One day, not long after starting a new role at a fast-growing startup, Jodi-Ann Burey received an unexpected call. It was her manager.
Could she please attend a meeting in one hour? Oh, and could she present something to the company’s management team on her work? Jodi-Ann immediately realized her inclusion in the meeting was an afterthought. But she knew she had to jump at the chance to impress the higher-ups. Fortunately, she had a presentation all ready to go.
So up she got, in front of the company’s most senior team, to explain what she was doing.
The CEO, though, began to look increasingly concerned. After a while, she angrily commented that Jodi-Ann’s work wasn’t relevant – and spent a full half-hour asking her combative, uncomfortable questions.
The CEO was clearly out of line – but not a single other person in the room spoke up for Jodi-Ann. You’ve probably guessed that she was the only woman of color in the room. But have you also guessed what her job was?
She was the lead on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As if the CEO’s behavior wasn’t racist enough on its own, that was the work she was claiming was irrelevant to the company. She was wrong. For any company to thrive, this work should be at the heart of what it does.
Over the next few sections, we’ll explore a few of the steps that companies can take to help foster a purposefully inclusive culture. But before we do that, here are a few extra pointers that’ll help you, as an individual, become part of the solution, not the problem.
The first is to think about inclusion issues intersectionally. This simply means understanding that there are multiple factors that condition someone’s level of privilege – white women, for example, tend to have very different workplace experiences than Black women. Women from Asian backgrounds, like the author Ruchika Tulshyan, face a different range of issues again.
The second is to recognize that whatever privileges you have yourself, it’s worth remembering that the very idea that you can go through life “not seeing color,” like so many claim, is a surefire sign of privilege. People of color have no choice but to see color because their own color affects their whole experience of the world.
And the third is to use your own privilege, however it manifests, for good. Don’t be like those silent onlookers in the meeting with Jodi-Ann and the CEO – speak out. If you’re white, say, you’ll likely face fewer negative consequences if you stick your neck out compared to a person of color. So be an ally and get involved.
The final point for now? Understand that not being racist isn’t enough. You have to go beyond that – you have to be antiracist. That means you don’t just treat people of color fairly yourself but you also understand how racism benefits you personally, speak out when you encounter racism from other people, educate the people around you, and even get out of the way, when you can, to let people of color take the lead.
Because inclusion on its own isn’t enough. You have to be inclusive on purpose. And so does your company – which is what we’ll look at next.