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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

The Key to Diversity in the Workplace

Recently I got to speak to Terry Allen, a senior sales executive with FedEx services and the CEO of 1016 media, a cultural engagement PR firm specializing in cause related marketing. Listing his achievements would take me about ten years, so let’s leave it at this: Terry is an incredibly impressive guy, and our conversation was fascinating.

I met him several years ago when we were both on a panel, and he was so gracious and helped me connect with some of his resource groups at FedEx. I was so excited to talk to him on the Being Brown at Work Live because of his interest in and advocacy for diversity.

As two people of color in a predominantly white workplace, I asked him if he thought that pursuing diversity was still about “meeting quotas” and checking boxes, or if there was more at play. I think we’ve all heard a lot of chatter from people about “diversity” hires and the scorn that concept can produce in people who feel slighted by the idea.

Terry was frank with me: no, it’s not just about quotas. Affirmative action is about measuring and being intentional with the workplaces we create. Modern-day diversity in the workplace isn’t about checking boxes, but more about convincing companies of the financial benefits that come with hiring a diverse workforce.

He told me a story about banks avoiding opening branches in communities of color. The assumption was that nobody in those areas had any money, so what good would it do to open a branch? But in doing so, those institutions neglected a huge swath of the public, and their late fees and transaction fees were just as real as the ones in privileged communities.

Neglecting diversity is bad for their bottom line. When you shift your market towards diversity, he said, you shift it towards profit.

Terry's message was both hard and reassuring to hear. It was hard to hear because I wish we lived in a world where corporations pursued a diverse workforce because it represented the world we live in, and because their hiring practices were successful at eliminating bias. It's sad (but not surprising) to be reminded by Terry that we don't currently live in that world.

On the other hand, I am comforted to know that Terry's approach works. He has built a successful career helping businesses develop and nurture minority talent in their workplaces, and he’s done by speaking their language.

Diversity isn't just "diet woke" culture, it's a profit-generating tactic that hurts the economy when ignored. Today, corporations are facing a new world where businesses can no longer ignore racial politics. Companies make statements affirming the value of black lives, they hire chief diversity officers, and they try to communicate that the business cares about politics.

I'm encouraged by this, but I know there’s more work to come. It’s good to know that there are people like Terry working for this brighter future.

If you want to hear more from our conversation, check out the Being Brown at Work podcast.

Or, schedule a consultation with me for guidance about your specific situation. I'd love to meet you where you are on your journey and help you get to the next step.

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