Diversity training doesn’t work. Here’s why.

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

“Diversity training.”

What comes to your mind when you read those words?

a) Listening to boring speakers who use meaningless buzzwords like “cultural competence” and “tolerance.”

b) Participating in awkward workshop exercises. Privilege walk, anyone?

c) Learning painfully obvious things, like “racism is bad.” As if you didn’t already know that.

d) All of the above.

It’s no wonder diversity fatigue is sweeping across America.

The truth is, I believe that most diversity training doesn’t work.

Why not?

Because so many diversity trainers focus on all the wrong things, like:

  • Training people to hide their racism
    Yes, you read that correctly. Many diversity trainers don’t push people to challenge their own racist beliefs. Instead, the seminars teach people to be more aware of the non-verbal cues (the fancy word is “microinequities”) they send out that may tip others off to their racism. The philosophy is: hide your racism in order to create a more harmonious workplace.
  • Celebrating diversity
    It’s much easier to engage in feel-good, uncritical celebrations of diversity and multiculturalism than it is to tackle the complex issues surrounding race and racism. But focusing on “celebrating diversity” only encourages people to turn a blind eye to racism, and promotes the myth that we live in a happy-go-lucky, color-blind world.
  • Making people of color teach white people about racism
    Let’s face it: Most diversity trainers aim their messages at white people and treat the people of color in the room as teaching aides. There’s an unspoken assumption that only white folks need to learn about race and racism, and that everyone else should share their stories and experiences in order to help their white colleagues achieve anti-racist nirvana. This approach alienates people of color and makes white people feel angry and resentful. Racism is not just a white problem — we live in a racist society and all of us have absorbed these racist messages, whether we are conscious of them or not.

People are tired of tiptoeing around issues of race. They are tired of safe cultural tourism. They are tired of companies who know how to say the right things but can’t back up their words with action.

It’s time to go beyond diversity buzzwords and oppression olympics.

I’m putting forth a new framework for discussing race and racism. Will you join me?

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Book Review: The Real Pepsi Challenge

The Real Pepsi Challenge:
The Inspirational Story of Breaking the Color Barrier in American Business

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Adina Ba

The following review comes at a timely manner to celebrate the life of an African-American marketing legend, Edward F. Boyd, who died last week at the age of 92. Boyd is most known for his innovation and leadership in establishing niche marketing through his work at Pepsi. Boyd respected the African-American market as a unique community with everchanging needs. His work increased American consumption of Pepsi tenfold, but even more importantly, he fought for race equality every step of the way on a personal, community, and corporate level. Click here to learn more about Boyd’s life.

Walter Mack, one of the earliest presidents of Pepsi, revolutionized corporate America. In the late 1940’s, Mack, a Jewish Harvard graduate from NYC believed “that the world’s problems could be solved through the cooperation of the great powers.” Using creativity in his business techniques, Mack invented the modern day business internship by having a contest for young college graduates who were “most likely to succeed in life.” 330 men and women from 254 colleges in 45 states were part of the contest, specifically including female and black students. Thirteen impressive interns won the contest, including seven females and two African-Americans. This was the beginning of a racial change in corporate America. Each intern was to work for one year, and afterwards, Pepsi would either hire them or assist them to get placed elsewhere.

Around this time, Walter Mack hired the first ever black national sales team which would at its peak have twelve members. The main reason for this “special-markets” group was to expand Pepsi consumption among African-Americans. Although Mack’s sole purpose in this move was to gain untapped profits, his tactics were still leaps ahead of most American corporations, including his rival Coca-Cola.

The author of the book, Stephanie Capparell, molds her investigative research into a cohesive story that sometimes feels as if each character is speaking directly to you. She does not tell the simple story of competition between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Instead, she tells the in-depth history of twelve impressive individuals and how they marketed Pepsi to black communities all over America during segregation and the civil rights era. It was at a time when they were not allowed to stay in hotels in the South and had to have separate train cars, even though they had first-class status.

This is a story of corporations, a story of breaking color barriers, a history that all Americans should be aware of. Before this team was put together, it was the norm for African-Americans in media to be shown only as caricatures like Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben. The team’s black manager, Edward F. Boyd and his Special Markets team changed the face of advertising. It would have been easy to get a black sports icon to sponsor Pepsi for their black marketing efforts, but Boyd wanted to appeal to his growing middle-class market by catering to their needs. He launched a “Leaders in Their Fields” advertising campaign and endorsed little-known black leaders in the fields of chemistry, medicine, banking, etc. These ads were popular beyond the magazines and store fronts, and were also requested by black universities and individuals.

The team used politics and the promotion of race equality to increase their sales on an individual and community basis, and the African-American market responded. Without mentors or many resources and with many risks, these twelve black leaders succeeded to deal with their white bosses, co-workers, the segregated South and white Pepsi bottlers on a daily basis. They excelled not only during their time at Pepsi, but went on to many other life accomplishments on a national and international level.

Boyd’s team consisted of William Simms, Paul Davis, William Payne, Richard Hurt, Allen McKellar, Julian Nicholas, Harvey Russell, Winston Wright, Charles Wilson, Jean Emmons, and David Watson.

Later on in Pepsi years, the Special Markets team changed shape because of new leadership. In 1962, Harvey Russell, team director, was promoted to VP in charge of special markets by executive Herbert L Barnet. This was the first VP role appointed to an African-American at a major international company. A touching moment in the book is when Capparell cites that a third of Barnet’s New York Times obituary was dedicated to his decision to elevate Russell to VP, noting the historical importance.

Promoting diversity in American classical music

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Adina Ba

Aaron Dworkin is the founder and president of the Sphinx Organization, a national non-profit founded in 1996 to overcome the dramatic racial inequalities in the field of classical music.

Today we have the opportunity to learn about the underrepresentation of Blacks and Latinos in the field of classical music and what Aaron’s organization has accomplished in its first 10 years. Also, if you are a public school teacher, check out the last question for tips that Aaron has given to inspire your students to become nationally competitive musicians.

In your experience as a performing musician, what have you noticed about diversity in classical music/orchestras?

Nationally, less than 4% of professional orchestras are comprised of Blacks and Latinos combined. This compares to over 15% within the population (for each group, with Hispanics now growing substantially). Additionally, growing up, I found myself to be either the only one or one in less than a handful of minorities playing in any orchestra, or in any musical setting (a classroom, concert hall as an audience member, a summer program, etc). This made me question why this is the case, and why there are no composers of color typically featured on any standard program, including ones I would perform myself.

It was not until my years at the University of Michigan that I discovered the substantial volumes of works by Black (and Latino) composers, and began to focus my degrees on the study of these tremendous works. I learned that there is a wealth of repertoire by minority composers, which merited attention, but hardly received any. I performed works by William Grant Still, David Baker, Noel da Costa, Roque Cordero, and others. I then began to look at what I can do in order to make others aware of this inequality and of what already exists in terms of the repertoire.

Thus was born the concept of a national competition for young Black and Latino string musicians, who would come together each year to showcase their talents and receive educational and professional development opportunities. I wanted this to be much more than a competition, as the building of a community was a very important aspect of the idea. I also wanted to bring to the forefront this incredible repertoire, to give it visibility and recognition, with the idea that some day, the repertoire by minority composers will become standard literature.

What is The Sphinx Organization and how has it developed diversity in American orchestras?

The Sphinx Organization is a national non-profit founded in 1996 to overcome the dramatic under representation of Blacks and Latinos in the field of classical music. As a violinist, I founded the organization to help overcome the cultural stereotype of classical music, and to encourage the participation of Blacks and Latinos in the field.

In the 10 year history of the organization, Sphinx has made the following impact:
-Over 45,000 students reached around the country
-Over 2 million individuals reached per year through national broadcasts
-Over $180,000 in quality instruments provided to young minority musicians
-Over $800,000 in prizes and scholarships
-Over 140 Laureate performances reaching over 150,000 in audiences

The name Sphinx was given to the organization to represent some of the founding principles that guided its conception. The Sphinx represents the historical and geographical source for many minorities and exemplifies the power, wisdom and persistence that we hope to instill in our participants. The Sphinx also constitutes a mystery, an enigma. Music shares this puzzling aspect, as it is born from the experiences and aspirations of the composer as well as the performer. Like the Sphinx, it is up to the beholder, the listener, to interpret and appreciate from the music what is ultimately a reflection of internal emotions and spiritual experiences. Continue Reading »

The business of selling and consuming blackness

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Hadji Williams has spent over 15 years in the advertising and marketing worlds at Chicago and New York agencies great and small, including BBDO and FootSteps Group. Williams is also an educator, having taught over 20 introductory and advanced advertising courses at Columbia College Chicago.

A recent Californian, Williams is also the author of the controversial Knock The Hustle: How to Save Your Job and Your Life From Corporate America (2006), KTH: VoL. 2 (Fall 2007) and C.R.E.A.M. (Winter 2007). Currently Williams has launched ProdigalPen, Inc. Publishing, which is dedicated to sharing the stories of multicultural life.

One of the most interesting chapters in your book is titled “Crop Circles and Alarm Clocks: Pride and Prejudice in Corporate America.” How do crop circles and alarm clocks relate to race in the workplace today?

While writing KTH I wanted to come with a way to explain the patterns of bigotry and bias that exist in corporate America to people who may not have had the experiences that I’ve had. So I settled on “crop circles” and “alarm clocks.”

As you know crop circles are these wildly bizarre geometric patterns that mysteriously appear in fields in rural America. The first time we see photos of ‘em or network coverage of them, we scream “hoax” or “fraud” because they’re just too blatant and specific to have been anything else, right?

That’s how instances of bigotry and bias go down in business—when someone shares an instance, it must be a hoax, a fraud, an exaggeration, or some sort of scheme to get money or sympathy. It can possibly be true. And since most of corporate life involves sophisticated liberal whites and not the so-called backwards thinking rural whites that we often blame racism on, any reported instances of mistreatment must be simple misunderstandings, right?

Alarm clocks are the result of believing said hype. They’re random wake up calls that remind you that the world isn’t as liberal or inclusive as you’ve been suckered into believing. For example, I’ve worked with numerous white colleagues and bosses who’ve told that because I can speak in complete sentences and don’t have an over-the-top swag, that I “wasn’t like the ‘regular black people’” they knew. Regular. Hmmm… Or some of the times I’ve been called N-word at work. Or have been paraded around a client’s offices because they couldn’t believe that a black guy was developing their campaigns.

Those are some of the random wake up calls that I’ve received over the years. Just reminders that bigotry exists in many places and many forms and the worst thing you can do is believe people who benefit from it when they say “oh no, we treat everyone equal.” Continue Reading »