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People Of Color Are Not Your Workplace's Free Diversity And Inclusion Resources
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People Of Color Are Not Your Workplace's Free Diversity And Inclusion Resources


In 1997, I was a young, fresh-faced commerce graduate eager to contribute and develop my skill set. South Africa was a fledgling democracy, and for the first time in our history, we all had equal opportunity to participate in corporate South Africa.

As a woman of color, I am frequently the "only" person in the room, and seeing people who looked like me was even more uncommon in those early days in South Africa. Right out of the gate, I noticed that I was quickly becoming the de facto person to ask about all things diversity-related, from casual inquiries about how to pronounce specific names to more pointed questions about how to make the world a better place.

My boss approached me with a bright smile a few weeks into the job.

“We have a fantastic opportunity for you: we are forming a Diversity Committee and need someone like you.”

I was a commerce graduate looking to build my skills in a specific area of expertise; I was not a diversity and inclusion practitioner. It was a huge ask, but the fear of saying no loomed over me.

He was, after all, portraying this as a fantastic opportunity; would I be seen as unhelpful if I said no? As a woman of color, I was already aware of how vulnerable I was and of the bias in systems that worked against me; thus, the genuine fear of saying no and being indirectly penalized loomed over me.

I reluctantly joined a group of seven "volunteers" who were all either Black or people of color. The burden of being on the committee was enormous; in addition to our day jobs, we were now expected to carry an additional responsibility with no upside other than the vague hope that our efforts would result in a better workplace for us.

As a member of a marginalized group, I was aware that our performance would be judged harsher than that of dominant groups, and that we would have to work harder to prove that we belonged; thus, the system was already stacked against us, and now we were being asked to take on additional responsibility on top of the weight of what we already had to achieve.

I was the only South African Indian on the committee, and the stress of having to speak on behalf of my entire community weighed heavily on me. Even though I was of Indian descent, this did not qualify me as the authority on everything related to my community. What if I said the wrong thing or offered advice that was not representative of my community? Would my entire community be harmed?

As we worked through some of our organization's issues, often late at night or on weekends, it became clear that the issues were systemic and structural, necessitating a more in-depth examination of policies, leadership, and culture across the board.

We were, however, acutely aware of our precarious positions and limited authority.

We were, however, acutely aware of our precarious positions and limited authority..We were being asked to speak up about issues that we had been subjected to and to speak out to senior members of dominant groups without a sense of psychological safety.

We were, however, acutely aware of our precarious positions and limited authority..We were being asked to speak up about issues that we had been subjected to and to speak out to senior members of dominant groups without a sense of psychological safety..The genuine fear of backlash loomed over us if we brought up these systemic issues.

We were, however, acutely aware of our precarious positions and limited authority..We were being asked to speak up about issues that we had been subjected to and to speak out to senior members of dominant groups without a sense of psychological safety..The genuine fear of backlash loomed over us if we brought up these systemic issues..We found ourselves in an impossible situation.

We were, however, acutely aware of our precarious positions and limited authority..We were being asked to speak up about issues that we had been subjected to and to speak out to senior members of dominant groups without a sense of psychological safety..The genuine fear of backlash loomed over us if we brought up these systemic issues..We found ourselves in an impossible situation..Every month, we'd all get together over the weekend and carefully craft a presentation in which we tried to convey our points in the most diplomatic way possible without risking being penalized in some way.

We were, however, acutely aware of our precarious positions and limited authority..We were being asked to speak up about issues that we had been subjected to and to speak out to senior members of dominant groups without a sense of psychological safety..The genuine fear of backlash loomed over us if we brought up these systemic issues..We found ourselves in an impossible situation..Every month, we'd all get together over the weekend and carefully craft a presentation in which we tried to convey our points in the most diplomatic way possible without risking being penalized in some way..Our management would make the decision as to whether or not to accept something.

We were, however, acutely aware of our precarious positions and limited authority..We were being asked to speak up about issues that we had been subjected to and to speak out to senior members of dominant groups without a sense of psychological safety..The genuine fear of backlash loomed over us if we brought up these systemic issues..We found ourselves in an impossible situation..Every month, we'd all get together over the weekend and carefully craft a presentation in which we tried to convey our points in the most diplomatic way possible without risking being penalized in some way..Our management would make the decision as to whether or not to accept something..They would seek our advice on issues that were important to them, and they ultimately had complete control over what, if anything, they did with our advice.

We were, however, acutely aware of our precarious positions and limited authority..We were being asked to speak up about issues that we had been subjected to and to speak out to senior members of dominant groups without a sense of psychological safety..The genuine fear of backlash loomed over us if we brought up these systemic issues..We found ourselves in an impossible situation..Every month, we'd all get together over the weekend and carefully craft a presentation in which we tried to convey our points in the most diplomatic way possible without risking being penalized in some way..Our management would make the decision as to whether or not to accept something..They would seek our advice on issues that were important to them, and they ultimately had complete control over what, if anything, they did with our advice..  

We not only felt powerless to effect meaningful change, but our careers suffered as a result. Personally, the burden of the extra long hours that distracted me from my day job set me back compared to my peers; it was a lose-lose situation.

Unfortunately, this was not the last time I found myself in a similar situation, and it was not limited to workplaces; I have found myself in similar situations at schools and in social circles over the years.

This behavior intensified as I became more actively involved in diversity and inclusion work, eventually starting my own diversity and inclusion practice. When the Black Lives Matter movement drew global attention to the ongoing injustices against Black people, I began receiving calls from my networks all over the world asking me to speak at company webinars, join a committee, or pr

There appears to be an unspoken consensus that we need to help educate others on tolerance, diversity, cultural practices, and much more simply because the spread of this knowledge will help us and our quality of life in relation to others.

We are not your parents, teachers, or Google, and it is not fair to expect us to solve problems that are larger systemic issues.

Because someone is a BIPOC employee, it does not automatically imply that they have the authority or desire to speak on behalf of their entire community.



Workplaces that are committed to equality must invest and reward accordingly.

If you are hiring diversity and inclusion employees into your organization, give them the authority and latitude to make decisions, support them, and compensate them appropriately. Professional services firms and established D&I practitioners in the market can offer proven tools and methodologies to interrogate your culture, systems, and leadership.

Diversity and inclusion are strategic business priorities; diverse, inclusive environments benefit everyone and drive business performance. If businesses are committed to rewarding and investing in measures that aid business growth, then diversity and inclusion should be no exception.

BIPOC employees' voices and lived experiences are essential and should be valued in D&I work. If employees choose to be a part of your D&I efforts, show that you value them by appropriately rewarding them. This does not have to be limited to financial rewards. Companies can offer mentorship, career advancement opportunities, coaching, access to networks, and formal performance evaluation.

Employers, if you truly believe in equality, do your part and let us do ours.

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