White People Don’t Like Me (And that’s ok)

Did that title grab your attention?

For some of you, it’s unsettling.

Others, a reaffirmation.

To many, empathy.

To be clear. There are many white people who like me (smiling). I have many white colleagues, friends and relatives who appreciate and respect me, as I do them.

This story is about the resentment of white corporate America for vocal minorities standing up and speaking out against systemic discrimination.

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I didn’t start my career as an advocate for Hispanics/Latinos and other marginalized groups (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.); it was forced on me.

I have always been self aware of being “different”. As a child born in the United States, whose immigrant parents are from Peru, I am the product of two worlds. My bilingual and bicultural experience isn’t very different than other second generation Americans.

My name is pronounced OO-go, not HYOO-go

But it wasn’t until I entered the workforce that I realized just how different I really am. I was recruited by management (overwhelmingly white) as the company’s public poster of their diversity initiatives.

Being the only Hispanic/Latino in the room (sometimes the only person of color) was overwhelming when I was young. I was just trying to get acclimated to my new job and didn’t need the added pressure of being the sole in-house expert on my community. It’s an uncomfortable position many employees of marginalized groups find themselves in.

According to the “Women in the Workplace” report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org.: 1 out of 5 women report they’re often the only woman, or one of the only women, in the room at work.

The study also revealed that about 64-percent of all women reported they experienced microaggressions at work. That number jumped to nearly 90% when women frequently found themselves in “only” situations.

I’ve been in situations where people I’ve met, including high ranking executives have marveled at how well I speak English, asking me how old I was when I moved to the U.S.

One can shake their head and swat away at those types of microaggressions, but over time they can be overbearing.

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I learned early in my career to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situation, but that’s not the case for many people seen as the “others.” Minorities try unsuccessfully to assimilate to the majority, but often find themselves forced as the lone voice of their group. Even then, speaking about workplace diversity and inclusion can be a detriment to one’s career.

An Academy of Management Journal study found nonwhite executives got punished for engaging in diversity-valuing behavior.

Too often a workplace environment that talks about diversity and inclusion as part of its company’s values; the culture doesn’t support the argument.

Employees of color who advocate for more diversity in hiring can also face challenges. 

For all the talk about how important diversity is within organizations, white and male executives aren’t rewarded, career-wise, for, and nonwhite and female executives actually get punished for it.

Fitting into the culture

The first criterion that hiring managers use to recruit candidates is themselves — when measuring skill sets and experience, and when deciding if the person would be a good fit with the company’s culture. This culture is bred by the “haves,” which limits the “have-nots” because of a lack of shared experiences like socioeconomic factors, including education.

Homogeneity isn’t strictly a white male problem — it applies to any recruiter who a candidate is facing across the table. Research by the Kellogg School of Management found that hiring managers favored recruits who shared their experiences and interests. The demographic makeup of a company might look diverse, but what’s underneath is the same.

The third reason diversity initiatives fail is proximity. The content developers must be a member of the audience you’re trying to reach. I can’t tell you how many arrogant executives speak as if they know better than employees who are part of the target community. While I am a champion of women and African-American issues; I’m not a woman and I’m not African-American. I would never pretend to be the right person to lead initiatives in reaching those two groups. That’s not to say that my experience and interest wouldn’t be of value in a larger discussion; it’s just that the point persons should be representatives of those groups. There are many nuances in developing focused messages which require persons who have first hand experiences because of race, age, gender, sexual orientation and other. In order for content to be authentic it requires authors who walk in the shoes of those you’re trying to connect with.

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