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How Do You Know If a Company Truly Embraces Diversity?

Four Black women on spotting the difference between an internalized value and lip service

Photo courtesy of Eye for Ebony

Following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery (and subsequent protests in support of Black Lives Matter), major companies like Nike, Netflix, and Amazon have openly denounced racism and police brutality. However, you may be wondering which companies legitimately take this stance and which ones are just "riding the wave" to avoid public scrutiny.

In 2019, researchers Angelica Leigh and Shimul Melwani studied the impact of public violence against Black Americans by police officers. They found that an inclusive work environment can help Black employees feel empowered to drive positive change following these events. Conversely, in less inclusive work environments, many Black employees feel like they need to mask the pain caused by police brutality. In other words, Leigh and Melwani’s findings align with what Black people have experienced for generations: the pressure to proceed with business as usual amid harsh racial inequities and lack of diversity. 

We want you to find the most inclusive employer possible—and to feel like you can bring your whole self to work. To help you identify companies that genuinely embrace diversity, InHerSight asked four Black women in the workforce what it means to authentically value Black lives and promote inclusion, and how to look for it. 

Read more: Recognizing Racism in the Workplace & Lending Your Voice

What do I look for in a company that genuinely cares about diversity? 

For many women of color, diversity in the workplace means being treated equally. Although it may sound simple, it's an elusive right that Black women have been chasing for years. In March 2020, PayScale reported that Black women make $0.97 for every dollar that equally qualified white men make; when the qualifications differ, Black women make $0.75, significantly lower than Asian women ($0.95) and white women ($0.81). This means that Black women are simultaneously fighting to close the gender pay gap and rallying against racial inequality. What's more, finding a company that actually aligns its practices with its diversity and inclusion messaging has become increasingly difficult. 

According to Celeste Hippolyte, the university inclusion and diversity manager at Lyft, diversity starts with inclusive practices throughout the company. "Diversity needs to be present not only on teams but in our recruitment practices, retention plans, leadership profiles, creative work products, and policies,” she says. “It has to be embedded in everything a company practices both internally and externally." 

Hippolyte adds that many of the companies that have released statements have been reactive, instead of proactive: "They're scrambling to write up a public message to demonstrate their support and posting diversity and inclusion positions on their career pages; they're even committing millions of dollars to worthy causes, but it is not believable because it is reactionary. When a company prioritizes diversity and inclusion in everything that they do, they won't have to scramble or do damage control."

So, how do you tell the difference between a company that means what they say and a company that has no real plans of fostering diversity? "A company that genuinely cares about diversity will have a track record for inclusive company practices,” Hippolyte says. “Women should be looking at company leadership profiles and also researching who is on that company's board. Is there gender diversity? Race diversity? Intersectional identities? If the diversity ends at middle management then that is something that needs to be called out and addressed.”

Read more: What Is Intersectional Feminism?

Hippolyte's advice reinforces the many ways that employers can cultivate diversity and inclusion. "Are the company's policies fair as it pertains to growing and developing women?” she says. “Are women of color gaining career growth opportunities at this company? Who are the large investors of that company and what are their ideals? It's so important to do that research before joining a company, as we are entering a new world where the company's ideals and yours must align."

In addition to researching this information, you can check InHerSight company reviews or inquire with other women of color who have worked for the company you're researching. An example of that communication (via email or LinkedIn) might look like this:

 Hello [Name],

I’m currently researching [Company Name], and it looks like you work/worked there. Would you be willing to share your experience with me, particularly as it relates to fair and equitable treatment of women of color? It seems like a great company so I’d like to get an insider’s perspective before I apply. All of your responses would be confidential. and I would appreciate your insight. Thank you!

[Name]

What to do if your company doesn't take an authentic stance on racial inequality

In early June, Starbucks took to social media to express support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Soon after, a recent memo banning employees from wearing apparel or accessories in support of the movement circulated the internet. This prompted both customers and employees to second-guess the company's stance on racial injustice. 

Luckily, Hippolyte says you can take action if your employer's public messaging fails to match its internal practices: "First, identifying allies within your company who can support you is important; especially allies within leadership. Identifying allies to make your voice and ideas heard is a really good strategy to make a change. Secondly, identify who the audience is and tailor your thoughts in the format that it would be best received. For example, if an email is the best way, then craft an email. If you have an idea of how to change a certain policy or want to try a new initiative to improve diversity and the audience likes visuals and numbers, then maybe a presentation with charts is an appropriate format. Either way, if you are deciding to stay at that company, then it is in your best interest to speak up, but most importantly hold your leaders accountable for making the change. If you don't feel supported and are being negatively impacted by what your company is not doing, I encourage finding another company that will grow and authentically support you."

Ultimately, it's not enough for companies to simply "tweet" their support for the Black community. They must be willing to overhaul their practices and improve operations from the inside out. Employers who consistently (and transparently) enforce a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, foster inclusive workplace cultures, and promote equitable company practices are most likely to join women of color in the fight against racial injustice. 

When you urge companies to combat systemic racism through inclusive practices, you help create work environments in which Black culture is respected and celebrated. As Hippolyte says, "Black Lives Matter yesterday, today, and forever."

How Black women look for diversity

If your goal is to work for an inclusive employer, consider these points from Black women who work in different industries but bear similar experiences. 

“Embracing diversity starts with the company’s values. So I ask you: What is the mission statement? Does it support humanity, equal opportunity, and encourage collaboration among communities? If it’s a Fortune 500 company, what organizations do their charitable contributions go to? When diversity is weaved into a company’s daily practices, it’s obvious as to who supports Black lives and who is going to face the turmoil by standing for you and with you.” —Stephanie Eley, photographer and owner of Eley Photography

"The easiest way to determine if a company is truly diverse is by looking at the board of directors. In order to get a true glimpse of how inclusive a company is the company’s demographics are imperative. How many women are in managerial roles? I seek inclusion on every level in regards to race, gender, age, and sexual orientation. I personally like it when a company is not afraid to use the word 'Black' as well." —Courtney Wright, customer service professional

"I would first start by looking at their website and then at their social media platforms. Do I see anyone who looks like me? Do I see any kind of hair that looks like mine? What types of inclusive services and products do they provide? If you already work for the company, some things to look closer into include the clients they welcome, the dress code, and how they react to your hair texture and/or different hairstyles and ethnic fashion statements." —Serina Blair, senior hair stylist 

About our sources

Celeste Hippolyte is the University I&D Manager at Lyft. Hippolyte has a passion for people and employing equitable practices to grant access to opportunities for historically underrepresented groups. She is a Posse Foundation alumna, Xoogler, and Brooklynite.

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By Kaila Kea-Lewis

Contributor

Kaila Kea-Lewis is a career coach and freelance writer, mainly covering career changes, job searching, and self-development. As a long-time advocate for remote work, she also enjoys writing about remaining productive while working from home. Her bylines include InHerSight, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, and ZipRecruiter.

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