I typically don’t write about race, but I felt really compelled after I read this very informative piece by Whitney Davis, a veteran of CBS news and former director of entertainment diversity and inclusion. It’s titled “CBS Has a White Problem”, in it, she talks about working at CBS, the systemic racism, discrimination, and sexual harassment she experienced, as well as the challenges she’s faced while navigating her career as a black woman.
You don’t need to be an expert on diversity to see and understand so clearly, what Whitney is talking about. In the article, she asks the rhetorical question “Did you know that there’s not one black creative executive working at CBS Television Network or CBS Television Studios?”, as I read the post, I shook my head mumbling, we know sis! We see the shows they churn out; Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Mom, Kevin Can Wait, Whitney e.t.c. I’d also admit, the diversity of their content has improved in the past two years with more diverse shows like The Good Fight, God Friended Me, and maybe a few others.
When companies lack diversity, it’s crystal clear, it’s telling in their end product. This isn’t even about the financial benefits of a diverse team, if you want to read about that, you can find countless articles on that topic on HBR. It’s about giving everyone — no matter their gender, skin color, sexual orientation or religion — a fair shot, because they’re capable.
Lack of diversity always shows:
- Whether it’s the actual cast in the tv show or movie
- The story line of the “token black character” of the tv show / movie, which, mind you is even more important than having a black character because telling inauthentic stories of people of color is just worse in terms of false narrative being put out. Believe it or don’t, people see these stories on TV and most times take them at face value.
- Racially insensitive or caricature company product advertisements
- A health tracking app tracking every health related metric thinkable, but forgetting periods.
- A scanner of an airport security system not being able to identify most black hair styles and thereby flagging them for extra checks
- Immigration oral tests failing fluent english speakers because of their accent
- Ill trained AI facial recognition systems leading to wrongful arrests
- Soap dispensers not dispensing to dark skin hands
Lack of diversity always shows.
Speaking of AI, I specifically loved Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’(youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress) comment on AI with racial bias,
“They always have these racial inequities that get translated, because algorithms are still made by human beings, and those algorithms are still pegged to basic human assumptions. They’re just automated. And automated assumptions — if you don’t fix the bias, then you’re just automating the bias.”
This really, is the importance of having a diverse team, you want to create products and services for the diverse world we live in, and not just a subset of people.
I’m torn between “Hire POC because it will make your products and company better” and “Hire POC people. Period”, and when you do hire, don’t waste their time, don’t make them a caricature, don’t insult them, respect them, in the words of Whitney:
“We need to be respected, promoted and compensated on the same level as our white peers.”
I was struck by this paragraph in an article by Jemele Hill(A former ESPN host, podcast host, and writer at The Atlantic) where she talks about how a lot of people don’t know what it means for black people to always “go high” no matter how they’re treated:
“Most black people have been told practically since the womb that they must be twice as good to get half as much as anybody white. They have also been conditioned to believe that maintaining the moral high ground and being a bigger person is the only way to defeat racism. That often means suppressing natural human emotions that could communicate racism’s devastating impact.”
Lack of diversity always shows, kudos to companies out there that are doing the right thing, I’m privileged to work amongst a very diverse team, and I’m also really proud of the amazing work we do together.
In-spite of the horrifying stories I hear today about racial discrimination, sexism and misogyny in the workplace, I’m still very optimistic for the future, I think it’s really great that we’re having the dialogue for things like this as opposed to silence.