Black and ethnic minority employees are fed up of being told to lead their companies' diversity efforts. 'I'm now expected to help them cover their backs.'

  • Job openings for diversity and inclusion roles shot up 50% in June, research suggests, amid renewed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Companies appear to be putting more effort into diversity initiatives — but data suggests there's a disconnect between corporate promises and the workplace reality.
  • Often, ethnic minority employees are asked to lead diversity drives, which is extra work for no extra pay. Three employees told Business Insider they'd been told to spearhead initiatives, without having the training needed to do so.
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The surge in support for the Black Lives Matter movement has made companies think harder about diversity and inclusion (D&I). Corporate giants from McDonalds to Alphabet have promised improved diversity training and better work environments, while total job openings for D&I roles shot up 50% in June, according to a report by jobs site Glassdoor. D&I leadership vacancies such as "Chief Diversity Officer" and "Head of Diversity & Inclusion" have more than doubled, the report found.

Yet there is a disconnect between companies' public vows and how employees feel about diversity drives. A Glassdoor analysis in June found 71% of employees were critical of their workplace's D&I efforts. Most of the employees were dissatisfied with their companies' response, or lack of response, to the Black Lives Matter protests, initially sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May. Separate research by McKinsey in May found 35% of employees felt their organisations put too little effort into D&I.. 

This dissatisfaction reflects both existing schemes in companies and the ways in which firms are setting up new initiatives. Business Insider UK spoke to three employees whose experiences suggest some companies are falling back on ethnic minority employees to create and steer their D&I efforts — they were asked to take the lead on diversity drives because of who they are, rather than their skills or knowledge. Their companies assumed they were happy to take on extra work for no extra pay.

One account manager at a mid-size PR & marketing agency, who asked not to be identified, was approached by the head of HR and asked to join the diversity committee in July 2019, after a speaker caused widespread offence with comments about race, sex, and sexuality. She and her colleagues hadn't even known there was a diversity committee. But after agreeing to join, she then never heard anything else about it. "It was established merely as a means to do damage control for the prior offensive incident," she says. 

She was recently asked to again assess this diversity committee, which she says "really only consisted of the head of HR and another VP who identified as a person of colour."

In the past, she has been asked or encouraged to join D&I efforts at different companies throughout her career, she says. She was expected to take on spearheading these efforts, on top of her usual work, but was never compensated with promotions or pay rises. "I always end up putting in so much time and energy into these efforts when no one in senior management is invested in these initiatives, meaning that my efforts never actually resulted in any meaningful change," she adds.

One man working at a think tank, who asked to remain anonymous, was recently asked to write a weekly newsletter on Black Lives Matter, because the two white managers assumed it would be better coming from a person of colour. He felt he was "automatically expected to become the organisation's spokesperson for issues around race," and refused. But he has since advised managers on D&I, been asked to attend various D&I meetings, and been sent strategies to look over.

He was then asked to sit on a D&I taskforce, as the only full-time staff member who wasn't white, which added to his frustration and anger. "I've experienced offensive remarks and bullying whilst in my role and the organisation has consistently failed to support me, so I find it outrageous that I'm now expected to essentially help them cover their backs."

'It's so exhausting'

One account executive at a London-based PR firm told Business Insider she is glad that her company runs D&I discussion groups, which allow employees to share their thoughts and experiences in a safe space. But she also wonders: "Should we be grateful for being allowed the space to talk about something that affects us on such a deep level, or should that just be basic?"

She also says the added responsibility of participating in the groups feels, some days, like a "burden."

"Some days I wake up ready to incite change, and some days I just wish someone else could take on this burden because it's so exhausting."

Others have publicly shared similar experiences, including Hera Hussain, founder of Chayn, a tech project that helps woman who have survived abuse find the information they need. In July on Twitter, she said she's been asked multiple times to assess D&I at companies and deliver D&I workshops on it. "I've been asked so many times what big organizations can do to improve diversity in technology. I can only talk about my own experience. I haven't spent the time researching or implementing D&I policies to be an expert on them."

Josh Bersin, an HR and workplace development expert, says handing responsibility for D&I to individuals in a company doesn't lead to meaningful change in policies or culture. He calls D&I one of the toughest jobs in business and, when it is assigned to one employee, "that poor person has to run around and create a set of training programmes or metrics or communications on how to be more 'inclusive.'" 

Bersin has noticed the rush of companies hiring and promoting people into D&I roles, which can also be ineffective if not managed properly. "There's a tendency for companies to run around and look for somebody who looks like a good head of D&I, because it makes them look better," he says. He believes that rather than forcing people into these jobs, the change needs to first come from the top.

The PR account executive agrees. "We shouldn't have to wait until there are 10 people of colour in a company for it to recognise its own biases and change its ethos," she says. "That should be standard practice."

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