Experiences That Matter

Photo is of tubes with different items inside of them.
Photo from Flickr

Since the United States has been coming to terms with its reckoning with racism, I have observed the ways in which certain people feel ambivalent about what is next. What does this mean for the future of the workforce?

As a career coach, I am fascinated with how people have been talking about what needs to change in the workforce. In certain circles, predominantly White circles, there is this weird tango of saying, “We definitely need more diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce,” and, “Yeah, we tried to diversity here. We tried to more more equitable. We want to be more inclusive, but somehow we are not acquiring and retaining the talent pool that we want. What is the problem?”

Then when people in certain circles, again predominantly White circles, hear responses as to what the problem is … they seek another answer until they find the answer that they like—usually from the people least impacted by an issue whether it be racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and any other intersecting -isms or phobias.

How do I know this? As a career coach, trusted friend, and woman of color, I have heard this story over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

I am sure that the last time I heard this story will not be the last time.

I have heard this story so many times that I am tempted to write a novel based on it.

There is so much I can say about this topic, but today I will focus on a common topic in career development—networking. As a career coach, I encourage people to use networking and informational interviewing as strategies to learn more about a job, internship, school, or employer. For people from minoritized and marginalized backgrounds, it can also mean learning about how racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, albeist, and overall ignorant and/or bigoted an employer is.

What does this mean? If you are a leader in the workplace, you can write your statement of diversity, add your pronouns to your email signature, acknowledge the Native land on which you reside before you start your presentations, include stock photos of diverse people on your PowerPoints, and so forth. If it makes you feel better, you can do it.

Just know that other people can tell when you are invoking the language of DEI just to feel like you checked off that checkbox. People will be able to tell that it is like a checkbox to you because:

  1. If someone is from a minoritized and marginalized background, they have likely developed a radar for hollow words and actions.
  2. If someone does not have the best radar for detecting hollow words and actions, they can use networking and informational interviewing as tools to research how sincere you are as a self-proclaimed DEI-centric leader.

I have had these discussions with clients, students, alumni, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances from all career stages and all walks of life. We all know that this is a time where leaders and employers are more self-aware of how much they do or do not cultivate a healthy and DEI-centric work environment.

Yeah, rewrite your mission statement to be more inclusive. Sure, be more intentional about hiring a diverse talent pool, but know that the work does not end there.

When it comes to making real decisions that impact your organization, who do you listen to? Whose insights and advice do you heed? Who actually benefits from the decisions that you implement? Who do you give credit when you receive praise for the achievements of a project? Who do you promote? Who do you give raises? Who do you sponsor for opportunities to advance their career?

These are the types of experiences that we discuss in my DEI-conscious circles. These are the types of experiences that matter. If you are not discussing and taking meaningful action on them, the very populations you seek to include may have no interest in playing your game of DEI Bingo.

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