Remember last year when you hired that new employee? You were so proud of your choice; fancying yourself a friend of the underdog. You really put yourself out there, hiring a person of color (gay/lesbian/disabled/female) with equal or better qualifications than the other five white (straight/abled/male) applicants for the job. Don't they realize you really went to bat for them - that if it weren't for you, this firm would be totally white and bright (super straight, a boy's club)? Why don't they show their gratitude every day?
Have you ever had to think of a black person (gay/lesbian/disabled/female) as your peer? Have you ever worked in an office in which black folks (gay/lesbian/disabled/female) were partners, equals, or rather always subordinates, secretaries, the boys in the mail room? When you and human resources toss around the idea of 'fit' and 'appropriate behavior' and 'team player', have you ever considered what those euphemisms really mean? An employee of yours has contacted us and informed us that beyond your liberal tendencies, you are a bit confused about what it means to be an equal opportunity employer. It's the 21st century and it's really too late in the day to be thinking only of quotas or giving your office a bit of color. You are in your comfort zone daily. It's time to reconsider your assimilationist model and think about what kind of commitment you have made to your employees. Is your office a supportive environment?
If you feel you have received this letter in error try the following:
-- When you or anyone in Human Resources mentions affirmative action, do you smirk, nod your head knowingly, ignore it or brush it off as a mere formality? If you've answered yes to any of these questions you might need to sign up for that diversity workshop you've required all your employees to take, but never thought you needed.
-- Whom did you just hire? And how about the person before that, and before that, and before that? If everyone looks, talks, acts and thinks the same, are you really hiring the person most qualified for the job, or do you just want someone who makes you feel most comfortable? How are your assessments of someone's resume or interview biased by your attitude toward their race, class, gender or sexual orientation?
-- How would you feel if you were the only straight person in the office? The only white person? The only man? People of color are often tokenized and expected to answer for their entire race. Women in management positions are supposed to perform 'like a man' in order to keep their job. Lesbians and Gay men often closet themselves. These are heavy burdens to carry.
You add insult to injury when you call upon that person to stand in for an entire population. For example, when in meetings you ask these kinds of questions: "Do you think there is a market for our product in the ghetto?", "Is there a Gay audience for this film?" "What do women think about this issue?"
Sure, we know it's hard to know what may or may not be offensive - and you are correct that it would be more insulting to not consult folks at all. But here's a little test that might help. (a) Do you only invite your out lesbian employee into the meeting when you want the lowdown on new lesbian chic? (b) Does it say anywhere in your Puerto Rican employee's job description that they be well-versed in the demographics of their countrymates, or that of immigrant groups from Central and South America living in the U.S.? (c) If you expect your black female employee to comment upon the needs of her community, do you give her ample time and resources to research a thorough response? Being culturally sensitive does not mean expecting your employees to be experts in their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. You may feel fine speaking for your entire 'community,' and it seems you do. But that's your choice not your job.
- Do you have trouble saying: Black, Latino, Asian, Native, Gay? Do you wish folks would just get along, fit in, tow the line? Identity is an expression, and yes it is often a political statement. The next time you complain about your assistant's insistence on wearing rainbow rings, kente or pro-choice buttons, remember all the ways you express your privilege and politics each day: your power ties, suits and lunches, your Wall Street Journal and briefcase.
-- Are you also an equal opportunity firer? During the last round of lay-offs who was the first to go? Under what circumstances were they fired? Was their "behavior problem" really your problem with being challenged by a subordinate of a different cultural background? When you question an employee's attitude, performance or behavior are you judging them upon your personal value system, or that of the company handbook?
-- Look at your payscale. Is it equally distributed among races and genders? Do the math. Does everyone get equal pay for equal work or do you hide behind the national practice of paying women an average of 76 cents per dollar earned by a man.
-- Have you ever looked at the language of that company handbook with a group of employees from diverse backgrounds and considered when and where it is offensive and discriminatory?
So the next time you think to yourself, 'Why does so-and-so have an attitude?' Or 'They seemed so much more amenable when I hired them' or 'Is this person really committed to the company?' or even, 'This person would be so much easier to work with if they had the same background as me,' think again. These concerns have to do with your own cultural biases, and narrow scope of experience with people from diverse back grounds. Don't worry, we don't think you are a racist (homophobe/sexist/discriminating bastard), that's just your own guilty conscience. There are lots of ways to make amends. Hire some more people of color (gays/physically-challenged/women). Consider your expectations for these employees and compare them to those you have for your white-boy buddies. Remember, you're the boss, and your employees will follow your lead. It's up to you to take that extra step to make your workplace a supportive environment for all your employees.
With all due respect,
GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand (and the E.E.O.C)
DISCLAIMER: All statements, opinions and allegations are those of the original author, your employee. The GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand, Inc., (GGBB) has not investigated, ascertained or otherwise verified the truth or accuracy of any statement, opinion or allegation contained or transmitted herein. GGBB makes no representations regarding the truthfulness of any statement, opinion or allegation contained or transmitted herein. The GGBB website is a public service which is provided for the purpose of raising employer awareness while providing ashield for concerned employees who wish to remain anonymous.