Online discussion forums (fora?) are a funny thing. While we generally have our daily conversations inside our bubbles, where opinions rarely surprise us and everybody knows your name, forums allow us to hold conversations with people from outside (often far outside) our little bubbles. I live in Portland, Oregon, which is the epitome of the “liberal bubble,” where I can generally expect that 99% of the people on the streetcar live on the same side of the political spectrum—if not quite as far to one end—as I do. Because of this geography, I jump at opportunities to…Read More
You know what most people hate? Job interviews. Why? Well, they’re a weird, manufactured thing where people sit in a room and one is trying to prove they’re the best and the others are trying to prove their workplace is cool. Awkward all around, right? Naturally, the instinct on the part of HR and hiring managers is to relieve the awkwardness and make the experience as pleasant as possible.Read More
We’ve all seen it: that sweet statement at the end of every job posting that tells everyone not to worry, that the people doing the hiring hold absolutely no bias whatsoever and will totally make every decision without regard to race, sex, national origin, disability status, sexual orientation, etc.
We all know that’s complete and utter BS, right?Read More
Oh, work. You're hilarious. A few weeks ago, an organization reached out to me to inquire about my ability to help them craft some organizational policies. I was super-excited about the idea, because this organization's mission was in offering services to our area's homeless population, with a focus on families needing assistance. Also, this was to be my FIRST time working with a client that didn't come to me through a mutual acquaintance. I scheduled a quick phone call with them to get the scoop, as the office manager said she needed to chat with me before passing me along to the person in charge of contracting. Here's how it went:
Me: Could you start by telling me a little bit about your needs?
Office Manager: Well, we need a new policy and need someone to help us make sure it's written in a legal way.
Me: Ok, what kind of policy is this?
OM: Um...this is confidential, right?
Me: Absolutely; I will never share my clients' information without permission.*
OM: Well, we're a "faith-based organization," and we offer shelter to families. We have a family that wants our services, but it's a gay couple with kids. That goes against our faith, so we need a policy that will allow us to keep them out.
[Sidebar: I am not making this up, and she really was this matter-of-fact about it.]
Me: Ok. So you want a policy that will allow you to discriminate** in your admission of families so you don't have to allow the gay couple in?
Me. Well, I can tell you I am not the person to help you with this.*** If you would like legal advice on this issue, I suggest you contact the [Redacted] State Bar Association.
OM: Ok, thank you.
Me: [out of habit] Best of luck to you! [I could kick myself for saying this.]
Thank you, Nameless Organization, for reminding me that sometimes saying No to paid work is a no-brainer.****
* I don't think I'm breaching confidentiality by telling this ridiculous story. I'll never share the name of the organization.
** I really did use the word "discriminate," but in a neutral tone. She really did say "yes" when I asked her if that's what she was hoping to do.
*** I did not tell her that I am married to a woman, have two kids, and totally disagree with the idea that religious beliefs should permit an organization to discriminate in the delivery of services. At this point, I felt kind of bad for her. I do, however, wish I could figure out who the family is so I could help them get the services they need.
**** I recognize that I am fortunate to be able to say no to stuff like this, and I would not judge someone for taking the work if they truly needed it. But I'd encourage them to never speak of it again.
Creating an equity & inclusion team in a white-dominated nonprofit is a business fraught with peril. Picture it*: You're launching your internal equity & inclusion action team. On this team of 10, only 2 people identify as POC. Of those 2, neither has a management role, and most of the other people on the team are managers or executive level.
You're probably asking yourself if those 2 people feel tokenized by their invitation to join the team. From Helen Kim Ho:
Tokenism is, simply, covert racism. Racism requires those in power to maintain their privilege by exercising social, economic and/or political muscle against people of color (POC). Tokenism achieves the same while giving those in power the appearance of being non-racist and even champions of diversity because they recruit and use POC as racialized props.
You have one-on-one conversations with the folks you're inviting onto the team, and one POC brings up some serious reservations. Among other things, he feels:
- suspicious of what you really expect him to contribute given his non-management position in the organization;
- unsure that he will feel heard in the room;
- skeptical that he won't be putting his job on the line by speaking the truth about his experience in the organization;
- incredulous about the idea that a group of mostly white managers are going to lead any real change.
So, yeah. Serious skepticism from someone who has a right to be skeptical. In examining whether this is a case of tokenization--which, as a reminder, would be using 2 staff POC to show that the team is a diverse bunch while continuing to hoard power among the white managers in the room--you really have to ask some questions:
Why are these 2 people--and not other POC--specifically being asked to join the team?
Are the team leaders prepared to relinquish power such that the white voices in the room are not constantly centered?
These are challenging questions to answer, and the right answers are extremely hard to live up to.
This conversation brings up questions beyond tokenization, most of which are applicable to every organization I've worked with. Chief among these is the very basic Why aren't there more managers of color in this organization? Also important: Is this employee right to worry about his voice being heard and his job being on the line?
I can't answer these questions for your organization, but I can ask--and you should be asking them of yourselves.
In my real-life day job, I'd be somewhat confident in my ability to help amplify this man's voice and certainly confident in my power to protect his job. If I'm in the room when an equity team meets, I can help to de-center the white voices (though I, as a white person operating in a white-dominated organization, have to be constantly vigilant to make sure I am helping and not hurting).
Sadly, as a fish doesn't see the water she swims in, even your most well-intentioned white leaders likely don't see the white supremacy culture they are perpetuating, so yes--often, a white person in leadership has to promise to protect/lift up a person of color just so he feels like his presence on an equity committee isn't a threat to his job. That may be actual irony, folks. Get to work.
*Shout out to Sophia Petrillo, obviously.