employee perspectives

A Seat at the Table and a Chance to Speak

February 11, 2020

By Briana Spears, Consumer Intern

Coming from a predominantly white institution, I can speak from experience of often being the only in the room. Whether it be a class, a job or extracurricular involvements, I know the feeling of looking around the room and not seeing anyone who looks like me. More importantly, I can attest to the rarity of seeing individuals in high-up positions who look like me.

Often, there is the challenge of mastering code-switching. Knowing I can never mask myself to be white enough in professional settings, yet still facing the challenge of somehow only being black-ish in private settings. In any environment, seeing someone who looks like you – who is like you – achieving the same things you aspire to, helps to foster lasting diversity and inclusion, and serves as a silent means of recruiting.

As a woman of color, a recent college graduate and an aspiring communications professional, I can speak at great lengths on my personal journey with Diversity and Inclusion. I understand the grave importance of providing opportunities for people of color to make an imprint on the industry and break barriers while doing so. Here, I will share my thoughts on how to provide these very opportunities to ultimately, champion diversity in the workplace:

Diversity and Inclusion – Yes, They’re Different 

Diversity and inclusion efforts must go beyond words. At large, our perception of diversity and inclusion is seen as two interchangeable concepts, however that is not the case.

Diversity is to have a variety of differences and similarities. Diversity brings about a process of organizational self-identification and evaluation, as we work towards identifying our differences. Understanding that diversity can be broken down by visible diversity traits – age, race or gender, or invisible traits as well – religion, education or socio-economic status, can help in understanding the need for equal representation from both categories.

Inclusion, on the other hand, is the act of including a person that is recognizably distinct from the group in which they are within. An inclusive work environment treats employees with fairness, providing equal access to resources and opportunities to contribute to organizational success. Businesses should strive to cherish differences, all while working to make them an integral part of how their business is conducted.

Leaders of Color, Lead Colorfully 

When it comes to diversity in the workplace, it’s important not only to have diverse representation in terms of employees, but also employers. Diverse representation in management and senior level teams, brings many competing perspectives into account. As leaders, we articulate our own experiences and diverse leaders can expand on the shared experience of those who look like them. When there is multi-racial representation at the board level, this helps ensure that all employees can identify with its board members and there is representation when key decisions are made.

How to Retain Diverse Talent

It is important to note that employees of color, much like anyone else, are attracted to work environments where they feel welcomed, where there is opportunity for wealth and where they do not have to wonder what they are doing there. New hires are not the only ones who should feel welcomed. A truly inclusive atmosphere will exude positive and welcoming energy where any person of color feels invited and included.

While feeling welcomed is important, good diverse talent will not come for free. If employees do not feel they are being compensated fairly, then they will likely go where they can. Employees of color need to know why they work for a company and how their career will develop there. Companies need to give credit to diverse individuals and provide a platform for them to receive recognition. We as an industry must work to not only make it easier for people of color to leave their mark, but to make them feel comfortable doing so. So, take the extra initiative to make your employees of color feel valued.

A key part of recruiting and retaining diverse talent is hiring even more diverse talent. Simply hiring a few people of color is a great start but will not cut it. People are more comfortable to work where they feel seen. When recruiting people of color, it provides a sense of comfort to see other people who look like you, doing what you aspire to.

So many companies unknowingly make the mistake of employing for diversity initiatives for the sake of meeting a quota to numerically measure the rate of diversity in the workplace. However, they are missing the mark when they fail to implement inclusion efforts. Your employees should never wonder to themselves:  What am I doing here? 

Why Diverse Talent is Important

When there are varied backgrounds within an organization, companies can be more adaptable to changing environments in the industry. Including all people makes it easier to reach all people. Agencies cannot come up with the exact same content and expect to thrive against competition if everyone in the room looks the same and thinks the same. Clients ultimately want brands who can understand and relate to them to relay their messaging to consumers in an appropriate way. The lack of diversity and inclusion may limit the ideas and potential reach of diverse consumer groups that can be used to drive business.

Five Ways You Can Go All In, Too:

  1. Be intentionally inclusive. Challenge yourself and potential biases by going beyond the bounds of your comfort zone: Have coffee with someone who doesn’t look like you, join multicultural committees/organizations and attend events outside of work to learn more.
  2. Know it is okay, and in no way offensive, to not know everything. Just be curious enough to ask questions and as you learn, care enough to change.
  3. Be a resource and provide a support system the best way you can. If you hear something that is not right, challenge it. If you do not know if something is okay, ask. As opposed to giving people of color an extra advantage, this accounts for the predetermined disadvantage. Be the change, and help diversify our employees, environments and experiences.
  4. Remember that no one wants to be the only. Continually strive to create not only an inclusive environment, but also one that is equally representative.
  5. Do not just celebrate D&I – Become a champion for it. The common misconception is that diversity and inclusion are concepts for celebration when in actuality, this needs to be normalized. Instead of celebrating, it’s important to value diversity and inclusion so that it becomes a central, foundational part of company culture.

This is one of the greatest times for heightened D&I efforts and training. Diversity is the key to company performance. Greater diversity ensures greater performance. By ensuring there is representation across the board, and on it, we ensure diversity in our employees, environments and experiences.