#InvestInEquity:Diversity and Inclusion In Business

Call To Action: You Need A Diversity Review Before A Crisis Hits You

A proactive plan to see if your company, partners and charities really value diversity

People love a good hashtag or feel good phrase like #be kind, but as celebrities and corporations pledge to fight for justice, equity and inclusion, what does that mean? We need to move from performative solidarity to real change and investment in diversity and inclusion in every aspect and level of business.

As the latest “nice” celebrity faces nasty allegations — every celebrity — but especially Black and celebrities of color need to pay attention. While others can take a “hands off” approach and come out relatively unscathed, Black and business owners of color have the burden of “representing our people”. Therefore, the “I didn’t know, because I don’t handle the day to day,” excuse can NEVER work for us.

Frankly, the only Black people who could possibly get away with that are Black moguls like Oprah, Tyler Perry, Beyonce’ and Jay-Z, and the three Black CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies: Kenneth Frazier, Merck & Co.; Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s; and Roger Ferguson, Jr., TIAA, but even THEY can’t use that excuse.

This latest controversy caught my eye because the media INSISTS that “the show” is in the midst of an independent investigation, but the star isn’t. That doesn’t make sense! According to Buzzfeed, “the show’s” executive producers, “take full responsibility” and said they’re “sickened” by the claims. Yet, at least one of them was personally accused of contributing to the “hostile work environment” for Black and disabled employees. The allegations range from microaggressions, gaslighting and reprimands following formal complaints about racist incidents, to being fired or resigning under duress.

If big names like the ultra talented, gorgeous Gabrielle Union can experience racism and discrimination in the workplace, imagine what the average creative, crew member or office assistant is experiencing being “the only” or a small group of diverse individuals that includes BIPOC, people with disabilities (visible or invisible), LGBTQ, older or over weight individuals who felt tokenized, disrespected and dismissed EVERYDAY.

Celebrities and sports stars - like all business owners should know what’s going on in their businesses, partnerships and charities from the executives that represents and executes their vision, mission and values — to the interns that gain invaluable work experience and have a bird’s eye view of what really goes on behind the scenes…

It’s been my experience that interns, lower level employees and direct service providers in businesses and charities are an untapped resource. They have a wealth of knowledge about the intricate details of the day to day operations and REAL company culture because they’re often treated the worse and ignored. Unfortunately, people in higher positions often say and do horrible and unethical things to and around them because they’re considered disposable… American work culture demonstrates this everyday in how whistleblowers and regular people who report discrimination are treated and ostracized.

To change this or to ensure your company, partners or charity doesn’t perpetuate this toxic culture, I strongly suggest you have an independent diversity review or assessment. Black and celebrities of color should make sure that everyone understands your commitment to diversity and inclusion and that your values are evident in every aspect of your business from vetting and hiring practices, company culture, to sourcing and supply chains.

If you’re not interested in doing a deep dive, at the very least, ask the following questions:

  1. Does my business, partners or charity reflect my commitment to diversity and inclusion?
  2. Does everybody look the same meaning in color or body type? Check for beauty bias — is everybody “cute”, thin and polished?
  3. Are there any Black, POC, people with disabilities and LGBTQ represented in the leadership teams AND throughout the company? If so, how do they feel they’re treated? If not, why and what are YOU going to do about it?
  4. Are Black, brown and other marginalized groups relegated to low level, lower wage positions in the company, or partner’s company or charity? Meaning are all the “bosses” white or not POC, but all the “workers” are Black and/or POC.
  5. This is important: Do you use Black or Brown talent, contractors and vendors? Are they hired as often, vetted, paid and evaluated the same as white contractors, vendors or talent? If not, why not? Is there nepotism, cronyism or discrimination?

These questions are ESSENTIAL in assessing if your company, partners or charities are on the right track with regard to equity, diversity and inclusion.

Here is a Diversity Self Assessment from the naceweb.org

Cultural Competence Matters

Most nationalities, ethnicities, cultures and religions can proudly represent and hire “their” people and NO ONE finds the practice negative or discriminatory — except when it comes to Black people. For some strange reason, Black people are frowned upon for wanting and pushing for other Black people to have leadership roles in their businesses that focus on Black people and culture… I want to be crystal clear, I’m not saying Black people need to hire other Black people just because they’re Black.

I’m saying if a Black owned product, service, story, or production and target demographic primarily involves Black people, Black owners shouldn’t have to defend having a qualified Black people in leadership roles.

This notion that white or non Black people are ALWAYS the right candidates and it’s reverse racism when they don’t get a job, contract or educational slot is racist entitlement and abuse of power and privilege.

A prime example is Amanda’s Seales experience on talk show, The Real. Amanda recently revealed that she left the show because the environment was “breaking her spirit”. You’d think the show truly valued cultural competence and authenticity with its intentionally diverse cast. This was not the case when they bypassed 4 Black producers and assigned her Smart, Funny and Black trivia game segment (which Amanda created prior to joining The Real) to a white female producer. Amanda, who has hired because she has a Master’s degree in African American studies from Columbia University, questioned why her segment wasn’t being produced by one of the more culturally competent Black producers and the woman complained to the executive producers and said she felt “attacked”.

If the show truly valued culturally competency, the 4 African American producers would not have been passed over for a race specific segment in lieu of a white producer who allegedly admitted that she had no knowledge of Black history… More importantly, allowing the white producer to weaponize her privilege and complain because she was asked a valid question that revealed she was not the best choice for the segment is toxic and racist.

NO ONE is entitled to anything, but cultural competency, equity and representation are just as important as credentials and it needs to become common knowledge and a universal best practice in businesses and charities!

Another example:
Three women apply for the same job, with the same credentials at a Black owned production company. One woman is Asian, the other candidate is Black and the other woman is white. The Black woman gets it because she demonstrated a higher level of cultural competency as it relates to the position. That’s not reverse racism, that’s choosing the right candidate and the company shouldn’t face reverse racism complaints or lawsuits from the Asian and white women for not hiring them. Yet, this is what “allegedly” happened in real life with Amanda.

The same argument goes for writers and creatives: A brilliant African American writer and HBCU graduate from the deep south applied for a writer’s job on the Sopranos. During the interview he says, he’s only met a few Italian people in work settings and has ZERO mob knowledge or affiliation. If he doesn’t get the job, that’s not discrimination. They need culturally competent writers… However, having no diversity on the production team, crew and in the administrative offices is a different story. You can’t pull the cultural competency card for general positions.

White people NEVER have to explain why they’re in leadership roles in businesses or projects — regardless of ownership. Yet, Black people ALWAYS have to justify, explain and sometimes defend why a Black candidate was chosen ESPECIALLY if a white person wanted that position (regardless of the white person’s knowledge, skills, experience, credentials, references, conflicts or problematic interests, affiliations or level of cultural competency).

Black and celebrities of color in sports, fashion and entertainment have the money, power, leverage and clout to change how businesses, partnerships charities, and creative projects are run FOREVER. They just need to do a little research and INSIST that all their companies and projects have REAL diversity in leadership roles AND in every level of the company that make decisions.

Some good examples of diversity in action

With that being said, I’d like to highlight some examples of positive change:

Tyler Perry is writer, director and producer and has partnered with Oprah’s OWN network and TBS to make 14+ television shows, 21+ films. He started his career by writing 21 live plays that primarily focus on Black narratives and spirituality. Mr. Perry takes pride in hiring black talent and creatives in front and behind the camera for his current roster of shows: Sistas, The Oval, and The Haves and Have Nots. He recently made history by opening Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, the first Black owned movie studio.

Shonda Rhimes features diversity and inclusion with Black leads in real world stories as a writer, producer and director of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, and Station 19.

Wale collaborated with Kelly Price and shouted out Issa Rae, Lena Waithe and fashion designer Pyer Moss and used the designer, Kerby Jean-Raymond to direct the video and short film for his song Sue Me.

Issa Rae is the creator of Insecure on HBO that features the lives of young Black women in real life, non stereotypical storylines that address bias and discrimination in the workplace, infidelity and interracial dating. She and Larry Wilmore are the head writers and executive producers with a diverse cast and writers like Natasha Rothwell and Christopher Oscar Pena and show runner, Prentice Penny.

Lena Waithe is writer and producer of The Chi, Boomerang and Twenties on Showtime. She is bringing humanity to stories about the lives of people in Chicago and Hollywood with a diverse and complex cast of characters. A special thank you for making diversity and tokenism a story line in Twenties — (I love it even though I’m 20 x 2+…)

I’m not sure who runs Rihanna’s day to day operations for her Fenty Beauty and fashion brands, but I know she personally insists and showcases inclusivity and diversity in ethnicity, skin color, body size, and even abilities in her product lines and talent used in her campaigns.

Nobody is perfect, so I’m aware of the controversies and issues that some of the aforementioned people have had, but this was just a snapshot of their dedication to diversity and inclusion with there businesses and partnerships.

Speaking of partnerships…

I need to preface this next part by saying, this is not a call out, I chose the following celebrities and sports stars because of their partnerships with major corporations in media, entertainment and fashion. These partnerships are celebrated accomplishments that build their brands and create generational wealth, but if they’re the ONLY person of color that has a leadership position — that’s a red flag and highly problematic for the few Black, brown, disabled, LGBTQ and other marginalized groups that work for the corporations and your brands. With that being said, I ask:

Lin-Manuel Miranda how are things at Disney?

Steph Curry how are things at Under Armour?

Serena Williams how are things at Nike?

Swizz Beats and Timbaland how are things at Instagram/Facebook?

Ray J how are things at Cowboy Electronics?

I’m not saying to burn bridges if you find diversity deficits, but you have the power and privilege to chose partners that are aligned with YOUR values — employees don’t. If you say you’re dedicated to equity and inclusion and your partners are keeping the status quo of all white boards and leadership — and the only Black and brown faces you see are in the mailroom or warehouse — that’s a problem that YOU can and should change. The findings from your diversity report would help guide the conversation.

Charities, equity and cultural competency

Black and celebrities of color need to evaluate their charity partners and non profit organizations. As an African American woman, I’m tired of executive directors and researchers profiting off the poverty and injustice in my community. It is insulting and not helpful to create charities to help poor, BIPOC and other marginalized groups with NO representation or culturally competent leaders, board members or input from the communities they are suppose to serve.

I am astonished by how many people are employed to teach, train, and manage Black and brown people who have NEVER and will never live in our communities or truly understand our various cultures and nuanced social norms, familial structures, values, relationships, and most importantly inequities and systemic issues that are barriers to our success. I speak from personal experience by saying the lack of cultural competency and accountability often results in horrible and harmful experiences for Black and brown employees and clients. Credentials will never replace real life experience and cultural competence.

Black, brown and poor people are often the clients and the overworked, underpaid direct service providers for nonprofits who risk their health and safety and sacrifice their family time while predominately white administrators, research professors and principal investigators write reports and take photo ops with the funders (who are often you — the celebrity). This isn’t an exaggeration. According to Philanthropy News Digest, 87% of non profit directors are white and many have mastered how to market poverty porn and savior complex in glossy reports and cute video montages with ukulele music to get people to donate their time and money.

Too many nonprofits have top heavy budgets with the administrators making $60,000 -100,000+ with perks like expense accounts and access to high ranking officials and politicians. The administrators often have the flexibility to work from home or even other countries while direct service providers make low hourly wages, have inadequate insurance and are scrutinized for every minute and forced to use their personal cars, cell phones and money to buy supplies without reimbursement. Meanwhile, the administrators are often oblivious to what all the workers actually do… They are rarely held accountable for mismanagement of funds or lack of supervision, while in contrast the low level workers are fired or laid off if they make the slightest complaint, get sick or injured at work.

Sounds familiar — it’s the same story in Hollywood or in the hood — “doing good”- nobody’s checking on “the little people”…

According to charity watch groups like ThinkBeforeYouPink.org, only 63% of money raised for cancer walks is actually donated to cancer organizations. The remainder is unaccounted for. Susan G. Komen’s CEO, Nancy Brinker made $684,000 in 2012 following a 64% raise after removing grants for free breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood (which is the one the few places poor women can get gynecological care). We still don’t have a cure and the average woman can’t afford screenings or cancer treatment…

Celebrities beware! A lot of nonprofits are profiting off the pain and suffering of poor communities — make sure you and your brand isn’t guilty by association and adding to the problem…

Thank you — I hope more celebrities get involved or at least know what’s going on with their businesses beyond the people they see… The most valuable resource in a business are your employees. Please make sure EVERYONE is represented, valued and treated with respect and dignity and if they aren’t — make sure that’s no longer acceptable for you or your brand…

Sources:

Buzzfeed

People.com

Philanthropy News Digest

ThinkBeforeYouPink.org

Here is a great video on supporting Black people in the workplace

Writer, Founder WEOC and Editor of Writers and Editors of Color Mag Bylines in Zora, Momentum, An Injustice!, POM, Illumination, The Pink, and Better Marketing

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