The Employee Side of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

by Markiesha Thompson Monitor 101 2022
The conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion is aimed at companies and organizations and missing its other audiences: the diverse candidates organizations are seeking. Shanna B. Tiayon, founder and chief practitioner at Wellbeing Works, speaks with Monitor about measures people from underrepresented communities can utilize in the corporate workplace.

Markiesha Thompson,
Associate Editor,

While the majority of diversity, equity and inclusion actions and efforts fall on organizations as a whole, there are actionable steps that people of color and other marginalized groups can utilize within the corporate workplace to ensure they are presented the same opportunities as their white male counterparts.

For those in these underrepresented communities looking to find their way in the corporate world, Shanna B. Tiayon, founder and chief practitioner at Wellbeing Works, says that it is OK to feel empowered to interview a potential employer during the job search process. She explains people in underrepresented communities should be interviewing potential employers about their internal culture, how they operate, how they treat their employees and expectations around promotions and resources.

Managing Upward

Tiayon also urges the practice of managing upward through peer or self-advocacy in the workplace. The challenge with organizational settings, Tiayon says, is oftentimes those in management positions have more than one direct report, so not all managers want to figure out how to use an employee-centric management style. Tiayon says managing upward is essentially letting your supervisor or other higher-ups know what you need to thrive in the workplace, as well as being proactive in sharing information with management and advocating for yourself. According to Tiayon, managing upward is a great tool to help position yourself for where you want to go professionally instead of waiting for the organization to recognize your talents and your skills and hoping they put you on the path you want.

Tiayon also believes in the method of developing a trusted internal network. Not all work environments will have that kind of culture or the people to accomplish it, she says, but if you can, developing a network of people who you can trust, who can offer you support, who can provide you with a safe space when you need to vent and to seek advice, and who also are open to sharing information about what’s happening in the organization and externally can benefit in the development of your career.

The key actionable step people from underrepresented communities can take is trusting their intuition. Tiayon says people of color often have a tendency to avoid leaning into and trusting intuition because of concerns regarding what others may think when discussing feelings about what is happening in the workplace. Be it racism, other-ism, unfair treatment or something simply not feeling right, Tiayon thinks people from historically marginalized groups have to be much more comfortable knowing that if their intuition is telling them something is off, it probably is. When this occurs, they should take appropriate action as a result, knowing that intuition should be seen as a valid source of data and information.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Planning to climb the proverbial corporate ladder? Tiayon says you should start off knowing what you want out of a corporate career, especially as a person from a historically marginalized background. As a person of color, Tiayon says people often aim to climb the ladder but aren’t sure what they want their career journey to look like. She suggests having a clear understanding of what you want and what you are willing to invest. Once you have clarity, you can manage your way upward and express your career goals to management, initiating the conversation instead of waiting to see what happens, ultimately avoiding the traditional and toxic corporate climb.

Another piece of advice Tiayon shares for people from underrepresented backgrounds is to test the waters and apply externally to get a sense of how you are valued in the marketplace. There is a tendency for employers to underpay or fail to provide resources that employees, especially those from traditionally marginalized backgrounds, deserve until they’re ready to walk out the door.

According to Tiayon, getting a sense of how external organizations value what you bring to the table and presenting that to your employer can help them see your value. There’s a way to do it, she says, but you must really be prepared to present your case and walk away if they’re not willing to negotiate with you. It can sometimes be very enlightening to show that you are valued in other spaces differently and, hopefully, it can sometimes entice your employer to rethink the conditions of your work, she says.

When an environment becomes too toxic, Tiayon says it is important for employees from traditionally marginalized backgrounds to change their career trajectory and understand it’s OK that while you may have had one intention before you knew what was fully involved at a job, that intention may change once you get there. Often, she says, employees of color climb the proverbial ladder with the weight of so many people on their backs who they want to make proud that they forget to think about what happiness and success look like.

From an organizational standpoint, Tiayon says the first important thing an organization can do is commit to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. Tiayon says a lot of organizations quickly hire a DE&I professional but give no thought to the resources, commitment or change necessary to really support these roles. A company must have a sustained and invested commitment to DE&I in order to add more diversity in the organization, particularly if it is a predominantly white organization and especially if it is a predominantly white and male organization, otherwise those DE&I efforts will not be successful.

Tiayon says research shows people’s networks, oftentimes, are closely aligned to the demographic categories that they occupy. She advises companies to eliminate internal referral programs because they can often bring in more people who look and think like those who are already in an organization.

Organizations can also do internal research to find out how it currently treats, pays, evaluates and promotes its employees from underrepresented backgrounds by using demographic information in their human resources systems. A company can see time to promotion for white employees versus non-white employees or salary disparities. If anything comes up, fixing it must be the top priority, Tiayon says. Management does not have to wait for some great initiative or grassroots movement in the organization to fix the structural issues that impede the advancement of employees from historically marginalized backgrounds, she adds.

Tiayon also says mentorship is a great tool. According to her, a lot of times, employees receive jobs, promotions and opportunities not because they are publicly announced and vetted, but because the candidate knew someone who was privy to the information and looped them in. Developing mentorship opportunities or circles with people in organization who are sincerely committed to increasing and sustaining the DE&I in the organization can be really helpful with advancing the careers of minority employees within their organizations, Tiayon says. Blind analysis of criteria is another useful method Tiayon says can work for companies seeking productive DE&I efforts. This can be achieved by removing the name or face on applications and employee files and filtering who gets an opportunity by just looking at the credentials themselves with the goal of removing bias from the decision-making process.

“I think everyone is all ready to jump on the DE&I bandwagon until some people realize that means that I may lose some power or authority in order to be able to achieve this goal.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Markiesha Thompson is associate editor of Monitor.

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