Racial Diversity in the Workplace: Who Cares?

California is a diverse state with mountains, lakes, deserts, microclimates, large and small cities, and people from all over the world. There are international companies that produce products that employ people in fields ranging from agriculture to technology to financial services to blue collar. It is no wonder that the buzz these days is racial diversity in the workplace. You can read about studies on the lack of racial diversity and how companies want to change the workplace dynamics by creating a racially diverse workforce. However, when you work for many companies in California and across the country, you will notice that a true lack of racial diversity actually exists. Of course there are pockets and "specialities" that you find different people of color holding down the fort, but by and large, it is a near shutout for racial diversity. That gap widens even further when you look at management positions.

While companies are talking about diversity, actions speak louder than words (to put it mildly). Diversity isn't an accident and it doesn't happen due to the very idea being thrown out there. People of color aren't being encouraged to work for these companies, and more truthfully they aren't even being interviewed for a multitude of reasons. So, how do you break the color line?

The problem isn't HR, the hiring manager or the company per se. The problem is strewn throughout our culture. There is an institutional philosophy that devalues race when it comes to hiring. It is illegal to not hire someone based on race, but in a lot of ways, we don't hire based on race. It isn't racism by the book, but it is institutional racism. Institutional racism isn't technically illegal and it isn't clearly identifiable because it can be justified which is an entirely different subject. The problem is that racial diversity is a deliberate change in philosophy that we just are unwilling to recognize or embrace.

In order to create a diverse workplace, we would have to create a hiring plan with as much purpose as defining who the target audience is of any product. Why would we ever spend so much time doing that when there are plenty of well qualified candidates to just get the job done? If we think about the effort, time, and resources that are put into defining who we are selling a product to and compare it to how we approach hiring, most hiring managers should be ashamed of the effort and thought that they put into the diversity of their department. I've never once sat and had a conversation about how we were going to achieve racial diversity in any company. Maybe, it was because I did represent diversity as the single black male in a department of five to ten white people, but I just don't think that was ever a thought.

The reason behind it is simple. No one really cares about racial diversity in the workplace. It sounds good and seems like a good idea, but the basis for hiring in corporate America has never been that we need to literally be racially diverse. We just want it to happen "naturally." The notion that this could even happen naturally is about as absurd as a young man saying he wants to play in the NBA, but he doesn't actually want to get a basketball. How do you get any place without taking deliberate steps to get there? I might think it is a good idea to spend a day at the beach, but unless I make a plan and find a way to get there, I'll never magically appear at the beach just because I thought about it. I call this our "I Dream of Jeannie" complex. Wiggle my nose and voila, something that I thought actually happens. (For those of you who are too young to remember the show, that analogy will never fully make sense.) We can't write without learning to write. We can't speak without learning, practicing and speaking a language. We can't be professional in anything without learning about the profession and we can't create racial diversity in the workplace without trying to hire with the purpose to create diversity. Diversity is created through understanding, recognition, planning and execution of the plan. If U.S. history has proven anything, racial diversity in the workplace is not natural or magical.

It is ironic to me because, as a sports fan, you watch teams draft players to create player diversity for their particular sport's positions, but that philosophy is somehow missing in the workplace. They don't simply get the tallest guys to play basketball. They have to be specific types of players, and too many guys with the same skills just don't work well together. In football, they don't just draft all quarterbacks. They get specific guys who fill particular needs and positions. In baseball, they don't get a bunch of catchers or just pitchers. They fill their rosters with guys who can perform specialized skills. However, when it comes to the work environment, very few people are thinking about how racial diversity can help their team. The philosophy is that I need someone with these skills, period. Racial diversity has no actual place in the conversation. However, racial diversity in itself would make us all more accountable in the workplace to racism, sexism, our communities, and it would begin to bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots. Are these all bad things to achieve?

There are always arguments and different opinions about hiring practices when it comes to racial diversity. Every position for and against has holes in it. However, the bigger hole is the one that we continue to fall into as we ignore the importance of racial diversity. We simply do not practice inclusion at most companies and talk is cheap. This isn't to say that anyone should hire based on race, but we should be hiring based on what racial diversity should look like in our office to some degree. When you come into an office and your office is not a reflection of the general population for the area in which you live or work, it is probably time to think about what racial diversity means. It is time to think outside of the box and more importantly, it is time to make racial diversity a priority. Racial diversity in the workplace won't solve all of our bigger societal issues, but racial diversity will create a more inclusive society with more sensitivity and understanding. If we take the time to deliberately build workplaces that truly reflect our communities, we will begin to see how diversity is more than a statistic for demographics. Racial diversity in the workplace should be the building block towards creating communities that embrace our differences while expanding our commonalities.