"I have a suggestion," I thought to myself, "maybe you should promote a black person."
Yeah, I know we're not supposed to think these things--but I'm being honest. In the spirit of being honest, I'm going to add that I wish I would've made my suggestion out loud on last Friday's conference call. And furthermore, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only minority who has felt this way about their effective group.
Here's some truth about my 'cool' job: looking at my org chart is discouraging. I can count the number of black leaders in my department on one hand--assuming that one hand is fingerless.
Of all my minority categories, I consider myself black first. That may upset the feminists, but it's been ingrained in me from Day 1 and it has shaped my life more than being a female has. Probably because I learned it first.
I love black culture. I think rappers and athletes are the original grassroots marketers and have called on many of them, many times, to promote a product or idea. I believe the electric slide has more team-building capabilities than a normal hour long course on the same subject, and I truly feel everyone should read Motown lyrics just like they do any other poetry.
I share all of this (and more), with all kinds of people, on a daily basis. Because knowing something changes the way you experience it. Knowing someone's cultural background changes the way you interact with them, just like knowing wine changes the way you enjoy it. And more importantly, because in order to manage smart people, "you have to go out of your way to periodically allow your own points of view to be evaluated, questioned and improved."
Gen Y is supposed to be colorblind, but when I imagine an executive meeting where there is no African American presence, I imagine an executive meeting that ends up with a strategy that is full of missed opportunities and lost chances for revenue increases. I imagine a company that is vastly limiting their network and doesn't even realize it.
In my mind, it's Marketing 101. And in my subconscious, it's Tolerance 101. I can't help it. It walks like a duck.
It's not just me. All of us, in our unconscious, harbor prejudicial thoughts.
Uh huh. Even you.
Sure, there are many factors that influence an applicant pool and subsequent hires. And yes, I'm fully aware that diversity is defined by factors other than race and nationality. But above all that, I truly believe cultural references are one of the strongest things you can bring to the table. And they are a major reason why Dave Chappelle is filthy rich and why this site is so popular.
Case in point: One of the best lessons I learned about finance came from Ramit Sethi. He taught me to "negotiate like an Indian." I thought I knew how to negotiate, that skill has been taught for years from both white and black folks around me. Negotiating like an Indian, however, was best suited coming from, well, an Indian. And you know what? I remember the advice and utilize it daily. Apparently, I'm not the only one.
I could go on and on about the lessons about character that I received from my lesbian best friend, or what I learned about the importance of history and tradition from my new Jewish co-workers enviable week-long commitment to salads during Passover, or what I learned about sense of self from my bi-racial president.
I could, but I won't. I want to you to find out for yourself.