As the only black face within a tech company, there is nothing worse than feeling like a token at work

Over the past several months the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery Breonna Taylor, and countless other African American people have invoked a social uprising that has brought a renewed awareness to systemic racism and racial inequality. As society attempts to shift towards change, organizations are beginning to evaluate their own company cultures.

Building a diverse workforce is no longer being viewed as a “nice to have” it is now a requirement. Companies are now scrambling to find ways to become allies within the movement. 

Tokenism is real

When addressing diversity within your company culture, it is important to not try to solve the problem by quickly adding one or two black members to your team. This, while well-intentioned, is a band-aid fix. As a woman who has been the only black face within a tech company, I can attest that there is nothing worse than feeling like a token within your professional environment.

Tokenism implies that your role on the team is that of a mascot rather than a player on the field. It hurts overall company morale when your attempt at diversity does not address inclusion. 

Change requires more than a social media post

It is easy to believe that one new hire plus a few social media posts equal a job well done. This is a false sense of completion. There is a huge difference between acknowledging that there is a problem and truly doing something to correct it.

Many companies miss the mark by not realizing that diversity and inclusion are not synonymous. You can have diversity without inclusion, but you would be placing your company at a huge disadvantage. You would be creating the impression that your goal was not true equality, but only to check the diversity box. 

Many black professionals are subjected to racial microaggressions that force them to feel less of themselves, continuously guarded, and not truly welcome within corporate spaces.

Racism in the workplace has become so institutionalized that achieving true inclusion will take time. It will require a true commitment to understanding and learning from your teams and senior leadership. 

Let’s not forget that diversity is also better for your bottom line.  A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that “increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance” and those teams have 19% higher revenues because of the increase in innovation. Another report from McKinsey titled Diversity Matters found that top-quartile companies for racial and ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.

Now is the time to do more

Create a space where all of your employees can comfortably coexist. True inclusion means that everyone on your team feels safe and valued. Be open to feedback on how you can build a truly inclusive environment. Company culture begins with those at the top. Invest in diversity training for your leadership. Take the steps today to help create a better, more inclusive workforce.

Dominique McKinley Law is a career strategist helping women and people of color shatter the glass ceiling one offer at a time.