Early in my career as a Diversity and Inclusion leader, I recall sitting with a group of my peers as we reflected on Melody Hobson’s Ted Talk, “Color Brave”. In it, Hobson shares “It's time...for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversations about race. If we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, we need to have real conversations about this issue. We can’t be color blind, we have to be color brave.”
What followed was a healthy debate about the practices that our respective companies should adopt as we worked to usher in Diversity 2.0: A move away from the dialogue around a pipeline problem (read: it’s the lack of volume of qualified candidates from underrepresented backgrounds that perpetuates the “diversity problem”) in 1.0 and a move towards acknowledging that it was the practices of our industry’s companies that kept folks from opportunity.
The tenor of the conversation centered on one thing: Should we anonymize data as we worked to staff our teams or data brave?
To be data brave meant having candid conversations about who wasn’t in the room and even more candor about why they weren’t there. To be data brave meant, like every other business practice, having a rich understanding of our company’s demographics so that we better understand where we should direct our equity efforts. To be data brave meant understanding our pipelines and who was in them (and how certain demographics progressed through them) so that we were better positioned to make interventions when we knew our biases were creating barriers to opportunity. Said differently, as Hobson put’s it: “The first step of solving any problem is not to hide from it. The first step to any form of action is awareness.”
As the pandemic resolves, and more companies work to re-commit themselves to diversity efforts against the backdrop of a racial justice movement, it’s not lost on me that the intention of removing data on the surface seems promising. In theory, to anonymize data means ignoring all the details, focusing less on who people are and more on what they can do (and maybe even where they might have worked) to offset any bias that might creep into hiring. In practice, however, embedding anonymous hiring practices into hiring fundamentally ignores the richness that future employees can potentially bring to our organizations beyond their previous work experiences.
Our future leaders are more than just their resumes. Their life experiences, their worldviews, their triumphs, and their struggles make them great. For many, the lens through which they view the world and the very lens that they will bring to the workplace could have started many years before they heard their first “yes” from their first job. It may well have been a single interaction with law enforcement they experienced growing up or the resilience they learned as working a full-time job to fund their education as a first-generation college graduate.
It’s been inspiring to see more companies embrace a data brave mindset, where their focus has turned from finding untapped candidates and has shifted towards building diverse teams with intention. Perhaps if more companies adopt the practice of naming the diversity opportunity, we may finally realize the progress of DEI we have much longed for.
I’ll end in the same way Hobson closed her Ted Talk, and in the same spirit that the conversation with my peers ended:
“This idea of being the land of the free and the home of the brave, it’s woven into the fabric of America. When we see a problem, we face it head-on. I’m asking you to show courage, to be bold. I’m asking you not to leave any child behind, not to be color blind but to be color brave, so every child knows that their future matters and their dreams are possible.”
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