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Even as a lowly office grunt, you can do a lot to improve workplace diversity

Welcome to The Broadside, a careers newsletter. Here’s what to expect in this issue.

Broadside writer Kristine Gill offers advice from experts on how you can improve workplace diversity, even if you’re not high up. Then, scroll on for job opportunities from Lowe’s, Trader Joe’s, Waymo and more.

Black Lives Matter protests are changing things. Big brands have been updating the names of their products, banning confederate flags, and unearthing and punishing racist comments. Companies are making ambitious pledges to tackle diversity with renewed vigor.

If you’re low on the totem pole at your workplace, though, you may feel like you’re cheering from the sidelines instead of helping the charge. But there’s plenty to do in the office, especially for white allies, even if you aren’t in charge of hiring decisions or diversity task forces—a good thing, perhaps, considering they don’t really work.

“This is about personal accountability,” says Risha Grant, a diversity, inclusion and bias expert based in Tulsa, Okla. “Whether companies do anything at all—and don’t get me wrong, they should—you have to be personally responsible for the things you do and the things you put out there.”

Here’s how experts say you can effect change at your job and within your industry, no matter where you fall in the ranks.

Say, ‘So and so had a great idea earlier.‘”

As women, we’re frequently interrupted during meetings and even in one-on-one conversations. It happens even more to Black women.

Nonblack women: If you witness it, interject on their behalf.

UK-based author and anti-racism activist Sophie Williams talks about this and other issues only Black women face in the office in her upcoming book Millennial Black. Due out spring 2021, it is geared toward white allies. Her other title, Anti-Racist Ally will address similar issues when it’s published this fall.

“We talk a lot about amplifying voices online, but you also have to amplify in your day-to-day life,” she says. “So if someone gets cut off, you can say, ‘I don’t think Sophie was quite finished with that.’”

You can also make room for your Black colleagues at these meetings by giving them the floor.

“Maybe earlier that day you had an exchange with someone and they had a great idea. You can say, ‘So and so had a great idea earlier,’ and allow that person to finish their thought,” Grant also says. “It’s truly important that their voices are heard around the table.”

And be sure to use your voice when it’s perhaps most critical: standing up to racist comments.

“You can let someone know, ‘I do not stand with you,’” Grant says. “And we don’t do that. We’re really passive about it and we let it go.”

“Start this informal network.”

If your office is lacking diversity, don’t give up hope. There are plenty of ways to network with fellow industry professionals as a Black employee or nonblack ally.

Try starting a happy hour or conference meet-up with employees of other companies in your industry. Or, plan something more formal. Williams points to Pocc, a group in London that originally started as a WhatsApp chat for people of color to vent about what they were experiencing as minorities working in media and the arts. It eventually grew to become a community of talent working to further each other’s careers for the benefit of their industries.

“That sort of validated their experiences. It showed that they weren’t in wrong; they were being gaslit,” Williams said. “And then they were able to start this informal network, which is now a place where brands are coming to [in order] to hire people, where people are coming to [in order] to find like-minded people.”

You don’t have to feel stuck in a silo. There are good groups out there doing the work, and, if you do have to leave your workplace, good companies out there happy to have you.

“Strike up a friendship.”

When Dee Poku Spalding, a New York-based entrepreneur and women’s advocate, started her first job, she was the only woman of color in her office. At times, that fact caused anxiety. Having a friend would have eased the burden.

“Certainly you’re not going to go over and say, ‘Hey, I recognize you’re a minority.’ That’s awful,” she says. “But you can strike up a friendship the way you would any other friendship and go from there. It’s not about weird overtures for people, but about recognizing that they’re alone and being there for them.”

Then, take it a step further. Even if you aren’t in charge of hiring, Spalding says to suggest friends of color for positions at your company when they’re a good fit.

“It’s going to be easier for them to rise to the top of the pile if they’ve come from an internal connection,” she says.

Put simply, Grant adds: “You can be human. No one is insignificant in this movement.”

“Be open about pay.”

Williams says one of the biggest ways Black women suffer in the workplace comes down to their paychecks. Black women are paid 39% less than white men and 21% less than white women, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“The way that we find out about disparity is by talking to people who are different from us. So if you’re not a marginalized person, being open about [pay] can allow other people to see sort of those gaps,” she says. “That can show what the playing field is.”

Armed with that information, Black women can leverage for better pay when it comes to annual review or future hiring negotiations. (It’s worth noting, though, that Black women do ask for promotions and raises at about the same rate as white women, but still get worse results.)

“Seek out a mentee.”

This goes for everyone—men and women of all colors, says Poku. If there’s a young person of color in your office who is new to the field or the gig, offer to meet up for coffee to talk about their career. Make it casual if you’re unsure the offer will be well-received, but offer to network on their behalf if it is.

“That sort of mentorship is incredible,” she says. “I definitely had white men who were sort of informal mentors to me and I found that incredibly valuable. There wasn’t anyone inside my company but outside my company. And we didn’t talk about race ever, but they certainly opened doors, [and] just gave me another perspective on things that I found really helpful.”

Since the Black Lives Matter movement heated up, Poku Spalding has heard from several colleagues offering to mentor Black women in their fields, and she’s been making those connections.

“It’s very well-received for a mentor to seek out a mentee,” Poku Spalding says. “I think they’d love an offer, so they don’t have to be the one to ask. When it’s the other way around, you sometimes feel that you’re imposing. When a mentor seeks you out, there’s something really empowering about that.”

“Start a sort of internal pressure group.”

Those task forces and initiatives can be empty gestures that don’t effect much change.

Instead, Grant suggests employee-led initiatives with supervisor buy-in. Called employee resource groups or business resource groups, they’re typically broken down into different minority groups: Black women, LGBTQ groups, Latina women, etc.

If you start a sort of program within your workplace, try to get approval from the top dogs.

“If the top-level leadership is not engaged, it’s hard to go anywhere. I don’t care what your initiative is, it typically stalls with mid-level managers because they’re not trained to deal with it and they have so much going on,” Grant says. “You have to empower them and it has to come from the top. People need to know this is how our CEO feels.”

In fact, Williams suggests a more disruptive approach.

“You can start a sort of internal pressure group. You’re joining forces and you’re saying, ‘The ways you’ve tried to dismiss me aren’t going to work,’” she says. “Troublemakers are great. Troublemakers make change.”

Facing pushback? Companies still working at diversity and inclusion need to be reminded that they too benefit when minority employees are able to perform their best.

“If I’m at work all day in a toxic environment, I cannot give you the best that I have,” Grant says. “So how does our workplace culture need to change so that I’m safe, I’m comfortable, I can authentically show up as who I am every day?”

— Kristine Gill