D&I role models — are we just accelerating the rise of self-promotion?

D&I role models — are we just accelerating the rise of self-promotion?

A contact of mine who is part of a women’s professional networking group recently asked me the following question:

“Why do you think women from a BAME background, especially in a senior capacity are reserved about joining our professional network?”

Obviously, I could not answer that question from a woman’s perspective, but I could relate to my own experience and thought process. It is a subject area that has been bugging me for a while. I mean how are we going to encourage more ethnic and gender diversity at senior levels if there are not enough role models leading by example…?

Firstly, from my personal perspective there is a notion or understanding of being ‘accepted’. Many individuals from an ethnic background have had to fight throughout their careers to get into senior positions constantly having to overachieve in order to prove themselves, and in some cases adapt or adjust (in the workplace) their true cultural beliefs. Imagine working your entire career to reach the upper levels of the seniority ladder only to hit a ceiling because you strayed from conformity and started to emphasise your cultural make up. I do believe this fear of losing the position of being ‘accepted’ is an inhibiting factor behind not seeing more diverse role models.

Secondly, I refer to the term ‘role model’.

For the first 9 years of my professional career I worked within corporate environments, and the lack of senior role models from a diverse background was evident. The small population of individuals (diverse) who were in senior positions mostly just got on with their jobs…isn’t that what should be expected? It was not until I started my own recruitment business that I had a wider view of the employment landscape that I began to realise that whilst we have a clear and obvious issue regarding diversity at senior levels, we were also creating so called role models who were/are using their senior status for self-promotion.

I have met some great individuals from diverse backgrounds who are as passionate as I am about diversity and equality. We talk for hours about the great initiatives being promoted by various groups, businesses etc and the unforgiving openness of discrimination we see in the professional world. These individuals believe that they have a responsibility to make things better for colleagues, friends and the next generation. By changing the working culture, they can potentially have an impact on society and vice versa…creating a better place to work and live.

However, …

And I am sorry to say this, but through our efforts to tick various D&I boxes we are creating a population of individuals, who are rising to a level of importance/significance via their D&I connection and purely using it for self-gain. I have encountered and spoken to individuals in these roles of responsibility i.e. D&I leads, Heads of Talent, Heads of HR etc and it amazes me how dismissive they are when approaching them for support.

The unfortunate events involving George Floyd sparked the BLM movement globally. We saw people of all nationalities, races etc come together in unity to demonstrate against such violence and discrimination. Businesses of all sizes took a stance and made commitments to change policies, make commitments etc. The ‘BLM’ banner was posted on every profile on social media. All this activity has led to an evident increase of companies accelerating the employment or appointments of D&I specialists. However, what qualifies someone to be a D&I specialist? Are companies following the right processes for the right individual or simply making hasty decisions to tick a box and show that they suddenly have D&I towards the top of their values? Via my experience since launching CX, I don’t buy it. There are too many individuals using the D&I badge for personal gains…the irony of inclusion experts ignoring approaches and discussions raises a wry smile.

Don’t get me wrong, if I entered these discussions with a large corporate badge or was D&I flavour of the month (this will be another blog!) then I suppose the engagement might have held more weight. I see these individuals finding the time to like irrelevant posts on LinkedIn or responding to many comments of people congratulating them for yet another title change, but yet they have no time to respond to our previous discussions about making a real impact within D&I.

My hope is that D&I does not become an industry where individuals who supposedly share a similar passion/drive are more concerned about their status, recognition, title, commercials and even remuneration.

Utilising and recognising role models who are from a diverse background is a great idea. We have some great role models helping to even out the playing field for everyone. However, are we now too quick to promote individuals into recognised D&I roles, status etc without the right understanding as to their motives?

Maybe trying to do the right thing by accelerating the profiles of many individuals will have the adverse effect. I am certain that I am not the only one who has picked up on this ‘patting on your back’ culture that is prominent within the D&I population.

I have seen various statistics about the lack of change within D&I in the workplace. The appointment of specialised D&I representatives, industry awards (where you can self-nominate?!) doesn’t appear to be making any meaningful progress. Why is this? Is it because we are simply encouraging self-promotion or are these individuals not being given the full remit to initiate change? Could it be that these D&I leaders feel as though they have reached the top, and is this now what success looks like for them…? Is success about accolades/rewards or is it about the impact you can have on others and future generations?

D&I leaders must be working together and be supportive of each other, otherwise we will devalue all the good work being done. This is no place for siloes.

We must be unified in our fight for equality.

Written by Sunil Dial

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