We’ve probably all come across the idea of a ‘diversity hire’ at some point – especially as organisations try to desperately diversify their ranks and be seen as inclusive. It never used to be a term I associated with myself – until I started feeling more and more like a ‘diversity hire’.
I’ve worked a range of jobs in my life so far, and have become well acquainted with the job application process. But with every job and every interview, I grew more aware of people’s attitudes and behaviour towards me and my ‘diverse’ characteristics. I’m a British Arab Muslim woman with a ‘difficult’, ‘foreign-sounding’ name, so I guess I am perceived by others as visibly diverse. Or at least, I have definitely been made to feel that way.
In job interviews, I’ve been asked about my knowledge of ‘racial’ topics, my faith, and even how I would go about making the workplace more diverse. Now, these would be appropriate questions if I was applying for a role in diversity and inclusion or the organisation had links to race or religion. But these questions were entirely irrelevant to the job roles and the organisations. So, why was I being asked these questions? Were the white or male interviewees being asked the same?
I’ve been asked to have my picture used in PR and marketing materials over white colleagues because the organisation was ‘proud of its diversity’ and wanted to show the world. Yet, this organisation was predominantly white, so it was more of a tokenistic gesture in showcasing its limited diverse staff members. It’s a gesture that made me feel used and like I was a circus act being put on display. I felt as though I had no other real use to the organisation other than to perform my ‘diversity’.
“Applying for jobs or promotions is tinged with paranoia and worry, which sometimes ends up in talking myself out of the opportunity completely.”
I’ve overheard colleagues talk about others, referring to them as the ‘diversity hire’, as if a woman or a person of colour can’t be employed for any other reason. And I’ve even been offered a position on a project, and told it would be great to have me as “the team is too white” – which I presume may have been a joke, but turned out the team was indeed very much white.
All these, both subtle and direct, comments and behaviours mean I’m now always worried about employers hiring me solely because I’m ‘diverse’, because it ticks a box or two. It has meant applying for jobs or promotions is tinged with this paranoia and worry, which sometimes ends up in talking myself out of the opportunity completely, because I feel as though I don’t deserve it.
It puts my already existent imposter syndrome into overdrive. Am I being hired because I’m a woman? Do they want me because I’m not white? Or is it even a combination of the two, like they’ve won the diversity lottery with me?
And this paranoia doesn’t just end with the hiring process. It carries long into the job role. I’m a lot more self-conscious with what and how I contribute in a work environment, and tend to downplay my ideas or concerns. I work harder in an effort to prove to others that I’m deserving of my place. I’m ashamed to admit I even used to avoid ‘controversial’ topics, such as feminism and race, because I thought colleagues would be more likely to think of me as the ‘diversity hire’ if I did.
“If you hire one woman, or one Black man, that isn’t the end of it. You haven’t ‘completed’ diversity and inclusivity.”
But, incorporating diversity into your organisation is more than hiring people that look like me. Diversity needs to include promoting us into leadership roles, properly dealing with discrimination and complaints, and making sure the workplace is a comfortable and safe space for us. It’s about opening doors – but making sure that what you’re opening the door to isn’t built on old discriminatory habits and attitudes. That’s just setting people like me up to fail.
Diversity in the workplace is also about hiring a range of people. If you hire one woman, or one Black man, that isn’t the end of it. You haven’t ‘completed’ diversity and inclusivity. Each person carries their own privileges and perspectives, so a one size fits all approach isn’t going to work. A Black man will face different barriers to me, and I will face different barriers to a white woman.
As much I’m happy when I’m offered a job or considered for a promotion, I’m tired of it always feeling like it has this underlying self-serving motive for the organisation, or that I’m given an opportunity purely based on my ‘diversity’ and not my talents. It just makes me feel used. I don’t want to be a part of this box-ticking exercise, and I don’t want to be a poster girl for your superficial idea of diversity.
Shahed Ezaydi is a freelance journalist. Follow her at @shahedezaydi
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