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Has Diversity and Inclusion Become the Definition of Insanity?

Over the recent year, I've read several articles about why Black and Latina women are leaving Corporate America as if the reason is some great mystery?

According to the 2017 annual report released by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org the state of women in corporate America people of color are significantly more likely to leave their organizations than white people.

The report revealed that when companies take a one-size-fits-all approach to advancing women, women of color end up underserved and left behind. Corporations are overlooking Black women and their skills, it is harder for women of color to land leadership roles in companies. Women of color receive less support from managers and get promoted more slowly, even though women of color are more interested in becoming a top executive than white women.

According to the 2018 report, Women of color receive less support from managers than white women—and Black women receive the least support. Latinas and Black women ask for promotions and raises at about the same rates as white women, but receive fewer promotions and are paid less for comparable work.

So why are women of color leaving? When an individual does not feel welcomed or valued, what’s the alternative? How long are we going to accept the status quo when it comes to failed methods designed to drive diversity and inclusion? And, the new trend of putting more emphasis on “inclusion” by reversing the words (e.g. Inclusion & Diversity) has done nothing but create more confusion. Is that really the great solution? Give us a break!

Businesses that struggle to retain diverse talent offer the same clichés based on traditional, ineffective methodology and practice. In fact, I can recite the “how-to’s” from memory. Ensure diverse employees get coaching. Provide a mentor who can help them adapt to the culture. Offer access to an Employee Resource Group so they feel included. Make sure they see themselves represented in leadership. Provide unconscious bias training. After years of hearing the same tune, it begins to sound like “blah, blah, blah, blah” to the women of color impacted by the lack of solutions and results.

How many times will a company reinvent the same old, outdated mantra about diversity and inclusion—which has been proven to be substandard at best—and expect a different result? I believe that is the definition of insanity!

Here’s an ingenious suggestion. How about we stop asking women of color to “fit in” to a corporate culture that doesn’t embrace authenticity and inclusion, let alone true diversity?

Racism exists! Sexism exists! Ageism exists! Inequality exists! Discrimination exists! Avoiding these subjects doesn’t make them go away. They don’t magically disappear when we walk into the workplace. They wear a different mask, but they eventually come to the surface.

When women of color are consistently overlooked for promotions, overly criticized and vilified for their work and achievements, excluded from team meetings and external outings. These are sure signs that you have a diversity and inclusion problem. These actions result in emotional abuse that is often ignored in the workplace.

Leaders must stop tolerating inappropriate behavior and sidestepping the issue by claiming they are the result of “unconscious bias.” Do we really believe that when women of color experience consistent bias in the workplace it’s due to some “unconscious” mental state and not predicated by prejudice? It’s gotten to the point where this nonsense is just plain insulting to the individuals on the receiving end.

We’ve also become complacent in giving companies a pass for not having diverse leadership teams. Some companies mask the issue by placing white women in leadership. Here’s a newsflash…that move doesn’t address diversity; it’s a stepping stone to resolving gender inequity. There is a distinct difference. And let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that placing white women in leadership will address the representation of all women.

Women of color will never have the same advantage as their white peers, especially if corporate America continues the practice of grouping women, people of color, LGBTQ, veterans, and people with disabilities under the same diversity umbrella. Each group has its own unique experiences and needs; therefore, a successful strategy cannot be designed as a one size fits all!

Attempting to be all things to all people is not a smart strategy. Your company’s diversity and inclusion strategy should be prioritized based on the needs, identified gaps, areas of weakness and future growth. If a company has a problem retaining Black and Latina women, should they be wasting resources and money on recruiting more of these professional women who will eventually leave? Or, should they dedicate the resources to addressing the internal barriers that prevent them from thriving in the company?

To be clear, white women certainly have their own set of challenges, such as pay inequity, gender bias and stereotypes, lack of internal support and unequal opportunity for career-making roles. However, we cannot ignore the fact that their “white privilege” is an advantage. Plus, they have more autonomy to show up as their authentic selves. These are luxuries that most women of color will never have.

People of color often suppress their authenticity to “fit in” as they pursue acceptance within their work environment. When in leadership ranks they often are the “only one.” They must inherently deal with the bias of navigating their careers without being painted with the stigma of being “angry” or “difficult.” If they have a language barrier, the level of patience, understanding and attentiveness is often missing.

The mental strain associated with trying to live up to a biased professional ideal often stifles people of color rather than allowing them to embrace their diversity. It leads to an exhaustion that their white colleagues may not understand or identify with. Not talking about these issues only makes the pressure and lack of understanding progressively worse, resulting in a culture of tolerance as opposed to acceptance for all parties.

Having no people of color at the most senior levels in a company is a pervasive problem that starts at the top, likely predicated by a history of institutional racism. When it comes to recruiting women of color for senior leadership roles, don’t buy into the excuse that there isn’t a large enough pool of qualified talent. That’s bullshit, plain and simple.

Corporate America—let’s stop the insanity and begin dealing with reality. The reason that women of color are leaving your company is because your so-called Diversity and Inclusion has failed them!

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