Mindful of the risk of alienating allies and the potential backlash against diversity and inclusion, some organizations have recently been rethinking and retooling their D&I efforts to be “colorblind”—i.e., to de-emphasize demographic differences and attempt to achieve greater inclusion by removing spaces created for employees of specific, underrepresented demographics. Reacting to this trend, and specifically Deloitte’s controversial decision to do away with employee resource groups, Paradigm founder and CEO Joelle Emerson lays out the case against colorblindness at the Harvard Business Review:
The negative impact of colorblindness on organizations and individual employees has been well documented. Downplaying demographic differences reduces the engagement of underrepresented employees and increases their perceptions of bias from their white colleagues. Moreover, the cognitive load of attempting to appear colorblind when we all, of course, do notice difference can ironically result in more biased behaviors from white employees, or lead them to avoid the intergroup collaborations that can spark innovation and enrich their work. Colorblindness is a quantifiably ineffective inclusion strategy for individuals and organizations. Multiculturalism, the opposite of colorblindness, stresses recognition and inclusion of group differences and has been shown to benefit minority employees and organizations at large. …
If both ally engagement and designated spaces for discrete populations are important, what’s the solution? Efforts need not be either-or. In fact, the most effective ones must do both.
Emerson is not the first critic to question Deloitte’s approach to ERGs along these lines. Before going down the road of ERGs entirely, organizations can consider other ways to make them more inclusive while also ensuring that they still primarily focus on the needs of underrepresented employees. If the challenge they face with ERGs is involving allies, particularly white men, leaders can consider opening up these groups to allies rather than abolishing them.
In our D&I research at CEB (now Gartner), we have also seen organizations questioning colorblindness (and gender-blindness) in making decisions on performance reviews and succession management.
Employee resource groups, which create spaces for members of historically disadvantaged or minority communities to come together in support of each other and to help leadership understand and respond to their unique challenges and concerns, are a cornerstone of diversity and inclusion practices at some organizations. Yet there is also a growing understanding among D&I leaders that the most effective initiatives are inclusive in the broadest sense, involving everyone in the organization, not only those in specific affinity groups.
That’s why we’re seeing more inclusion campaigns focused on cultivating allies and helping members of more privileged demographics recognize their own unconscious biases. When the Harvard Business Review devoted an entire issue to D&I last year, it focused heavily on the challenge of getting everyone on board with diversity without courting backlash.
In a controversial move, Deloitte has decided to take this shift toward a more broad-based approach one step further by eliminating ERGs altogether in favor of groups whose membership is not limited to specific demographics, Jeff Green reported recently at Bloomberg:
After 24 years, WIN, the women’s initiative at Deloitte, will end. Over the next 18 months the company will also phase out Globe, which supports gay employees, and groups focused solely on veterans or minority employees. In their place will be so-called inclusion councils that bring together a variety of viewpoints to work on diversity issues. …
“We are turning it on its head for our people,” says Deepa Purushothaman, who’s led the WIN group since 2015 and is also the company’s managing principal for inclusion. Deloitte will still focus on gender parity and underrepresented groups, she says, but not in the same way it has for the past quarter-century, in part because millennial employees—who make up 57 percent of Deloitte’s workforce—don’t like demographic pigeonholes.
Earlier this month, Kyle O’Brien at the Drum took a look at HP’s latest and inclusion marketing campaign, a series of videos called “Reinvent Mindsets,” which takes aim at unconscious bias by highlighting the subtler forms of discrimination black Americans and women are subject to in the workplace. The first video in the series addressed the fact that black Americans are three times more likely than their white colleagues to be rejected for a role they are qualified for, while the second touches on the sexist expectations women must navigate in job interviews:
In its latest video in the Reinvent Mindsets series, HP tackles gender bias through a powerful video pairing fathers and daughters talking about the tough process of job interviews. ‘Dads & Daughters’ pairs fathers and daughters having one-on-one discussions. The dads were asked to read generic interview tips for women that had been found online and talk about them with their daughters.
Tips included “Don’t wear too much perfume”, “Don’t be aggressive trying to negotiate your salary”, “Don’t look too hot”, “Don’t be chatty” and “Just found out you’re pregnant? Best to keep it to yourself for now”. The daughters, unsurprisingly, look exasperated. But as the dads read they spark a discussion about bias, strength and individuality.
Another company with a new D&I initiative worth noting is Accenture, whose latest video, “Inclusion starts with ‘I’,” features real employees sharing their feelings about unfair ways they have been treated at work. Fortune’s Ellen McGirt applauds the initiative, which was developed through a series of workshops and hammers home the point that inclusion means creating an environment in which everyone feels valued and respected:
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The Guardian‘s Zoë Corbyn profiles Valerie Aurora, a feminist activist and founder of Frame Shift Consulting, a firm that “helps technology organizations live up to their values around creating welcoming, inclusive, diverse cultures.” Rather than focusing on women’s abilities to fend for themselves in a “man’s world,” Aurora’s approach to Silicon Valley’s gender problem is to train men to challenge a sexist culture that benefits them at women’s expense:
[W]hat Aurora calls “ally skills training” is meant to teach people who both understand there is a problem and want to help fix it by taking practical action – including teaching men how to step in when they see other men engaging in casual sexism. “I am teaching men to actively work to end patriarchy,” she says. “The point is to eliminate privilege and my approach is, hey, you believe that this is the right thing to do.” …
Aurora sees Silicon Valley’s most prominent efforts to increase diversity as backwards. Encouraging women to give the industry a try and exhortations to “Lean In” – a motto and accompanying book by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg – wrongly puts the onus on those who are marginalized to change their own behavior, she believes.
Instead, her “ally skills” training asks those with the privilege to change theirs. Protected by that privilege, as well as generally having more power and influence, they can speak up and are in a better position to take the heat. “It is the exact opposite of Lean In,” says Aurora. “Everything has been framed in terms of ‘what can women do to overturn sexism’. I have reframed it as ‘what can men do to stop sexism, because it is their responsibility’.” …