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M-Theory – how diverse are you?

As we wind down June and wind up to Canada Day, we’re also coming to the end of both Pride Month and Indigenous History Month. There was also Juneteenth, marking the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.

Unsurprisingly, these observances and other considerations have me pondering diversity, equity and inclusion, as an old white lady is wont to do. The world got really into DEI a couple of years ago. It’s not a great reflection on our species when a trend is catalyzed by murdered Black men. 

And it was just a trend. Cuz when the pandemic wound down, folks decided everything was back to “normal.” That included tech, which was apparently diverse, equitable and inclusive enough. Most funding, hiring and action fizzled away into little more than lip service. Though you’ve probably still got a themed t-shirt stuffed away somewhere.

I don’t actually know which company I’ve worked for that was the most diverse. That’s the easiest of those metrics to measure, though it’s certainly easier to see everyone you work with at a startup compared to a global corporation. I am pretty confident in saying that every company I’ve worked for has been majority white. Having mostly worked in tech roles and companies, this isn’t surprising. 

The only work-related environments I’ve been in where I’ve been a minority are those dominated by men. This is also not surprising in tech.

I’ve worked for more than one company that was entirely staffed by white people. I have discovered that even hiring for remote positions where candidates can be pretty much anywhere on the planet, we still had to make a concerted effort to not just hire more white people. But familiar is not the same as better.

Realizing that such an effort is necessary, that you need a plan to push you to act less racist or sexist, doesn’t feel great. We like to feel like we’re better than that, beyond that. That we see skills and experience, not colour. Perhaps the first step is admitting we’re not beyond that. Not by a long shot. If we were, “fit” wouldn’t be such a catch-all dog whistle. (By we, I mean us white people.) 

But admitting things to yourself doesn’t actually accomplish much. Lowest difficulty setting. What’re we going to do about it?

I have noticed over the years some mistaken beliefs, toxic twists and downright delusions about what diversity, equity and inclusion mean and look like. I’m sure I’ve held and perpetuated some of them. Thanks to old white lady privileges, I’m sure there’s a gazillion more that I haven’t come across.

So how’s your company doing? 

If everyone in your company is white, even if you’re from a bunch of different countries, it is not diverse. 

If your company has more staff than you can count on your fingers, but there’s only one of <insert gender expression/skin colour/religious affiliation here>, is it really diverse?

If you boast that half of your leadership team are women, but all of those women are white, is it really diverse?

If you boast that half of your leadership team are women, but none of them is more senior than middle management, is it really diverse?

If you boast that your leadership team is diverse, but none of those diverse folks is more senior than middle management, is it really diverse?

If your company only arranges celebrations or team building centred around very busy, loud, physically active, time-consuming, or alcohol-fueled events, are you really inclusive?

If you have women and people of colour and other folks who aren’t white men in your company, but they don’t work in and lead in all departments, not just traditionally “pink” ones, is it really equitable and inclusive?

If you believe or have used the tech industry’s toxically common notion of “meritocracy,” are you really committed to diversity or equity?

If you really like resumes that look a lot like yours or previous hires, and never pause to challenge that, are you really committed to diversity?

If you are hellbent on having every employee back in the office all the time, despite that creating various serious difficulties for many employees, are you really committed to equity and inclusion?

If you say nothing, agree with or laugh at an inappropriate comment, joke or slur, are you really committed to diversity and inclusion? (Yes, I know power dynamics and job security can make that risky.)

If you don’t listen to, take seriously and act to protect and support your employees if they are harmed verbally, psychologically or physically by a coworker, customer, vendor or other contact in the course of doing their work, even if it costs the company business, are you really committed to diversity and inclusion?

If it takes a global pandemic to make your work environment comfortable and maximally productive for some of your employees, are you really committed to equity and inclusion?

If you think it’s reasonable that everyone should work in the same ways, for the same hours, at the same speed, with the same equipment, in the same environment and produce the same results all the time, are you really committed to equity?

If you have passed on a resume because you weren’t sure how to pronounce the name on it and couldn’t be bothered to learn, are you really committed to diversity and inclusion?

If the only time off you’ll allow employees is for the legally required public holidays, which typically only reflect one set of religious beliefs, are you committed to diversity?

If you think everyone should follow the same punishing schedule that you or certain members of leadership do and grind it out every day, or else they’re lazy and don’t deserve to succeed, are you really committed to equity and inclusion?

If you have passed on a resume or a promotion because the candidate appeared to be a woman of “childbearing age,” and you didn’t want the hassle of her potentially going on mat leave, are you really committed to diversity and equity?

If your company has not made an effort to ensure that benefits benefit everyone and their needs —including their families—are you really committed to diversity and equity?

If you’re in a position to hire or promote people and you prefer to surround yourself with those who feel familiar, and like they “fit” well, you’ll understand each other, and working together will be easy, are you really committed to diversity and inclusion?

If you have made an effort to hire or promote a candidate for as little compensation as possible because they don’t push for their or the role’s real value or haven’t strongly negotiated, are you really committed to equity?

If you have considered “I don’t get it” to be a valid reason not to acknowledge, support, hire, mentor or just be a decent human to other people and can’t be bothered to try and learn, are you really committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

If everyone works the same schedule and the same hours, especially if they’re long hours, are you really encouraging equity and inclusion?

If your workplace is potentially diverse, but looking around, you have no idea how or why because you don’t know much about those you work with and don’t talk about much more than work or other small talk, you are probably not committed to diversity, and everyone is well aware of that.

If you make token-supportive corporate acknowledgements or efforts or try to get information from employees to improve corporate culture, and very few people are willing to participate, you are probably not committed to diversity, equity or inclusion, and everyone is well aware of that.

This list isn’t exhaustive. Was it annoying or uncomfortable to read? Are you feeling like I was being holier than thou in writing it? Like I said, I’ve been part of a bunch of those very situations. I am not always safe or outspoken enough, either.

We can keep working on it, though. Just remember that the onus is on us. (Hi again, white people!) It’s not on the people who we decide to learn about with the intent of bettering ourselves. (See, it’s so easy to even centre ourselves in learning about other people!) The people to whom we decide we want to be better coworkers. DEI is not a spectator sport because a lot of people don’t have the luxury of observing from the sidelines.

Remember, people at your company get paid to do their jobs, not your emotional labour. (Hello, DEI and social committees!) But if you pay people for DEI work, pay them well and ensure they have good benefits. They deserve it, and they’re going to need them.

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