My first exposure to any sort of serious form of diversity training started at the university I went to. I was on a university diversity committee, somehow suckered into the role by my boss at the time. I walked into the room and, not surprisingly, nobody looked like me. I remembered how miserable I was because it obviously lacked effectiveness and it took up quite a bit of time. Imagine going to a two hour meeting and feeling like you went in the opposite direction of where you should have gone every time? That was every one of these meetings.
In these meetings, we talked about fostering understanding, creating an environment free of hate or celebrating our different cultures. We talked about getting speakers, free concerts, movie nights, or [insert any event where we offered free food to poor students]. Everybody patted each other on the back at the end and said great job so I didn’t have the heart (or the guts) to tell everyone that we didn’t accomplish much.
It was one of those moments where I promised myself “Never again.” It was also a moment where I saw HR could be a big factor in actually fixing some of the things that hurt diversity. And I wasn’t going to do it through holding worthless meetings.
Fostering understanding, creating an environment free of hate or celebrating our different cultures is important. It is also a band-aid, an oversimplified solution for a serious problem and completely ineffective. Imagine if female employees were angry about differences in pay. So you go on a retreat, talk about people’s feelings and end the camp by everyone holding hands and singing kumbaya. Great retreat, right?
Wrong. Failure. Utter failure.
You go back to work Monday morning and female employees are still being paid differently. Nothing has been resolved. People may understand the issues but they don’t fix it.
Having an understanding about different cultures and promoting a hate-free environment may feel good but it doesn’t fix anything. Actions fix things. Actions are more important (but more difficult).
So while you are patting yourselves on the back in your diversity committee meetings this month, ask yourself what have you done lately? Have your actions resulted in less of a need for a diversity committee? The main goal of diversity committees should be eliminating the need for a diversity committee right? Really great employers have relieved many of the institutional barriers that hold back people from succeeding.
How far along are you in eliminating your diversity committee?