Whenever I hear about a company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, I expect to be disappointed. And that’s a terrible thing to feel.
Diversity is a difficult – and sometimes painful – thing to talk about, especially with everything going on in the country right now. I wanted to write this to clarify my thoughts as a lesbian WOC frustrated in an industry that doesn’t do enough.
I recently had a discussion with my mentor about my frustrations. I went on a rant that started with my previous company’s lack of effort with their diversity and inclusion group and touched on like 15 other things that were related, but really just represented my level of frustration with everything. It was like word vomit.
In Indianapolis, when you think about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, you might think of meeting a certain hiring quota of candidates. Like your company shouldn’t be too white or too male or too insert-majority-here. Or you might think of mandatory courses with cringey videos and shitty acting to illustrate how not to be a sexist or a racist in the workplace. Or you might think of panels with bigwigs in the industry telling people why diversity and inclusion is important and that we need to “do better” but better never comes.
The fundamental flaw with all of these approaches, besides being easy, is that they’re superficial. This country was founded on prejudice just as much as it was founded on the idea of freedom. That prejudice – the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the transphobia – is woven into the fabric of this nation, so it makes sense that something like hiring quotas won’t magically fix everything.
I’m not trained in implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives nor do I have a Ph.D. in any sort of people’s history, which puts me in the same boat as the vast majority of Americans. So how can I, as an individual, do something that’s more than superficial?
I think it starts with education and learning more about people and communities that are not your own. I have no idea what it’s like to be a black man or a trans-man or a bisexual person or someone with a disability. There’s a massive gap of knowledge and experience that I inherently have about other identities and some behaviors and implicit biases influenced by media and the culture at large. The knowledge gap and biases in of themselves are okay to have, but it’s not okay to be willfully ignorant or to be proud of your ignorance. And the only way to combat ignorance is with knowledge.
Tech leaders tend to rave about books on how to be a better leader or how to communicate better or how to do your job better, but it’s never common for them to advocate for books about identities that don’t belong to you. That’s a problem that needs addressing, and I want to start with myself first.
Books I’ve committed to reading
This is a list of books that people have recommended to me or are considered must-read for the communities they describe. I’ll keep adding to the list as I go on.
Books about race
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DeAngelo
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
Books about gender
- For the Love of Men: From Toxic to a More Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank
- Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon
- Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility by Reina Gossett (Editor), Eric A. Stanley, et al.
Books about disabilities and disability rights
- No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement
- The Ragged Edge: The Disability Experience from the Pages of the Disability Rag
- Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma
- Capitalism and Disability: Essays by Marta Russell