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“When it comes to diversity, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all perspective. Cultural diversity is an extremely fluid phenomenon.” -Tanjia Coleman, Ph.D., MSIR, Chief Possibility Officer, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago

With SUMMIT 2019 rapidly approaching, HRMAC had the opportunity to gain valuable insight on the always relevant topics of culture and diversity from SUMMIT breakout speaker, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago’s Chief Possibility Officer Tanjia Coleman, Ph.D., MSIR. Read on as Tanjia shares key points she will be making in her session* titled, “Influence of Culture, Implicit Bias & Organizational Engagement: What It Is & Why It Matters,” as well as general thoughts from her extensive background and experience in culture and diversity.

HR Leader: How would you define “implicit bias,” and what is a common example you have seen in the corporate workforce?

Tanjia Coleman (TC): Implicit Bias contain thoughts and feelings where we are unaware of them, and mistakes their nature and/or impact. Being bias means that you have a preference or aversion to a person or group of people. The preference can be viewed as positive or negative, but does harbor stereotypes as well. A couple of ways that this can manifest in the workplace is through ageism assuming that a millennial might be a better fit for a role or project that is technical in nature than a Baby Boomer or Gen-X’er when the research is contrary to this train of thought or creating a high potential program devoid of diverse members within the organization.

Recommended Reading:
Implicit Bias – Perception Institute

HR Leader: Do you think the size of a company impacts how cultural diversity is perceived? What about geographic location?

TC: Yes, I do believe the size of a company can impact how cultural diversity is perceived. I say this because, often times, larger companies have more resources to brand and market their diversity efforts and initiatives in a way that smaller organizations – and even non-profits – cannot.

However, we are strictly talking perception here versus actual outcomes and reality. Larger companies are comprised of robust marketing teams that can ensure their companies are contenders for a myriad of diversity and best workplaces to work awards . Not to say that they aren’t at times completely deserving of the accolades that they receive, but smaller organizations and non-profits have fewer resources, which requires another level of creativity to ensure that their diversity efforts are publicized. I laugh at the geographic location question because I relocated from Chicago to Seattle to Atlanta, in that order, which all have different perceptions as it relates to diversity.

There are so many different ways that cultural diversity can be perceived. For instance, in a city where the overall diversity might not be as robust, one could find themselves part of an organization that takes diversity very seriously because of the scarcity of diversity. Meanwhile, in another organization where the city is far more diverse, the organization might not value diversity in the same way. When it comes to diversity, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all perspective. Cultural diversity is an extremely fluid phenomenon.

HR Leader: Can talent recruitment get too far into a rabbit hole when researching for diversity that a team might lose sight of who fits the role best, strictly based on merit?

TC: I believe this question is biased. It suggests that if an organization is focused on diversity they will ultimately select someone that is not deserving, qualified or meeting the position requirements. I have seen this play out in so many conversations with colleagues and acquaintances where this perception is perpetuated. I spent many years in talent management and in human resources, and I have yet to see an organization hire someone woefully unqualified based on race or gender as a means to meet a diversity goal. However, this is the perception that many have even after a well-qualified, educated and credentialed diverse candidate joins an organization.

When people say that they can’t find diverse candidates, my first question is where are you looking? With diverse candidates representation for Asians at a 74% graduation rate, Hispanics at a 54% graduation rate and Black Americans at 40% graduation rate, and the high 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students, recruiting in the future will continue to be competitive but shows promise thanks to the strong high school and college graduation rates for diverse students.

Recommended Reading:
Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups – National Center for Education Statistics

HR Leader: Do you think all job applications should require that a candidate report their gender, race, sexual orientation and religion? Or only certain positions?

TC: First, let me start off with with saying that nothing should be required when you can’t truly depict your race and/or gender. Most companies’ job applications have not kept pace with the diversity of our nation from both a race and gender perspective. For instance, if you are biracial, often times, the only identifier for you is “Other.” But who wants to be an “Other” that is not allowing applicants basic dignity.

There is even less opportunity to represent multi-diversity bloodlines, like African American and Hispanic. Typically, you have to decide which option to go with, so you are denying one half of your heritage or the other. As far as gender, according to ABC News, there are at least 58 gender options, but most applications continue to say “Male” or “Female” and, once again, maybe “Other.”

Now, I will answer the direct question: I don’t believe race, gender, sexual orientation or religion should be required of any applicant. However, if they chose to share this information voluntarily, this would be their choice. Furthermore, depicting your race hasn’t been an indicator of increased job offers for Black Americans because hiring discrimination hasn’t declined in 25 years.

Recommended Reading:
Hiring Discrimination Against Black Americans Hasn’t Declined in 25 Years – Harvard Business Review

HR Leader: What does “cultural competencies” mean to you, and how can a business achieve this if most of the candidates are of the same background?

TC: Cultural competencies, from my vantage point, is about respecting the differences of others while ensuring equity in all interactions and decision-making. I realize there are several, if not thousands, of scholarly definitions for cultural competence, and even though I possess a Ph.D., I prefer to keep definitions simple and to the point.

Assuming that the phrase “same background” is referring to race and/or ethnicity, you can have individuals who all look alike in a room – and who might even be the exact same age – but each one will have a different background, journey and experience. So, cultural competence needs to be a focus regardless of the racial or ethnic makeup of an organization, business or team. One way for businesses to work with their team members on not only discovering, but building, cultural competence in their organizations, is through having team members complete the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®). The IDI is a cross-cultural assessment of an individual’s and team’s intercultural competence to build upon domestic diversity and inclusion goals and outcomes.

Recommended Reading:
What is Cultural Competence & How is it Measured? – Diversity Officer Magazine

Register to hear from Tanjia in-person at SUMMIT 2019, November 19 at Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL.

*Tanjia will also be sharing the stage with fellow YWCA colleague, Lourdes Lonergan, Director of Business Development, YWCA.