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Last week, a Black software engineer, Leslie Miley, made news when he shared why he quit his job at Twitter – where he was the ONLY Black engineer in a leadership role – in a thoughtful piece on the lack of diversity in tech.
In recent years, Twitter and other tech giants have come under fire for their noticeable lack of Black and Latinx employees, as well as women across ethnic groups. The numbers are even worse when you look at the leadership.
In his Medium post, Miley notes that during a leadership meeting, when he questioned what steps Twitter planned to take to increase diversity, a Senior VP stated:
diversity is important, but we can’t lower the bar.
Actor Matt Damon made a similar statement on a recent episode of the filmmaking contest Project Greenlight when producer Effie Brown – the only Black person in the room – raised questions about a film the panel was evaluating. Particularly, she was concerned about the portrayal of the film’s lone Black character – a prostitute – and how it may result in [yet another] a one-dimensional character and reinforcement of negative stereotypes.
In a talking head interview, of Effie’s comment, Matt said he appreciated her “flagging diversity” (is that like “flagging a typo”?) but that ultimately, the show and this process is about “giving somebody this job based entirely on merit, leaving all other factors out of it.”
What a lovely world he must live in where people get ahead solely based on merit.
Do people who say things like this actually LISTEN to themselves? Why do they think increasing diversity requires lowering standards? All this type of thinking accomplishes is maintaining the current unbalanced power structure where white men are over overrepresented.
Are we really expected to believe that there are so few talented engineers, actors, producers, and fill-in-the-blanks, who are female and/or non-white, that white men can’t help but hire themselves in these roles?
The film industry is a great example of how not to embrace inclusion. It pretty much fails at diversity in all areas – age, sexual orientation, gender, and ethnicity – the picture is more bleak for people working behind the camera.
Take directors, for example. According to a USC study on inequality in the film industry, of over 700 top films released between 2007 and 2014:
Of the 779 people who directed those movies, 28 were women, 45 were black or African American and 18 were Asian or Asian American (four from the latter groups were black or Asian women).
On Sunday’s episode of The Good Wife, a Black woman named Monica interviewed for a job at the very white Lockhart-Agos-whatever-they-call it-now law firm. She was one candidate of four, the other three were white men.
The show made it a point to have the hiring managers – three white men and one white woman, all whom nearly lost their ability to function normally in the presence of a Black person – discuss that while they liked Monica, she didn’t attend a top-tier law school (Loyola wasn’t good enough for them) and that her LSAT scores were lower than the white candidates’.
I’m not really sure what point the writers were attempting to make. They lost me at “not as qualified.” In the end, Monica didn’t get hired, and the firm’s sole female partner brought her in to tell her personally, while expressing her sympathies. As Monica rightly told her, “I’m not here for your white liberal guilt, I need a job.” [I may have inferred the bit about white liberal guilt.]
They couldn’t have made their point about diversity in hiring without making the candidate “less qualified?” You mean to tell me in very Black Chicago (where the show takes place) you can’t find Black lawyers to fit your elitist standards?
Back in June, while at the day job at Big Tech Startup, I recall sitting in a room with two young white men, talking through hiring requirements for several open positions to fill. One of the guys, the recruiter from HR, said:
Well, at this point, it’s summer, we’re going to get second and third tier candidates. All the best candidates have jobs by now.
He looked at me after he said it – I’d just met him – and added, sounding somewhat apologetic, “It’s just how it is.”
I found his thinking unsettling, but unsurprising. At the job before this, of a big hiring push for engineers, a C-level exec affirmed, “we want people who went to schools like your Stanfords, Yales, Browns, Harvards. Who’ve worked at the Amazons, Googles and Facebooks.”
It’s kinda hard to diversify when everyone’s pulling from the same pool of candidates.
Not everyone can attend an Ivy League university even if they wish to. Cornell was my top university choice, which while not an Ivy, is still a quite competitive institution. However, after I went to an information session it became very clear Cornell wasn’t an option because there’s no way I could afford the absurdly expensive tuition.
Instead I attended a state school with a top ranked information technology program. A state school with tuition 1/10 the cost of Cornell and still I had to get a scholarship, government loans, and work 30-40 hours a week, all while trying to graduate in 4 years – which I didn’t, despite my best efforts.
Unlike some of my more privileged classmates, I didn’t have my parents depositing cash in my bank account on a regular basis. I also didn’t have any adults in my life who could relate to my experience as an undergrad. I had no one close to talk to about the unique struggles I experienced as a Black woman at a predominately white institution with a major dominated by young white men.
As Leslie Miley’s article mentioned, some of these top companies also give favorable weight to new grads with impressive internships on their resumes. I didn’t have internships during the summer breaks. Too many internships were unpaid and how many folks can afford to work for free? I sure couldn’t.
I didn’t attend a fancy university, nor did I have a fancy internship and I didn’t graduate in a pat 4 years. However, I still managed to get hired at these companies with their lofty hiring requirements because I could do the job. Hiring decisions shouldn’t be so heavily weighted on factors that are impacted by socioeconomic status, race, gender and other elements largely outside of personal control.
I’ve read that Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs. I’ve written about my own entrepreneurial goals and how negative work experiences have played their part in my choices. I have to wonder how many of us have opted out of the traditional workforce because we can no longer deal with the extra weight of being a double minority in workplaces where increasing diversity is seemingly more of a trendy talking point than an actionable endeavor and continuous goal.
Despite the “browning of America” the Sunday morning political show landscape remains a panorama of middle-aged white man-ness. One notable exceptions is the Melissa Harris-Perry show which manages to fill a panel with a diverse group of knowledgeable folks every Saturday and Sunday. While not weekend morning shows, both The Nightly Show and All in with Chris Hayes cover politics and also manage to secure diverse panels of noteworthy, tv-ready people as guests. The guests are there if you actually look for them.
When it comes to diversity, can we just cut the crap? If you genuinely think there aren’t enough accomplished, competent, qualified candidates for a job other than white men – you have a problem which you need to address. However, if you truly want to increase diversity – it is going to take action.
We don’t need anymore research. We don’t need more task forces. What we need is for people to step outside of their insular circles. To quit using the same tired standards to find talent. To stop perpetuating isolating cultures of exclusivity. The time for excuses is long past.
It’s been my experience that if someone claims they want something, but continually makes excuses for why they can’t do it, it’s not a priority for them.
Do you have any ideas for how organizations can improve diversity? Why do you think more progress hasn’t been made?
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mrsaok05November 16, 2015
As usual, Keisha, great post! I love that you always have us thinking, I’m not sure everyone even considers these thoughts, and that must be lovely to not *have to consider this. When I read the Twitter VP’s statement my mouth dropped, I had to have read that wrong, I reread and holy shit!
You’re not lowering the bar if you hire people who deserve the job and who happen to be minority. There are millions of highly qualified minorities that could fill those positions just fine, thank you very much!
The Girl Next Door is BlackNovember 30, 2015
I am still gobsmacked by what the VP said. It’s so obtuse and I bet he said it without questioning himself at all. I’m just tired of people making excuses for their inability and/or refusal to look outside their own bubble. We could be so much further along as a society if more (quite qualified) people of color/women were given the same opportunities as their white/male counterparts.
Thanks for your comment, A!
Amber J.November 14, 2015
All very good points. It’s so fascinating the excuses people give when speaking about lack of diversity. It’s excuses, and instead of acknowledging that the tactics they employ are implicitly racist or as the very least, supporting the typical privileged experience, they make up bs excuses about “quality, merit, etc.”
The Girl Next Door is BlackNovember 15, 2015
Ugh, yes, the excuses. I get so sick of hearing them. How many employees would get away with making excuses for why they can’t meet their performance goals? Why should an organization’s leaders get a pass? There’s a great quote I found by writer Scott Spencer:
BeFree Project (@BeFreeProject)November 13, 2015
Great post! I was intrigued when I read the title of this post. I agree 100% we need to stop caring about diversity and being accepted and just create our own. It’s time to stop waiting for someone to give you a pass and take action and do something. I’m tired of the complaining because we live in a time where there’s no excuse why you can’t pave your own way.
The Girl Next Door is BlackNovember 14, 2015
Hmm, that’s an interesting take on my post!
I wrote this to the people who have the power to make decisions that can improve diversity. I think people from marginalized groups absolutely should create their own opportunities if they’re denied access to certain orgs. However, I don’t think that’s a long-term solution to an ongoing, pervasive problem. Long-term, I believe folks need to accept and embrace our changing demographics otherwise we’re going to continue to have the same issues we have now.
rlcarterrnNovember 11, 2015
Great post. I think you’ve made some fabulous points. Why does everyone care so much about the Ivy League schools? You’re so accurate in pointing out that many minorities (& plenty of white people too, like myself), could never afford such universities, regardless of their ability to be accepted into those institutions based on academic accomplishments. I absolutely agree that companies need to stop using the same tired old standards & actually hire people based on real skill/ability & general professionalism. But it’s all part of ” the good ole boys’ club,” & sadly I don’t see it changing real soon. On the other hand, I certainly don’t think white men should be selectively NOT hired, just because they aren’t “diverse” enough . . .