Recently I heard the same exact story from two young women of color in two completely different fields of work. Both had been hired in entry level positions that they were slightly overqualified for. Both were told that after a few months of work they’d be promoted, because of those qualifications and a couple additional skills they were lacking. One of these women is an East African immigrant to the US, the other mixed race African American and Indigenous.
Both women waited months for that promotion – it never came. Instead, in both cases, a young white man, recently hired, was hired directly into the position that each woman had been promised. And in both cases, the newly hired employee was not as experienced as the woman he now supervises. It infuriates me, because I had similar experiences 10 and 20 years ago. And so have most of the folks I know from underrepresented groups.
It got me to thinking about all that was promised in 2020 during the #BlackLivesMatter movement and all the work that still remains to be done. It’s not enough to just hire new people with an eye for diversity. Internship programs and affinity groups are a first step in the right direction. But government agencies, non-profits, and private businesses MUST be creating programs to promote from within. People of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ folks can’t remove bias on their own.
Diverse employees also usually walk into jobs with a range of unique experiences and job qualifications. So if they have 8 out of 10 qualifications for a promotion, part of a ‘diversity initiative’ should be identifying when they actually have those remaining two qualifications, just in a package thats different from what supervisors have seen before. Or, helping them to get those remaining 2 qualifications met while they are working their way up.
At Together Pictures, one of our core values is “Everyone learns and teaches.” We value the ability of employees to lift as they climb – to help each other become more qualified and experienced in a supportive environment. We encourage employees to let their team leaders know if they *don’t* have a specific skill or qualification, so that we can arrange for some skill building where needed.
A popular euphemism for diversity in hiring is “local hire”. One of these young women was celebrated by her boss and by customers for being “from the neighborhood.” Because of her negative experience, and the fact that now her friends & neighbors know about it, this business has now alienated itself from future customers. The saddest part is that they have no idea that this is what they’ve done.