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What’s the Best Way to Promote Diversity?

Topics: Work Culture

We stand on the edge of murky waters: a white millennial male writing about diversity in the workplace. But it doesn’t take an advanced degree in sociology to determine that some approaches simply aren’t going to work. One curious case comes from a recent story in the Washington Post, which reported about a presentation given to business managers at The New York Times. Apparently, those who failed to seek out minority candidates for hiring and promotion would be fired — or at the very least, strongly encouraged to leave. Is there something wrong with this?

new york times

(Photo Credit: samchills/Flickr)

To start, let’s step back and look at a more extreme situation — one that isn’t simply focused on promoting diversity, but rather where members of an institution felt that there were systemic problems of racism in both policy and employment.

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The case is that of Western Washington University. A recent article in The Atlantic highlighted how a group of student activists, seeking to implement anti-racist policies to combat the school’s perceived problem, created a lists of demands that they then presented to the school’s president. Among the demands would be the firing of some tenured faculty, the creation of a College of Power and Liberation, and at least 10 new faculty positions (funding included).

While the students’ approach of creating demands and ultimatums is in many ways misguided (as the article points out, the university president isn’t someone who can even make those calls), the article’s author, Conor Friedersdorf, points out something important: they aren’t villains.

The problems arise, Friedersdorf says, when in a sense of “misguided solidarity,” we think that criticism of an approach is equal to being against it, and therefore must keep silent. He goes on to say, “the false solidarity of bitten lips will only encourage students to persist on their current course, which ensures that any legitimate grievances they have won’t be addressed. Anti-racism is too important to be ceded to wrongheaded, doomed campaigns.”

It’s OK to Criticize

In essence, Friedersdorf is saying, misguided approaches aren’t necessarily malicious even if they seem “extreme,” and they benefit from criticism. So it’s not wrong to criticize your employer’s approach, but that doesn’t mean we have to label it as evil.

We won’t ever know the full details of why The New York Times felt the need to give ultimatums to their managers if they didn’t meet certain diversity goals — maybe it had become apparent that many were going out of their way to not hire more diverse staff; and maybe the higher-ups were simply making a mistake. But either way, the primary lesson we should take away is that it’s OK to criticize a policy that you see as flawed, provided you do it in a way that leads to better policies.

But as an employee, you may feel you have very limited power in the area of promoting diversity. You can’t necessarily make big decisions about staffing, and you’re afraid of going too far in criticizing your boss’s work. So what can you do as employee to bring diversity to your office?

Option 1: Referrals

One way that you can promote more diversity in your workplace is in the power of referrals. As Quartz points out, if someone referred by an employee gets the interview, they are 40 percent more likely to get the job than another candidate. That’s a big deal, and big step toward bringing in and hiring a more diverse group of people.

Option 2: Networking

It’s OK to admit that you don’t have a diverse personal network. You may feel that referring the people you know won’t do much to increase the diversity in your office. But that doesn’t mean you can’t branch out. All over the country, there are networking groups designed to bring people from different circles together. Be proactive about going to these groups, as the benefits are myriad.

Not only will you be meeting new like-minded professionals who can help you sharpen your skills and know-how, but you’ll be networking with a new group of people you otherwise may not have met. 

Option 3: Listen to Your Co-Workers

The reality is, there may already be someone in your office who feels strongly about this issue, and has a lot of great ideas about diversity — but for one reason or another, they aren’t being heard. Robin Pedrelli, co-founder and partner of VisionSpring, Inc., says it this way: “Welcome ideas that are different from your own, and support fellow teammates. The creativity that comes with diversity can help you generate new ideas or improve a process already in place.”

Seek out co-workers who may also be interested in solving the diversity problem in your office. It never hurts to have a fresh voice in the conversation.

When you see the need for change, don’t wait around for it. Take the steps you can to create the solutions and answers you know your company needs. You may be surprised how many other people were rooting for it, too.

Tell Us What You Think

What has your experience been like with diversity in the workplace? Are you in a fairly homogeneous environment? Have you ever felt overlooked in “diversity” policies? Share your stories and strong opinions in the comments below or by joining the conversation on Twitter!

Peter Swanson
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