Diversity Means More Than Race

          For as long as I can remember, I have been "the only". In high school I worked at Sonic Drive-In and was the only African American employed. In college, I majored in Chemistry for two years and was the only African American in many of my classes. In many of my retail jobs, I was the only African American in management. To this day, I can list the vast associations and organizations in which I am the only African American. As the token African American woman, I am looked upon to represent the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of African American women. In the eyes of the law, I represent diversity. I filled the quota, but due to my experiences in corporate America, I have realized that diversity is more than an influx of people who look different than the majority.
          An article at Fast Company states that millennials have a different outlook on diversity than previous generations. The author says millennials consider a difference of thought, experience, and background a valid definition for diversity. As a millennial, I think I can explain why this is the case. Affirmative Action was enacted in 1961 to ensure employers do not discriminate against qualified individuals due to race, ethnicity, creed, or national origin. In 1967, gender was added to the list. People of color and women were fighting for jobs. Certain jobs were characterized as agentic, or requiring male attributes, such as manager, sales person, or firefighter. The jobs that were characterized as communal, or requiring female attributes, such as secretary, were set aside for women. Then, there was a third set of jobs, such as cleaning person, seamstress, or factory worker that were set aside for people of color. Affirmative action ensured that people of color and women who were qualified to be managers, sales people, or firefighters were given an equal opportunity of employment. Fast forward to today, where hiring of people of color and women in organizations has improved, the modern day social equality fight has expanded to include more facets of fairness and equality.
          Affirmative action is considered a success once the minority individual has been hired. Then what? The characteristics and qualities of the minority individual that mirror those of the majority are acknowledged and celebrated. Phrases such as "you sound so articulate"or "you carry yourself so well" are a few examples of the microaggressions congratulating people of color and women for assimilating. There's just one problem, when people display characteristics outside of the stereotypical social roles assigned to them based on race and gender, they are viewed as being less authentic, and as a result, less trustworthy. Alice Eagly, a social psychologist, has conducted research on the consequences of social role incongruity, or the mismatch between how a person behaves and how we think they should behave. Eagly is most notable for researching men and women in leadership positions and how their followers perceive their competence based on their gender. The Social Role Theory also explains how attributions based on race and ethnicity can affect perception.
          After Affirmative Action, comes diversity and inclusion. Diversity means more than race! Organizations must allow people of diverse backgrounds to bring their entire selves to work, not just the parts that meet the majority's expectations. Diversity means accepting people who come from a different background or have a different set of experiences, and encouraging them to express their opinion, suggest ideas, and speak up when processes or procedures do not make sense. Diversity means appreciating cultural norms and creating a safe atmosphere for cultural conversations. Diversity means pushing aside stereotypes to learn about the person. Diversity means more than race and organizations will either adjust their culture accordingly or watch their competitors welcome diverse talent with open arms.