Photo Courtesy of iStock by Getty Images (African Refugee)
(This post was originally run on The Huffington Post on January 24, 2017.)
It’s a new year and for many, one that brings a dismal outlook with the election of Donald Trump as President. As a Diversity and Inclusion professional, I am particularly disturbed, for accompanying his election is a trip back to the dark ages when diversity and the need for equal and fair opportunity were controversial and hung in the legal balance. This is a time to which this country never needs to return. With this stated, I also know that there still is hope, thanks to the many whom took to the streets this past weekend, and that all the momentum that has been gained to date is not and will not be lost. In all, I know that we, as Obama stated all too eloquently and tearfully in his Farewell Address, still must “believe” and “hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written…” So, although we have indeed lost a great leader, orator and thinker in former President Obama, this weekend made me believe that we as a nation will not stop fighting for what is right, for what is needed and for what is necessary for this country to continue moving forward.
As a Diversity and Inclusion professional, my fight has become even more personal, more real and more important than it ever was. As someone with an invisible disability, I live every day differently than any other person around me and know exactly what it is like to feel that difference in today’s workplaces. When former candidate Trump mocked a disabled person during his campaign, I, amongst many, was shocked. But, the nation still took to the polls and voted for him. When he disparaged not only the African-American community, but also all minority communities, including women, I was still in disbelief. But, again, this former nominee is now this country’s President. I remind you, my readers, of these horrors not to give you nightmares, but to enlighten you to the fact that nothing is sacred or off limits anymore.
I do not believe that America will let hate win, for too many lives have been lost and too many fights, in and out of America’s courtrooms, have been won, to allow pure and raw hate and ignorance to prevail. The field of Diversity and Inclusion, in and of itself, has made real progress, advancing from a function siloed in compliance to one that has become an integral and core aspect of many successful business’ bottom lines. On the other hand, while companies have committed large budgets to things such as unconscious bias training, the follow-through on these efforts is often minimal to none. And, while companies have begun to hire Diversity and Inclusion leaders, these leaders are often single individuals, with little to no budget, headcount or authority to implement the changes needed to solve today’s complex diversity dilemmas. So, where does that leave this field that has become more critical today than it was even decades ago?
Like the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets this past weekend, it leaves this field in a place in which everyone must now work together to collaborate across sectors, to share best practices and to really think deeply about and act upon the root causes for today’s lack of workforce diversity. There is no doubt that this work is complicated and multi-pronged, as success relies on breaking down siloes, building up accountability across functions and exploring and potentially tweaking homogeneous organizational cultures that have often been in place for decades. However, there are ways to do this work well, ranging from goal setting (not quotas) to cross-functional accountability metrics to ties to executive compensation. Some solutions are more aggressive than others and thus need to be catered to each company’s unique factors, such as size, culture and resources. However, even with all these intricate and delicate differences, the beautiful truth is that there are solutions that actually work, and I know this because I have taken the time to implement, test and iterate on them. And, with patience, passion and persistence, they have worked, resulting in real change and progress in closing the diverse talent gap.
At the beginning of Obama’s Farewell Address, he stated that even though he has not seen eye to eye with every American, each and every conversation he had throughout his presidency “are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going.” It is now time for us to have those same conversations in the field of Diversity and Inclusion. It’s time for us to be honest, to reflect and to get to work, for the longer we wait to do so, the longer progress is stymied. It’s time to put forth our best efforts to help preserve and protect the progress we have made so far, and continue pushing forward to ensure that everyone is provided equal access to economic opportunity by permanently leveling the playing field. This preservation and perseverance are the battles that will truly help keep, not make, America great; a nation of which every one of us, no matter our color, gender, nationality or any other difference, can be truly proud to call home.