Workplace Diversity in Dire Times

It’s been about 24 hours since I’ve gotten a work message related to diversity resources. In 48 hours from now, I’ll have a meeting to discuss my thoughts on the workplace in general.

I’m tired.

During my meeting yesterday, I talked to a lovely lady from HR who asked what I had learned after talking to a community manager about ways to start a workplace initiative for D&I. I shared that one question stood out across the whole conversation:

“Does anyone here see this as a problem to be addressed? Do the people on the ground want this?”

It took our full meeting time to address this one point.

Care on the ground

With the recent protests and conversation in the US, there was no end of people stepping forth to make a statement – some with money to match – in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Most of it was performative, some of it was meant, but I digress.

We just sat there with the question of care on the table and between us, no answers. Who asked for this initiative? Who added their support to it? Myself and this woman were two of hundreds. My feedback, born of a wish for this to truly thrive, was forthright.

“I’m not interested in having us expend time and energy trying to make this a company-wide initiative, try to drag people into it who care about none of these issues, then have it fizzle out when the questions become too hard and challenge their perception of the world.

That’s wasted effort and I don’t want that for me or for you. I would rather gauge and engage with people who want this. We can just have a book club or a lunch meeting or an after-work activity and let it grow with intention.”

The response was genuine concern. It had not occurred to the other person that people would not care about these issues. Her next words were, “Why should that stop us from making it a company-wide thing? People should care!”

They should. They should, but I know too well that they don’t. People don’t care right now, so the company saying they should won’t make them. I recounted how the contact I spoke to shared a story where he tried to start a D&I initiative and, once the hard questions came in and assumptions started being challenged, it got disbanded.

Hard to maintain positive vibes and talk about oppression in a way that challenges us, so one of those had to go.

I imagine we’re not going to get very far talking about black oppression and LGBTQIA+ issues when I watch you regularly choose Chik-Fil-A for lunch.

Where was all of this before?

I am reminded several google docs in that I’ve worked here since 2013. That’s almost seven years. This D&I conversation didn’t include me until 2019 (I heard that there was something happening behind the scenes, but there wasn’t a lot of traction).

It leaves me wondering about the concern I’m seeing now as if this hasn’t been a thing black folks have been rioting about for years. Where was this in 2014 when Ferguson was on fire and the UN got tagged in? Where was this in 2016 where we had one of the most painful and polarizing votes of our time? Why is it here now?

As I look back on that time, I was one of two black people who would have worked here during that time. The rest of the crew just didn’t see color, so of course there isn’t the conversation on mental health around it. Meanwhile, the black network™ just went forth to the DMs to check on each other and make sure we were and stay okay after the one formal company address or one-on-one.

At the same time, had I not reached out about this before and had I not talked to my colleagues about how things were going, where would they be? Would they be anywhere? Would they have anywhere safe to go?

It’s a rhetorical question.

I’m suddenly a locus of knowledge for a number of things and hey – I’m the CM, so I guess that comes with the territory – but I’m so very tired.

Additional queries

It made me think about and ask, more than a few times: what are we doing with the people in the office. Do we have resources for them? Are we checking on their mental health? How? What do we do when they need to really talk about things? Who are they supposed to talk to in this office? Who is that safe person? Was there any thought on any of this? How committed are we to taking care of these folks?

We ended up with deciding to make a slack channel and see who opts in and will likely revisit the topic in a few days. I also edited the doc because I’m tired and grieving, but it was important to keep people off of problematic figures and who else would they have asked?

How many other black people are in this exact position right now because their respective places of work decided to care about people who didn’t make it into the company photo?