What To Say When Your Boss Thinks You Have An Inclusive Workplace (But You Don’t)

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What To Say When Your Boss Thinks You Have An Inclusive Workplace (But You Don’t)

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Talking points for exhausting conversations.

Let me set the scene. It’s been one year since your company posted a black square on Instagram and pledged to listen and do better. Your boss has purchased the entire office a copy of White Fragility. You’ve been encouraged to join an employee resource group (ERG). And leadership has announced that the office will now get Juneteenth off — hooray?

It’s certainly progress, but in some ways it misses the point. Especially when the executive board is still mostly male, Ivy League-educated, and entirely white. Recruiting is still hiring from the same established networks they’ve been using for ages. Internal workforce policies haven’t been revisited, examined and updated to reflect “our dedication to DEI and a better future.”

Unfortunately, leadership thinks they’ve “solved the diversity issue at work” because the Careers page mirrors a United Colors of Benetton ad. But it’s evident that you’re one of the many professionals that believe their company missed the memo in 2020 and that more diversity is needed at work.

According to a 2019 survey, 65 percent of Black professionals said that Black employees have to work harder in order to advance, but only 16 percent of their white colleagues agreed with that statement.

For all of the public-facing “commitments” to diversity and inclusion, there’s still a major disconnect between the perceptions of people in positions of power and the lived experiences of individuals fighting to access those opportunities.

So here are some statistics to bring to the table — especially when you have a seat at it.

  • While roughly one in three Black professionals aspire to hold an executive position at work and nearly two in three consider themselves to be “very ambitious” in a 2019 report, Black professionals hold just 3.2 percent of executive and senior manager positions and less than 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.
  • Women represent just 8 percent of all Fortune 500 leaders despite making up nearly half of the entry-level workforce.
  • Women hold just 38 percent of manager positions while men hold 62 percent, and men are 30 percent more likely to be promoted from an entry level to a managerial position.
  • 27 percent of transgender workers report being fired, not hired or denied a promotion from 2016-201.
  • 22 percent of LGBT workers were not paid or promoted at the same rate as colleagues.
  • The unemployment rate for people with a disability was 12.6 percent, compared to an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent for individuals without a disability in 2020.

Meanwhile, diverse leadership boards lead to better business performance.

While we may want people to prioritize DEI because it’s the right thing to do, unfortunately, we live in a world where “warm and fuzzy feelings” get put on the back burner — or given exclusively to HR to handle. So when we can’t speak to their minds or hearts, we can speak to wallets and bottom lines.

  • Racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to perform better than their respective national industry medians.

According to a 2017 study, teams that are geographically diverse, include members with different genders and at least one age gap of more than 20 years made better business decisions than individuals 87 percent of the time — showing a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance

But 41 percent of managers say they are “too busy” to prioritize diversity, according to reporting on an SHRM report of Fortune 1000 companies. Respondents admitted to having only informal, unstructured diversity efforts at their organizations. Not quite the “commitment” promised by most diversity, equity and inclusion statements.

In fact…

  • 58 percent of Black professionals report experiences of racial prejudice at work compared to just 15 percent of white professionals.
  • 43 percent of Black executives report use of racially insensitive language by their colleagues in their presence.
  • Minorities who delete references to race on their resumes receive more interviews.
  • Women are much more likely to be hired when hiring initiatives are blind.
  • 42 percent of women report experiencing gender discrimination at work, and were four times as likely as men to say they have been treated as if they were not competent because of their gender and three times as likely as men to say they’ve experienced small slights at work because of their gender. On top of that, women holding a bachelor’s degree or higher report significantly higher rates of discrimination across a range of measures.
  • While 35 percent of white women report having individuals in their networks who have advocated for their ideas and skills, just 19 percent of Black women report the same support.
  • 22 percent of Black women report being passed over for important assignments at work because of their gender compared to 8 percent of white women and 9 percent of Hispanic women.
  • LGBTQ people of color report twice as much discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • 25 percent of LGBT people report experiencing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Companies and industries continue to exclude diverse candidates by heavily recruiting from exclusive elite universities and informal social networks

Reckoning with the systemic prejudice and biases that underpin the persistent gaps in leadership and opportunity in the workplace starts with getting honest about how those biases are limiting the opportunities of marginalized individuals in real terms.

If your boss, coworkers or colleagues are in denial, these talking points are a place to start, but they are by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to drop some of your own in the comments or replies.


Are you facing down a challenging conversation or preparing your rebuttal to a *headdesk* remark? I’m here for you. Leave a comment and I’ll consider it for a future edition of Talking Points.

If you enjoyed this edition, you might also like:

What to Say When You Hear “Women Aren’t In Leadership Roles Because They Opt Out”

What to Say When You Hear “Women Just Choose Lower Paying Jobs”

What To Say When You Hear, “Gender Inequity Isn’t That Bad Anymore”

And click here to subscribe to make sure you have access to all the latest. Know someone who can relate? Please share.

Additional reporting by Jazmine Reed-Clark

Image: Shannon Fagan/ The Image Bank via GettyImages

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