t access public bathrooms we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access healthcare facilities—it’s about us existing in public space. And those who oppose trans people having access to the facilities consistent with how we identify know that all the things they claim don’t actually happen. It’s really about us not existing—about erasing trans people."

Laverne Cox 

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