By Go-getters Gaithri Raj and Precious Singo
As women of color who speak often to other people of color, one thing we’ve noticed as a recurring theme in discussions is that we continue to experience some of the same stuff we did years ago. And even though we hear that it’s 2019, and “obviously race issues must be better now (right??),” our experience results in a different narrative, one that describes a fundamental distinction between diversity and inclusion.
It is true that today, many companies no longer talk about things like diversity in hushed tones, and that’s great! They proudly tout their commitment to diversity by displaying images of team members from a vast variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, and it would appear on the surface that diversity and inclusion are alive and well in the marketplace. But actually, the data paint an entirely different picture.
Atlassian commissioned a report on the State of Diversity and Inclusion (D & I) in U.S. Tech that illustrates this point. Eighty percent of the survey’s respondents agreed that D&I are important in the workplace, but only 30% of underrepresented groups in tech companies reported having representation, retention, and a sense of belonging at their jobs. It’s true that many companies have programs to actively recruit and hire a more diverse staff, but the percentage of companies engaging in these efforts has remained relatively stagnant, especially in the high-tech field. (US companies overall saw a gain from 59% in 2017 to 64% in 2018 while Silicon Valley companies have remained steady 63% for both years.) Even though those numbers about diversity look impressive, they don’t mean that the companies get high points for inclusivity.
Diversity vs. Inclusivity
Let’s focus on the distinction between these two concepts. Diversity is the mere existence of differences within a group of people, whereas inclusivity means that individuals feel they are valued by their coworkers, and see their perspectives included in the team’s shared goals. A diverse workplace then, is really just a great start to attain the real goal, which is to ensure that each member of the team is included equally in discussions and decision-making, regardless of their background. So, what are some ways to make your (hopefully diverse) workplace more inclusive?
Learn Our Names
Please just ask us how to pronounce our names. Trust us, we’d rather you ask us, and please know that you won’t be the first to do so. Asking shows you respect us and want to be mindful of our differences. (Oh, and please do not correct our pronunciation of our own names. We’ve been saying it for years.)
When doing introductions at a new team or groups of stakeholders, please do not ask for our “English (American) names” because our real name is just too difficult. Just ask us for the pronunciation and then simply introduce us like you did the person before us, (e.g., by our name and team).
Seems simple enough, right? But we’ve had these experiences, even in front of large groups of people, and sadly, during a couple of interviews. Yes, we may awkwardly smile or laugh politely when this happens, and you may interpret that as meaning that we think it’s no big deal. We can assure you that our response is born out of fear of being considered rude, angry or “difficult” in a room where we are outnumbered. It really is not a laughing matter to have your name criticized, made fun of, or butchered in public.
I remember and greatly appreciated my graduate program director who wrote my name phonetically and rehearsed it with the announcer so when they called my name at graduation, they’d get it right. My director understood the importance of having a milestone moment like that ruined because someone didn’t take the effort to be inclusive, and it meant a great deal to me.~Gaithri Raj
Speak up for us
Always having to be the one in the room that calls someone or something out for being non-inclusive becomes exhausting. Worse, when we do so from a non-privileged position, it can be life- or career-altering. There truly is power in numbers. So just having one additional person say, “This is problematic,” when a tasteless joke is made or a non-representative marketing material is chosen, can make all of the difference in how the feedback is perceived.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, believe us when we speak about our experiences. Many times we’re told that what we have experienced isn’t really what happened. Or that so-and-so really meant well, and we misread the situation. And sometimes we’re told that “not all people” are like that. We know that! Just like we know that these microaggressions (like being cut off repeatedly by a coworker) are real and harmful and something we deal with daily. You can help by taking the extra step to look for it and then call it out when it happens.
Raising awareness about inclusivity is everyone’s job.
Doing your part to make the environment you’re in truly inclusive is a small way that you can empower others to go get the world.
To learn more about microagressions and inclusivity, try these articles: