Monday beckons and so does another pointless email about diversity, equity and inclusion, otherwise known as DEI. This buzz-phrase is now at the top of the list of corporate jargon in 2020 and is a go-to for C-suites to shamelessly and comfortably speak on how there is a legacy of passion for dealing with discrimination. To speak on how uncontrollably excited they are, and essentially how much they simply cannot wait to find effective ways to avoid dealing with racism in the workplace. The impassioned speeches lauding 5-point strategies and two-pronged approaches stating “Oh, we have a great DEI plan that we’ll begin rolling out next year” after 6 months of waiting, “Yes, it includes bystander training and with your help, you can keep us honest and accountable”. The whole idea itself is a Sesame Street guide to tackling racism that sees white people applauding themselves for minimal infantile efforts and Black staff face-palming and disinterested in taking on a role in the performance. It also turns out that the long-awaited training is a reboot of content from the last ten years and the actors involved are still wearing dodgy 90’s shirt patterns, but the only difference this time is that it’s been given the HD quality retouch. The honesty that was requested didn’t really sit well with leadership so although they appreciate the feedback, they are firmly committed to doing absolutely nothing, as this is one of the “four pillars of the business”. But much like those company surveys that go out every year asking for your advice through strategically formulated multiple choice questions, it is simply a box-ticking exercise that ensures shareholders get their much-needed sleep at night. With that being said, help your local CEO by answering following question:
Is your company doing well at tackling “discrimination”?
D: NONE OF THE ABOVE
You must select 3 answers to move on to the next question.
The language of talking about racism at work in the UK is a minefield of embarrassing over-zealous expressions and performative strategies. It’s almost as if there is a whole marketing department led by David Brent, dedicated to brainstorming the best way to keep it vague but to make it look functional. “We don’t want to look guilty so don’t create anything that will startle anyone. Think like a zebra masquerading as a horse. Most importantly, don’t mention the word Black or Brown just stay away from any colours for that matter, we don’t want it to feel too “racey”. But if anyone asks just say it’s multicultural. Oh and to top it all off, it needs to have a feel-good factor too, people have to feel as though they’re really doing something, not necessarily including people…“per-se”.”
The idea of diversity and inclusion itself positions Black and Asian people as the diversity cheer leading team, given a one-off opportunity in the spotlight to be talked at by leadership in 2020 and touted around as a company achievement. As if the Black staff on show didn’t rightfully apply for and earn the jobs they got, and somehow, right now its time to get up and repay some kind of “favour”, and that perhaps the real reason HR takes weeks to respond to an email, is because they’re on expedition in the heart of Africa in search of more Black people to bring back to the business. Only in these moments of diversity championing does our origin and identity as “POC” matter in order to fulfil a quota. Furthermore, the inclusion side of things only highlights that by stating the need for inclusion, the reality is that there is ongoing exclusion, but let’s keep that on the hush-hush. “Diversity is a fact and inclusion is an act” to paraphrase the quote and that is something corporates always seem to overlook even when they are told in the short minutes that the Black and Asian people are allowed to speak.
The worst part of all this is also the legwork that is required from the Diversity squad aka the Black and Asian people, to come up with all the solutions to this “diversity problem”. God forbid that those who earn their hefty salaries could possibly come up with an actionable, measurable plan. It’s simply not enough that Black people to come in and do the jobs we are hired for. We must be racially abused and discriminated against, but also have the courage to speak up at the detriment of our careers and formulate the ideas on how to fix racism all the while maintaining a higher standard of work to that of our white counterparts. Furthermore, Black people should force or beg others to include them because that always works out so well. The thought of simply being included seems too farfetched and idea. Even when leadership seeks counsel from those affected by racism, the solutions are rarely and almost never implemented by those with the power to change things. When leaders need to be held accountable for their lack of action, they turn to good old-fashioned ignoring. Unanswered emails, last minute no-shows to meetings, bigger priorities, the list goes on. Being Black in the corporate world is a slicker form of oppression with nicely worded emails, but you shouldn’t complain about it because one should be grateful to be the only Black person in the room and honestly, white people are really trying to do their best to include us.
When we step into 2021, let us leave behind this performative trademark. Black people should matter in boardrooms, in closing deals, in leadership and not just for the sake of damage control. It needs to be tangible through policy and opportunity, and if that isn’t on the table then I politely decline the offer to work overtime to and help a business peddle their thinly veiled racism. Sadly, diversity and inclusion is more about upholding whiteness and exclusion, and no amount of branding can disguise that.