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
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.
At my day job, we LOVE talking about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). There are several of us here who could easily spend hours every day talking about what we're doing wrong, brainstorming ideas for improvement, and generally wishing we could fix the world. Ah, if only all this talk could solve an organization's EDI shortcomings--we'd be way ahead of the curve.
Unfortunately for all of us chatterboxes, talk is cheap. Even more unfortunately for yours truly--she who never met a checklist she couldn't check or an award she wouldn't strive for--there is no end game. The actual day-to-day work of EDI is itself the goal, which means none of us will ever get to the point where we look at what we've done and think "That's it! Mission accomplished."
So, how do we do the work when we don't have an end goal in sight? More importantly, how in the world do we know we're actually doing the work in any meaningful way? While I can't create a finish line for you, I can offer you some concrete steps you can take, starting today, in your organization.
- Understand--and get others to understand--that the meat of the EDI work lives not in a committee's discussions but in the daily actions and decisions of every employee. Committee discussions are great for setting tone, determining guidelines, and creating visibility, but they can't actually do the work. That's up to staff.
- Create a method to learn what the decision points are in your company's work. This could be a survey of all staff or a meeting with representatives from each department. Learn what people do and where they exert power in their daily work.
- Make a master list of decisions people make in a day. It is at each of these decision points where the magic can happen. When a hiring manager looks at a hiring decision with an equity lens and makes a decision in line with the organization's EDI goals, the outcome changes. It is in the accrual of hundreds/thousands of these outcome changes that the EDI work progresses. Your list can start small--one frequently made decision from each department or team--and can grow once the team members have had a chance to practice.
- Determine what equity frameworks or tools would be useful in approaching a decision. How do we change the outcome to support our EDI goals by changing one staff member's approach to a decision?
- Create an evaluation system. This could look like an "accountability team" that meets regularly and hears and discusses reports from departments on the decisions they've made and the outcomes they've seen. This could be a required monthly report from each department manager that the executive team reviews and shares with the organization.
- Add the evaluation of EDI work to your organization's performance review process. This doesn't have to be a numerical score, but every staff member should be able to articulate at least one decision they've made to which they applied an equity lens during the decision-making process.
That would really be a great start. My organization is working on implementing and improving these steps as we continue our move away from the theoretical and into the practical. I can't wait to see our outcomes.
Feel free to share your questions in the comments, or send me an email if you'd like a little additional guidance!
Recruiting and hiring would be so much easier if we were all robots. We'd achieve just the right balance of whatever it is we need, all without the feelings and patterns and habits that, more often than not, work against our success. I'm on a lot of HR-related discussion boards, and this question came up recently from a brand-new HR manager (paraphrased so as to avoid violating anyone privacy):
Is it legal to deny an applicant an interview because of bad grammar on an application? Writing and other clerical duties are core responsibilities, but the job description does not explicitly state the use of correct grammar as a requirement. However, I assume this is an implied requirement.
Seems easy, right? "Bad grammar" isn't a protected class under any discrimination laws I know of, and everyone wants an administrative assistant with an English degree. The answer to the "is this legal" question is definitely "yes."
Still, I learned something amazing at a training quite a while ago, and it's become the number one thing I have taken with me on this HR journey: We MUST challenge job requirements like "good grammar"--and the even-more-pervasive "comfort" and "fit"--if we are to begin the work of dismantling white (and able- and cis- and hetero-) supremacy in hiring. Comfort is the essence of the status quo.
Here's my response to the OP:
I agree it's usually legal, and sometimes appropriate, to reject someone for bad grammar. It sounds like this may be one of those situations--though you may need to look into "implied requirements" and think about how to make them explicit if they are actual requirements. Since you're new to HR and will likely have issues like this arise in the future, I'll add my advice about stuff like this:
I think it's important we challenge ourselves to examine whether we use grammar or other values as tool to weed out people who are otherwise qualified and just come from different backgrounds. For example, it may make upper management feel more comfortable to hire a [manufacturing position/sales manager/IT director] who speaks and writes like them. However, speaking the Queen's English is often not job-related and in many cases may end up working against equity and inclusion efforts. For example, using AAVE in a cover letter might be a no-go for an executive assistant who is expected--as clearly stated in the job posting--to draft official company press releases, but it shouldn't weed people out if they won't be creating "formal" external communications. In the end, it's up to us to push hiring managers and challenge them when values like "fit" and "comfort" and, yes, perfect grammar stand in the way of doing our best work.
So, the right question is usually NOT "Is this legal?" It's "Why are we more comfortable with Candidate A than Candidate B?" or "Why do we care if our IT administrator isn't 100% fluent in English?" or "What do you mean when you say he 'fits in' better with the team?"
When we choose comfort and fit and grammar and appearance, we're usually choosing the status quo. And guess what the status quo is! It's white male C-suites, young female secretaries, people of color only in the entry levels, and sky-high unemployment for trans folk and people with disabilities.
We can do better than "comfortable," so now I challenge you: How can you make your leadership uncomfortable today?