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How to Answer the Diversity Training Question, "What Do We Do Now?"

"So what do we do, Cindi? You know, we've been trying all these different things. We don't have adequate candidate pools and just can't find the talent we need. What do we do?"

This is what people are constantly asking me and I have a few ideas.

When people ask me this, I ask which Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) they're recruiting from. At least 8 out of 10 times, the companies I talk to don't even know what an HBCU is.

There are over a hundred HBCUs across the country. There are many degrees and programs that these colleges are using to produce high caliber leaders. So why doesn't your organization doesn't know of them or recruit talented candidates from them?

Some companies are not even doing basic research or taking simple steps to attract brown and black people to their organizations.

There's a Movement Among Brown and Black People in Corporate America Right Now

Part of the challenge right now that I know organizations face is finding talent.

Talented candidates don't want to work at companies that can't see them as more than a body in the seat for them to check their 'Diversity' box.

Many of us have stopped spending our money at businesses that aren't understanding this.

I like to say, "you can't have our money if you won't have us." Wells Fargo's CEO recently illustrated this. With his tone-deaf comments about not being able to "find" the talent - is ludicrous. It spoke volumes about that organization.

Did you see the backlash?

There's a movement happening now. People don't want to come to work for organizations and be your token hire. Yes, they look good on your websites to make you believe the company is actually doing the work. But are the companies actually doing that work? Whether it's intentional or not, this is happening.

I have ideas about how best to tackle that.

To people working in environments that lack diversity, ask yourselves:

  • "Why are my leaders having challenges attracting people?"

  • "Do I have bigots in leadership roles?"

  • "Which people are being turned away at the door?"

  • "Why?"

There are many bigots in leadership roles. You might not know they exist, or maybe you do, and you're not doing anything about it. In fact, they're probably some of your high-producing people. They have mastered "managing up" and often have strong P&L statements, so their damaging behavior is often ignored because you are not likely to want to touch someone who is making your company a lot of money.

In my career, I saw a lot of leaders making tons of money but they were problem people. They ran all over everybody. They stepped on people so that they could get their money. At any cost.

Organizations that keep these types of people around may actually be losing more revenue on the back end. There are reputable studies that show what diverse companies, racial and gender, excel in company profitability. In double-digits of outperformance of non-diverse groups. McKinsey and company have done incredible work in this space to show this data.

So why, if we know the financials of a company can increase in double digits by hiring more black and brown people, do we still take little action to address what is really happening?

Ask and Take Action

My number one suggestion is that you've got to get your head around who those people are in the organization.

Where do you start?

How do you know who they are?

It's simple. Ask your black people. They will more than likely know who these people are in the organization.

What reaction did you just have by reading that suggestion? Why?

Second, take action. No longer are the days where you can afford to say: "But I can't do that. What if they sue me?" You're actually taking that risk anyhow with the black and brown people in your organization who have had to put up with racism and bigotry at work all this time. So start saying no to people that you are not traditionally used to saying no to.

Deal With the Middle Management Rank

The biggest problem, and pain point, is at the middle management rank level. There are many opportunities for people to reach middle management, but once someone gets there, the linear path up to the top weeds out and there's not as much opportunity.

That's where the crab pot behavior starts. This is where generational wealth is being destroyed for brown and black people. In order for black and brown people to build wealth, they need access to higher bonus structures, to power and decisions, which exist beyond the middle management level.

Middle Management destruction of brown and black people also looks like a leader asking about diversity candidates, which follow a similar path:

  • They are on a 2-4 year trajectory.

  • They have a development plan, but anyone who has been in roles like me (a leader in Human Resources) knows that the diverse people put on those plans have a single-digit likelihood of actually finding success.

  • They don't get developed or mentored.

  • They either get criticized to death to conform to whiteness, or they become frustrated and leave on their own.

  • If they dare to try and advance themselves without conforming, they become seen as a performance problem.

White women are gaining on the diversity label, but not true diverse people.

My advice? Clean out the middle management ranks. Period. Over my career, I've had to tell many people that their services are no longer needed. You must be intentional about this because you cannot change it any other way.

I understand the economics around what I'm saying and I understand shareholder responsibility. I know this advice is bold and uncomfortable. I get that. But you're at a crossroads.

  • What conversations are you having with your shareholders about the changes that need to be had?

  • What new structures do you need to have in place to make the change?

  • What new skills and competencies are needed in this new era of black and brown people progress?

Skillset number one: boldness.

These are the type of things I'm engaging organizations with and if you want more of this, you want to talk to me about this, you can reach out to me at I look forward to being able to help you through this challenge.

Cindi Bright is a Seattle based speaker and consultant on topics of race, diversity, and social justice. She hosts HeartBeat radio a weekly program discussing the issues impacting brown and black people. She spent over 30 years in corporate America as a human resources leader/executive. She is known for her candor, honesty, and humor. Her work is aimed at personal and business transformation.

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Cindi  Bright

Speaker, Author, Host, Consultant


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