Wednesday, June 7, 2023

DEI and All That

 Lately I heard that some conservatives are upset that Chick-Fil-A has a VP of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). They’ve had one for many years but Chick-Fil-A has been “outed.” An upcoming book—Kevin Woodson’s The Black Ceiling—could help enlighten us on the issues and options for Black advancement. The author adopts Nancy DiTomaso’s perspective of “racial inequality without racism.”

Woodson provides an important and easily understood contribution for those organizations trying their best to have more diversity and inclusion. Unlike many programs and workshops, he comes from a broad range of exploratory disciplines—cultural sociology, organizational dynamics and social psychology—to go deeper than surface symptoms that hinder Black professionals’ career advancement. Though limited to the legal and financial arenas, his conclusions can be applied to any industry, any organizational tier and any size of business. 

He expands on the insight that the “ceiling” is enhanced by social alienation and stigma anxiety. Everyone will recognize the ensuing reactions when they’ve been in a culture clash. Even White people experience this if they’re honest when they travel from northern US to southern US or vice versa, or travel to other parts of the developing world. We will all have a tendency to develop the coping mechanisms of isolation, seeking out familiar people and situations and disparagingly assessing others without full understanding. Therefore, White people should be able to commiserate with their Black professional brothers and sisters. To overcome the alienation and anxiety, Kevin Woodson provides several effective options for organizations and individuals to dissipate the obstacles for Black professionals. These are not your usual prescriptive tropes you might see in other places.

I did spot one glaring omission in his recommendations. While acknowledging the inaccuracies, biases and damage inherent in performance reviews/appraisals, earlier in the book he fails to call for their “abolishment” as an idea to help Black professionals (and actually all professionals). Confirmation bias, recency bias, (and other prejudices), collaboration inadequacies, timing issues, rating/ranking policies and individual reviewer’s perspectives and preferences conspire to raise the level of inaccuracy and reviewer’s projections to a level of 90 percent. The person’s actual performance provides a mere ten percent influence to an appraisal of a year’s performance or particular project review. This problem is compounded when these faulty reviews are the basis for promotion, wage increases, and other “juicy” assignments that can propel a person’s career. If organizations take this problem to heart and develop different, simpler assessment techniques and reduce the enormous significance these assessments have, all professionals (and other categories of employees) will benefit. Assessed individuals could try to let the reviews not inflate or deflate their egos.

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