Talking about race in the workplace is often a slippery slope. Especially in Europe, where we are taught from an early age that “we are not supposed to see colour”, it remains a difficult topic to discuss and therefore predominantly plays its role underneath the surface.
Everyone seems to applaud the idea of diversity in the workplace, yet when it comes to taking concrete actions, it quickly can get very complicated. Isn’t positive discrimination also discrimination? Shouldn’t we just get the best candidate for the job irrespective of their colour? Why can some individuals from a minority background be successful, while others seem to get stuck? Shouldn’t they just do a better job at integrating with the corporate culture? It should be about individual capabilities rather than looking at them as a group, right?
“The issue of race in the workplace is a very complex and layered topic and requires a strong compass to navigate.”
A lot of these questions are not that straightforward to answer. The issue of race in the workplace is a very complex and layered topic and requires a strong compass to navigate. A compass that simplifies the topic and that you can fall back on to weigh decisions. For me, a compass should take it to the core of what I am trying to achieve, whether it’s when I am writing a post about it on social media or when I am dedicating my time to expand the Roots Inspire platform.
In search of a compass
Is it about a better distribution of wealth? A very idealistic position that I can definitely get behind. It’s easy to say, however, that a billionaire doesn’t need that much wealth and should give some of that up to those that need it most. But what if that discussion comes close to home. Do I really need that family holiday? Or going out to dinner with friends? It becomes a little less easy to draw the line on wealth distribution when it’s about our own comforts. This makes it difficult to use as a compass in the discussion.
What about reparation for decades of wrongdoing? Correcting the wrongs from previous generations. Although I feel that on a macro level, there needs to be an acknowledgment of the events of the past and the impact thereof that still echoes through today’s society. At the same time, I also feel that anything of this nature would be purely symbolic. On an individual level, I don’t feel much for actions driven by feelings of guilt. This would put me / us in a victim role and that’s not what I aspire to either.
So is it equal opportunity? Equal opportunity sounds like a great motto to live by. If I dig a little deeper and really think about what that means, I have my doubts if this should be my compass. I have been working hard all my life and since I became a father, all that work is motivated by trying to get my kids to a better starting position than mine. If I can get them a better financial starting point, a broader education and a stable home, they will have greater opportunities than someone who doesn’t have that. So if equal opportunity means that all of my efforts should be wiped clean at the birth of my children, then what’s the point of all that.
For my compass I land on: maximising potential. If a whole group of people is being held back and is not doing as well as they potentially could, it puts a weight on the whole society. Whereas, if that group of people gets supported in being successful and in maximising their potential, everyone benefits! This is a mission I can get on board with and that gives clear direction in the race discussion. A concept I can weigh my decisions by. A compass that I need to navigate the complexity. To me, it’s not about sharing a piece of the pie, but about lending your oven so people can bake their own!