I’ve written two articles so far on diversity in tech: Diversity in Tech and Diversity in Tech Part 2. The TLDR for the former is that we can’t expect companies to change their approach to DEI. Instead, seek out companies whose mission includes DEI. The TLDR for the latter is that for companies to even recognize their ineptness at DEI requires a lot of maturity, which I don’t believe many companies have.
The death of George Floyd, and the protests that followed, pushed companies to finally acknowledge systemic racism exists within the United States. And most importantly, American society had to accept the fact that the collective sum of our actions is what enabled a white police officer to sit on the neck of a Black man long after his cries for help and his last breath was taken. The death was a shock to the collective consciousness of society, not because it happened per se, but because it was videotaped, and we were forced to acknowledge it. Ignorance is bliss as the old adage goes.
What came out of this was a renewed interest in combating systemic racism. What was once questioned as anecdotal or perceived as “not as bad as people make it out to be” became accepted as truth. Seeing the inherent unfairness inspired companies and individuals alike to change their behavior and actually try to do the important work of DEI. Along with that came more stories as disadvantaged employees were more emboldened to speak truth to power.
It’s great to see these changes happening even if they are small. Each company is doing what they feel comfortable and even small changes can move the needle ever so slightly. But in the midst of all this, the framing of these discussions are now shifting. Instead of companies using the old excuses like “there are no (qualified) candidates” or “we aren’t capable of putting time/money/energy towards that,” since those weren’t legitimate excuses to begin with, we now hear things like “no politics at work.” What was once an inconvenience is again an inconvenience with verbiage reminiscent of the ambiguous sayings of years past: “hiring diverse candidates is really difficult.” Same tune, different era.
This new initiative from white CEOs in framing these discussions as political reveals an even larger issue and one that hits at the core of why DEI has been so difficult to begin with: collective bargaining. You see, the reason why CEOs can’t say “hiring diverse candidates is too difficult” or “there are no (qualified) candidates” is because society, and their employees, demand more. We can’t accept this answer in the same way we can’t accept how George Floyd was killed. But how can DEI work actually be impactful in ways that management and employees agree with? In competition, there are referees that hold each side, with opposing interests, within some negotiable boundaries. In lieu of any bargaining agreement, CEOs and management hold the cards and you probably won’t be surprised if they promote their own self-interests above those of their employees.
The inability for employees to collectively bargain for greater representation, outreach, protection, and power is the core reason why DEI is and will continue to be out of reach for most, if not all companies, in the United States. It wasn’t that DEI is hard. It was that company management did not want employees to shape “their” company in ways they did not agree with and in ways that would fundamentally alter their place in it. I think I now understand the issue more than I ever have before.