As we come into Black History Month, it is not only a time of reflection on the great strides and inventions of African Americans, or the Civil Rights Movement that was both perilous and still going on, but time also to reflect on our current practices.
Let’s begin with a story.
Bandettra (a true friend of mine not pictured above) had a B.S. in Civil Engineering, had graduated top of her class, and was already enrolled in a master’s program focusing on Hydrology & Hydrodynamics online as a professional program. In short, Bandettra, already having internship and research experience, was a class-A graduate.
She couldn’t get a job.
In fact, she couldn’t even get to interviews on any sort of regular basis, despite her packed resume and references. She applied to many jobs and noticed something very odd when she did get interviews. The initial screening always seemed to be the same: they were surprised when they saw her, even some noting how “well spoken” she was, and one HR manager even stating how “happy she was that [Bandettra] was approachable and not combative.”
Combative. So well-spoken. Surprised at her appearance.
Bandettra decided to change to a research track degree to go into a PhD program instead so she could teach.
This was in 2016, long before COVID was even on the radar, and Bandettra is now out of the United States, teaching overseas just as she planned.
Getting no interviews or not being hired does not have to be connected to race at all, of course. There are plenty of factors that can affect you getting hired or not. But the comments made on the interviews were alarming. They were absolutely tied to the stereotypes of black women as “angry” or “combative” when they are confident and assured. Her name can be viewed as “ghetto” or “ratchet” and they were surprised at her being well-spoken when she appeared in-person or on video.
Why? Would those same thoughts enter their mind had she been a Caucasian male named Daniel?
It’s a rather common sight for businesses to profess their hiring of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) works, and yet BIPOC workers are still not represented well in areas like finance, technology, and other professional occupations. Diversity and inclusion are needed more than ever before.
Where HR is failing
Unconscious bias—Bandettra. LeTeisha. Dre’mon. Hiring personnel may see these names and automatically apply a bias based on stereotypes. The unconscious bias is particularly subversive because it is something many are not even aware of, or they are used to it being an accepted part of society. Hiring managers see certain names, make an immediate thought about the applicant without even looking at the resume, and set the candidate aside. It’s done quickly and without any conscious effort on their part. It not always a matter of race, but it is skewed to disproportionately affect BIPOC workers.
What can be done: Realignment of best practices and policies, and a reshuffle of the employees involved in hiring. No one wants to remove someone from their position, but if changes are enacted to policies and candidate targeting and the behaviors of the hiring personnel don’t change with it, new life must be brought into the company.
Connection-searching—This is where many HR managers or recruiters are looking at a choice selection of universities or who have connections to the organization to look at candidates on social media like LinkedIn or Facebook. This limits African Americans from visibility, especially when most neighborhoods, schools, and organizations are homogenous. In 2014, 75% of Caucasians polled by the Public Religion Research Institute had no connections or friends outside of their race. This lends to the problem with unconscious bias as mentioned before, but also keeping things homogenous in the workplace, despite claims or even basic efforts toward diversity and inclusion.
What can be done: Some HR or recruiting re-learning may be in order. No one wants to be hired simply because they are BIPOC, but they don’t want to be disqualified because of it, either. Those in hiring must be forced to look beyond names and connections such as specific universities. Blind resume reviews can help this by removing major markers to focus on the qualifications that truly matter most. Better screening policies and regular audits (both within HR and externally) can help to keep processes honest and fair.
Inconsistent, ineffective, or non-existent diversity and inclusion policies—Planning to add diversity and inclusion policies is not the same as having them. Neither is putting policies into place that aren’t consistently adhered to or enforced. It all highlights a lack of authenticity and value, leading to lower employee engagement, which is shown to also improve customer/patient experience when employees are highly engaged. Without policies designed to encourage a positive organizational culture of diversity and inclusion, not only are BIPOC workers harmed, but so are other protected groups like LGBTQ+, religious adherents, metal health sufferers, or the handicapped.
What can be done: Taking the time to check on how your employees feel about the company culture, their satisfaction, or level of engagement is a great start to finding the pitfalls. You can also check the pulse directly with diversity inventory surveys, accessibility checks, and inclusion inventories to understand from those around management what is really happening.
The “Fitting the job” conundrum—A hard one to target because many don’t want to admit they think this way, but it occurs when people visualize a position and who they think should be in it. Let’s say a CEO. Take a second and think of what a CEO looks like in your mind. What about a CFO or CMO? How about a Director of Customer Relations? Typically, the answer to these questions is rooted in societal designs of a certain trustworthy person in those positions who is, for the US, middle-aged, Caucasian, and male. This is the “fitting the job” conundrum, that isn’t inherently malicious, but harmful nonetheless. Often, BIPOC workers are steered away from jobs that make sense based on their experience and toward jobs based on what someone believes is a “better fit”– often roles far removed from leadership.
What can be done: Revisit your corporate culture, diversity and inclusion training, and perhaps conduct an outside audit of learning and practices. At the level of “fitting the job”, there’s an ingrained bias that has developed into the company culture and takes direct and practiced effort to change.
The bottom line
Diversity and inclusion aren’t simply buzzwords to rally behind on paper or on social media. Nor are they keywords simply to attract talent to your organization without any real support behind it during the surge of #BLM posts, Black History month, and the #MeToo movement. Diversity and inclusivity should be, and always should have been, an integral part of a company’s make-up. They should be intrinsic in vision, design, and strategy, and represented from top management down. Anything less is a band-aid solution to a much deeper wound. It’s a problem made better though successful HR management and aligned with organizational management.