But did you ever stop to think that I actually got the job because I am qualified?
I struggle to understand why some white people do not believe that black people can be talented, educated, highly skilled, and intelligent. Throughout my professional career, I have often heard white people say that I only got a particular job or promotion because I am a black woman.
They have even said to my face that if I was also a lesbian or someone with a disability, I would probably get every single job I applied for because I would tick the box of every single diversity criteria.
I have a university education like my white colleagues. I have built expertise in managing public health programs in low and middle-income countries, and I have nurtured a network of key decision-makers in this space.
I have been told that I am good at what I do, and yet for some, I am but a diversity quota.
I have worked hard to get a seat at the table like many of my white co-workers, yet many still question my legitimacy. I know for a fact that many of my white colleagues past and present think that I am where I am because I am a black woman. For them, I check both the gender and the ethnic boxes so I’ve hit the corporate jackpot.
When I deconstruct this behavior, I come to two possible conclusions. One is that some white people just do not want to accept that a black person can do just as good a job as them or even better. If black people are to be respected and valued in the workplace, this ignorant and false premise needs to change.
Second, and this is often the case when both a white person and I apply for a job and I end up getting it, my white colleague automatically assumes I got the job because I am a black woman.
I guess it makes them feel better to think this as it allows them to defer any thinking about what might have been their own shortcomings for the role. White people need to engage in that process of introspection in order to stop making scapegoats out of black and brown women.
I’m not sure my white colleagues understand how hurtful it is for them to imply that I did not get a job based on my own merit or on my qualifications, but rather on the fact that I am black and that I am a woman.
My default reaction has been to prove them wrong by performing outstandingly well. The objective being to show that I was selected for the role because I was simply the best candidate for it.
I’ve been rather successful in that respect, however after a career spanning more than 30 years, I must say that I am getting tired. I think of generations of young black talent entering the workforce having to go through this day in day out, and know that I have to play my role in bringing about change.
Having to repeatedly overwork and overachieve to prove that I am qualified is exhausting. And it is especially unfair given that white people are not held to this same standard.
If there is one thing I would like to achieve before retirement, it would be to contribute to changing mindsets in terms of how black talent is perceived and accepted in the corporate world.
Because the facts are simple. We are educated, we are qualified, and we deserve several seats at the table.
And for that to happen, companies need to hire truckloads of qualified black and brown talent at all levels of the business.
It is only when you get to the point of normalcy – or seeing and working alongside many black and brown faces on a day-to-day basis – not just one or two – it is only then that white people won’t see black and brown people as a diversity quota.
It is only then that they will begin to see each black and brown person as individuals, with different skill sets, expertise, and levels of performance.
I remember the moderate diversity and inclusion efforts in the 90s. Companies would hire a few black people and breathe a sigh of relief because they had met their quotas. That might even have been topped off with an award of some sort telling them how diverse of a company they were.
The reality however is that 30 years down the line, companies are still not diverse. Why is that? Because only a few minorities were hired, and this was not enough to change white people’s behaviors, albeit the status quo.
So these behaviors continued, and account for the fact that black and brown people still face brutal microaggressions in the corporate world on a daily basis.
Diversity and inclusion efforts should be like a tidal wave. If you have zero black employees in your ranks, you need to hire 1000s at a time, not just one or two.
You need to aim to have a 1:1 ratio of white to brown and black employees. It is only then that you’ll stand a chance of changing the culture of that particular company.
And don’t tell me that there isn’t enough black and brown talent on the market. That is a lie that corporations have been telling society for ages. There is black and brown talent — all you need to do is want to hire and develop it.
If you continue to hire small numbers of black and brown talent, you won’t be successful in changing the company culture, and as a result, microaggressions will continue, and that talent won’t stay.
A complete overhaul is needed to make genuine and sustainable change. And the companies brave enough to try this will become the most profitable in the world.
Thanks a lot for reading my perspective