February is Black History Month! It’s a time to remember Black individuals/groups of the past and also connect with current Black women and men who are making strides in their fields, oftentimes while championing the rights of marginalized communities. With this month, there is also continued talks about inclusion and diversity in government, education, and various companies and fields of work. But what does diversity mean? What is its definition according to dictionaries and what does it mean to “diversify”?
Variety — That’s It?
The dictionary definition of diversity simply means variety — the incorporation of different elements or people from various backgrounds. There is nothing wrong with this definition per se; however, when talking about the issue of diversification, the definition (like the definition of racism in dictionaries) is not as focused as it could or should be.
Diversity, in regards to people, should be focused on the inclusion — with proper compensation — of individuals from marginalized groups.
Representation Without Compensation
This is not only widespread, but detrimental to marginalized groups of people as well as businesses, organizations and corporations. For white people, as individuals or groups, their idea of diversifying is to request or demand the time of a marginalized individual (usually a “token”) and pick their brain on certain topics without paying them for their time. Or hire a minority but pay them less than their white counterparts. There are a few things wrong with this.
It’s Not Diversity
To begin, diversifying — without compensation — is not diversity. Diversity is not only about inclusion and intersectionality, but about compensating marginalized people. Time and time again we are shown that one of the most powerful forms of protest is with our wallets. We pay for what we want to see.
Similarly, for a group who is rarely shown their value through monetary gains, it is a powerful demonstration of confidence in both the message and the messenger. By paying them properly (not a pittance either) you are leading with both your words and your wallet. Businesses usually lack one of these. They either heap praise without the reflective pay, or pay well but heap abuse on their people. There are even some who are abusive with inadequate pay. All three are bad, even more so if you are striving for diversity.
It’s Actually Racism/Sexism
An example would be how many Black women who write and speak about issues regarding racism, are invited to speak at an event out of state by a group that wishes to earn some diversity points, but they claim they are “unable” to pay. Now it’s just been pointed out that minorities rarely earn what they’re worth. And yet they are asked to pay for a plane ticket, hotel, food, cab fare to speak on what it means to be inclusive? What’s particularly grating is these groups can usually afford it and they are making a conscious choice not to pay.
Point of fact, they are adding to the economic disparity present among racial and gender lines. Those lines were drawn by the white supremacist patriarchy. So like businesses that hire minorities but pay them less than a white male, they are “appearing” to be diverse while actually perpetuating and furthering the economic racial divide.
If you as an individual or organization truly want to be diverse, simply put your money where your mouth is.
It Will Affect You — We’re Done With Excuses
Remember that horrendous Pepsi/Kendall ad? How about Heineken’s “lighter is better” ad? There are some people who will wonder, “How did no one realize how racist this ad was before it was released?” or in white people terms “tone deaf”.
If you look at the highest level of management within any organization you’ll realize how. For example, PepsiCo’s board of 13 directors is 2 women, 11 men and almost all white. Their 10 executive officers are 1 women, 9 men and, again, almost all white. And the 3 women mentioned are white. For Heineken it’s the same — mostly white males.
White people spend their time ignoring, participating, or explaining away racism because they have no experience being on the receiving end of it and are usually the ones doling it out. So how should they be expected to catch a racist ad before it’s released to the public?
By hiring (with the same pay as a white male) people from diverse backgrounds. If they had Black, lesbian, non-binary, disabled, Indigenous people in their highest levels, the ads would not have been made. That’s why we blame companies.
A toxic work environment leads to a lack of diversity which leads to a lack of the diverse thinking necessary to identify racism, sexism, ableism and anti-LGBTIQ. If you are refusing to diversify, or refusing to create an equal, fair environment that encourages diverse individuals to apply and remain (i.e. don’t drive them away), that is your responsibility and thereby your fault.
Also, please stop throwing your hands up when we refuse to be your token and going “Well, I tried so don’t blame me when there’s no diversity.” That is the equivalent of hiring one Black person, it doesn’t work out and using that as an excuse to not hire anymore Black people. When a white person doesn’t “work out” do you stop hiring whites? Or are they the only ones who get judged as individuals at work while you consistently lump us all together?
It’s also the same as saying, “Well since you aren’t polite when speaking about racism, you’re driving allies away.” If it only takes an instance of being uncomfortable for you to run from what is morally right, then you went morally bankrupt a long time ago.