The words within a text message I recently received from a black friend of mine in response to my message of support have weighed on me the past few weeks.
“We need more people like you, who don’t see color, to stand up, speak up, show up alongside of us if we will ever see the change we desire.”
So I am speaking up.
But the problem I have with his request is that I DO see color – and in my opinion, so should everyone else.
You see, I believe that color does matter in an organization and in society. Diversity of ethnicity, gender, religious belief, sexual preference, thought, experience, etc. is what makes organizations and life so enriching. And a commitment to diversity helps those who are the minority in our society feel as if they belong and have opportunities to succeed. For indeed they should.
I remember vividly walking into a new organization as their head of sales. Soon after I joined, we had a national sales meeting and I recall sitting at the end of a long line of tables during the lunch break of that meeting. As I looked down the tables, I noticed that there was a black dot in the middle of all these tables. It was THE table where most of the black individuals in our sales force were sitting together.
That was about 20 years ago, and the image is still fresh in my mind.
Soon after that meeting, we were given direction to double the size of the sales force. As we began planning for that undertaking, I asked for a breakdown of the diversity of our organization. I was not surprised at the results given what I had observed at our meeting.
At an expansion planning meeting I asked why there was so little diversity in our sales force. I received what I believed was an honest answer – the team had to build our initial sales force with speed and while they tried to find diverse candidates, they were just difficult to find. And I have no doubt that the leadership team tried their best. Yet when something is in the minority, it just makes sense that it would be more difficult to find than something in the majority.
So, together we made a commitment to look harder for our impending expansion.
This is not to say that we or any organization must or should compromise its standards for recruiting and selecting diverse individuals; however, organizations MUST look harder with the understanding that representation of color is significantly important to those of color within the organization as well as the organization as a whole. It demonstrates that this is a company which holds diversity across all definitions as an important element of success.
While most of my blogs speak about what I believe, I KNOW this to be true.
With regards to our expansion, our initiatives to increase the number of talented diversity individuals within our organization were successful. And I vividly recall having our first group of about 200 new sales representatives at a hotel for their first day of onboarding.
As I looked out at the group before me, I was incredibly proud of the efforts of my leadership team and excited for the diverse future that was represented in the room before me.
After I and others welcomed the group to our organization and spoke about what it meant to be a part of our corporate family, we broke into different groups to begin the onboarding process.
One of the black representatives who I am still friends with today came up to me and said,
“Mr. Hart, I just want to thank you for giving me this opportunity. When I walked in here today, I didn’t know what to expect. But when I looked around and I saw how many brothers and sisters were joining with me, I thought to myself, ‘I belong.’ And I just wanted you to know that.”
That talented individual not only was an incredibly successful sales representative for our company but rose into the ranks of leadership both with our company and others.
He was out there all along, just like others who represent the minority of our society – we just had to look a little harder.
Indeed, color does matter.
And making a commitment to diversity within your organization should not just be a one-time concept but rather a part of every organization’s fiber as it WILL make you stronger.
Stay safe and well everyone,