The diversity hire.

bamboo ceiling Jan 20, 2020

At one particular organisation where I worked, all the coloured people and queer people were rounded up one week to brainstorm and write the organisation’s anti-discrimination policy.

A few people opposed of this working group and stated to our management that it was not the responsibility of the minority workers to write the anti-discrimination policy. To this, we received a response along the lines of, “well at what point are we going to take responsibility for the changes that we want to see?!” Which I mean, is a really valid statement and I believe this wholeheartedly in the context of life… but not in the context of a workplace which should actually already have an anti-discrimination policy in place.

So for whatever reason, this working group actually went ahead and was led by a cis-gendered white man who announced to a room of 10 POC and queer workers (in a very friendly manner) that “that’s why we’ve hired people like you guys because we want more diversity here”.

In the meeting, we were asked to define “discrimination”, talk about experiences of discrimination at work and suggest ways in which we could feel safer at work.

Apart from how strange the whole experience was, there were two things that really left a bad taste in my mouth:

  1. Although we were talking about an overarching anti-discrimination policy, the conversation only circled around racism and our queer colleagues were pretty much disregarded throughout the meeting.

  2. The meeting and working group eventuated in no changes being made, no policies being written, or at least none that I have heard of since my departure.

I share this story because this is just such a classic example of what it’s like to be a minority: that you’re often forced into things and when you try to voice your opinion, you usually get dismissed/punished/corrected… and then when you do somehow contribute, your opinions aren’t heard or actioned.

~

My question is how does this affect our mental health? How does this affect our sense of being and wellness in the world? What imprints are left in the body when we are consistently reminded that we are “other” and that our needs are also “other”?

I think I need another post to even try to answer my own questions above, but for now, I choose to see the light in this story. I choose to remember that during that initial leadership meeting, one of my peers spoke up (while everyone else was completely silent) and reiterated why this was wrong when I ran out of words. And I choose to remember all the young POC workers articulating themselves throughout the meeting with clarity and class as their 30+ year old peers fumbled their way through trying not to say anything too controversial or “difficult”. I know that younger POC’s will be able to demand inclusivity in every situation they face in the future and this warms my cold soul.

There are beautiful moments that happen and we as POC, have the privilege of experiencing these deep moments of true connection and honesty. But we do have to be open to them occurring, we can’t be collapsing in shame, otherwise we won’t be able to engage in that connection.

So my suggestions (which I have been working on cultivating too):

  • When something like this happens and that wave of shame sweeps over, ground yourself and seek out connection within safe relationships instead. Internalising shame, humiliation, anger, sadness, only hurts us. It doesn’t have to be coherent, but externalise that stuff out of the body.

  • Know that we, as Asian Australians, most probably come from cultures that encourage quiet stoicism and the act of advocating for our needs is not our go-to response. But also know that growing up Asian in an Western country actually requires a different set of skills then what our birth culture may actually model or teach us. This is a whole new ballgame sis!

If you’re Caucasian and your organisation functions like this:

  • If you’re a manager, write the policies yourself or pay someone with expertise in policy writing to do it properly.

  • Don’t tell people or imply that they are a “diversity hire”.

  • If you’re a peer, rather than a manager, don’t sit quietly in meetings and allow nonsense to go on around you. Be an ally and stand up for yourself and your minority peers. OR at least ask questions that can open up a discussion.

 

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