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Why Workplace Diversity Must Be a Priority Before the Hiring Process Begins

Many job postings today encourage diverse applicants to apply, advertising diversity as a company value. This is important for job applicants to see a potential employer’s commitment to diversity. However, just because a company is successful in recruiting diverse hires does not guarantee that the company is truly committed to equity, diversity, or inclusion. In fact, getting talent on the payroll is the easy part. In order to be authentically committed to diversifying their teams, employers must commit to building cultures of equity and inclusion within the workplace, especially if they care about ethically recruiting diverse workers to their team.

An example of this could look like a trans individual who was encouraged to share their pronouns and was uplifted for their identity during the interview process, just to start work and find their dead name as their email address, and half of their coworkers misgendering them. There may only be gendered washroom options that make them feel unsafe and outed, and upon approaching it with HR they are asked to lead a “gender inclusion” discussion at the next team meeting. While leadership at this company may truly understand the value that having a trans employee brings to their company, they have not created a workplace culture to make this employee feel safe or supported at work. Without an informed and intentional workplace culture, this company is actually being irresponsible by advertising themselves as “LGBTQ+ friendly” both on the job posting and publicly all over their social media during Pride Month.

It is important that companies have safe and inclusive cultures established before actively advertising themselves as embracing diversity. This means things like having an HR plan ready to support trans employees through their transition process even if there currently aren’t any out trans workers, or not allowing ICE onto company property even if it seems that all employees are in good standing with immigration. Without pre-established cultures of inclusion, by recruiting employees of diverse backgrounds into unprepared and therefore unsafe working conditions, these companies can often do much more harm than good.

It is also important to mention that in order to have workplace cultures that genuinely embrace diversity, this will require a critical redefining of what we consider to be “professional”. The definitions of what is and isn’t “professional” that are widely accepted today were, for the most part, written by heterosexual white cisgender males. If you examine closely the qualities that are valued in the workplace, you will see that they are reflective of the people who decided them, and exclude those who did not.

What we are taught to think of as “professional” qualities are things like well-articulated, assertive, neat-appearance, proper demeanor, poised, competent… who do these words describe and why? Keep in mind that it is important to think about who determines which individuals adhere to these qualifications. People of color are expected to whitewash their appearance by straightening their hair, not being allowed to wear it natural or braided. Trans and gender-nonconforming people are discouraged from dressing how they feel comfortable unless they are percieved as “passing”. People with disabilities are expected to deal with a lack of accommodations quietly and independently. Femme people are held to a higher standard to not express their emotions within the workplace, while masculine people sometimes “just need to blow off some steam”. Marginalized people are seen as stepping out of line for advocating for themselves, whereas cis straight white men are seen as “go-getters” or “natural leaders”.

Workplaces also need to reflect on the way that they view things like grammar and language within the workplace. There are specific standards of communication that are expected in order to be taken seriously in a professional setting. In the US, these standards are often based heavily in whiteness. If companies truly value having diverse workers they must reevaluate what is considered acceptable communication, understanding that expecting people to assimilate to white standards of communication is based in racism. Employees shouldn’t be forced to code-switch in the workplace in order to be taken seriously as a professional. Employers must also understand that things like imperfect grammar in cover letters should not automatically disqualify a potential hire. This could indicate, for example, that English is not this applicant’s first language, which also means that this person could bring a lot to the table in terms of multicultural or international experience.

There also must be a recognition of the reality that marginalized communities are often under-resourced communities. In order to recruit a diverse workforce, companies must understand that many people of diverse backgrounds may not have had the same opportunities or access to resources as those of more privileged backgrounds. This means that if companies want to actively recruit diverse workers, they must rethink their required qualifications, and if those qualifications are accessible to everyone. Also keeping in mind that spaces in which professional socialization happens is a often not accessible to many people, especially for those from non-white communities.

Overall, companies that are committed to having a diverse workforce must be ready to redefine not only what their workplace looks like, but what it feels like as well. In order to truly embrace all that a diverse team can bring to the work, employers need to understand that if they want to empower and uplift their diverse employees, that they must be ready to reevaluate their workplace culture, asking hard questions like who defined and shaped the company culture, and who ascribes to the company’s “culture fit” vs. who doesn’t and why, and be ready to make changes accordingly.

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