June 24, 2020

Diversity in Orgs

When I first started managing design teams I was excited to contribute to the ongoing efforts of making tech and design more diverse. As an individual contributor, I had been on teams that were extremely diverse, and teams that were extremely homogenous. (Read: white males.) I felt a deep responsibility to ensure that our internal and external teammates reflected the diversity of our community.

Initially, my understanding was that the diversity problems in tech and design stemmed from bad hiring practices. There are plenty of talented BIPOC designers in the world, and by and large internal design teams don’t reflect the diversity of the design community. By hiring more of these people on internal teams, we can fix the diversity problem in tech.

I’ve come to find that this is a flawed way of thinking about the problem. While we should always prioritize fair and equitable hiring practices in the workplace, it’s treating a symptom of the issue and not the cause. What this way of thinking fails to recognize is that once people are hired into a work environment they have to interact with the complex cultural systems of that organization. Often times, these systems are built to limit the influence of BIPOC employees and elevate white members of the organization.

Organizations often exhibit the following white supremacy characteristics: perfectionism, a sense of urgency, defensiveness, a focus on quantity over quality, worship of the written word, paternalism, either/or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism, defining progress as growth, objectivity, and a right to comfort. (You can read more about these characteristics and how to combat them here.)

Because of these characteristics, BIPOC voices are seen as detracting voices that get in the way of progress.” While organizations might focus on diversity as a hiring goal, their systems of white supremacy form a racist immune system that protects those with power and reject those that pose a threat to that power. BIPOC are often pushed out of organizations or exposed to toxicity until they leave on their own accord.

If we want to see progress in our industry, we need to focus on dismantling these systems and combating these characteristics of white supremacy within our organizations. Real change has to happen at the top and needs to be reflected as a cultural shift in our organizations. Until this change happens, we won’t see progress.

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