How Intentional Are Your DE&I Efforts?

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie October 19, 2020
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How Intentional Are Your DE&I Efforts?

​When was the last time you mentored a Black woman?

That is the question Chelsea Williams urges workers and managers to ask themselves. Because the answer, she says, might provide perspective on just how sincere their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts are.

"We can have this big DE&I glossy vision statement, but if we're not being accountable for our progress … we're missing it," said Williams, who spoke Monday about the career advancement of women of color during the Society for Human Resource Management's INCLUSION 2020 virtual conference.

If companies genuinely want to hire and promote more women of color, then they must think carefully about every aspect of these women's career paths. They should examine college internships, college recruiting, job descriptions, interview questions, job assignments and career coaching, said Williams, founder and CEO of College Code LLC, a New York City-based company that helps organizations hire and develop diverse early-career workers.

The conference session—"How to Build the Talent Pipeline for Women of Color"—focused on Black women and Latinas and the barriers they face in workplace advancement.

"While there are strides that have been made for women of color, we have to be honest about where we are," Williams said. She presented a list of troubling statistics that included the following data:

  • Slightly more than half of Black and Latino college students earn a degree after six years, while 70 percent of white students do.
  • Black and Latino students are more likely to leave STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) college programs than white students.
  • Black college students are more likely than white students to end up with unpaid internships.
  • Black women and Latinas are overrepresented in lower-earning professions—typically service-type jobs that might soon be wiped out by automation.

This year has created additional challenges for women of color, Williams said. Black women are the hardest hit economically because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

Be Intentional

For Black women and Latinas to be better represented in higher-paying jobs, managerial positions, executive leadership and boards of directors, company leaders must be intentional about hiring and promoting them. Their inclusion, Williams said, needs to be a "forethought, not an afterthought."

For instance, Williams said, pay attention to the words people in your company use to describe Black women. "Are we still saying they're 'angry'… or 'feisty'?" Williams asked.

Also note whether Black women are represented in leadership positions. If potential leaders don't see people who look like them in upper management, they won't get necessary mentoring or sponsorship, she said.

Ask yourself, she suggested, if HR tends to dismiss the complaints of Black women and Latinas who report injustices or harassment. "Believe women of color the first time," Williams said. "Women of color say, 'I went to HR, my manager, my mentor and shared an experience that negatively impacted me, and they didn't believe me.' "

If you're a manager with a racially diverse group, pay attention to who's speaking up. Are you allowing Black women and Latinas to contribute to the conversation? Are you encouraging them to do so?

Be specific about your diversity and inclusion goals. When someone uses the word "diverse," Williams asks what he or she means. When someone talks about women of color, she asks, "What women do you have in mind?"

"I want you to say 'Black,' " she said. "I want you to say 'Latina.' I want you to say 'Asian.' "

Pay attention to metrics: Do Black women and Latinas tend to be in your lower-paying jobs? Are they promoted less often than other women? Are they mentored less often? Are they absent more often? Do they tend to leave your organization in larger numbers?

Do your contractors and partners have diverse workforces? "Can people see themselves in the people we bring in [to work with the company]?" Williams asked. 

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