Their Bosses Asked Them to Lead Diversity Reviews. Guess Why.


“When I tried to speak about my own experiences around racism within organizations, I was shunned and turned into an outcast,” Ms. Crowder said. “I was bullied out of the workplace and didn’t receive fair treatment, nor support or acknowledgment for my ideas and hard work.”

She said she decided to specialize in D.E.I. consulting. “I feel strongly that current employees should avoid and not be asked to become the ‘expert’ on diversity, equity and inclusion within their organizations,” Ms. Crowder said. “They are often not protected and don’t have the power to make changes.”

Untrained employees may also be unprepared to shoulder the emotional weight of the work. “I’m literally a therapist. They dump everything on,” said Jennifer Payne, a communications strategist whose company, Social Sovereign, is consulting on D.E.I. for companies in Michigan and Los Angeles. “I don’t have all the answers, and sometimes it is very emotionally draining. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, an economic crisis, a racial injustice movement. And at same time, everybody wants to ask questions about what is it like to be Black.”

Stacy Parson, a partner at Dignitas, which is based in Boise, Idaho, said Black employees need a chance to heal before they’re asked to help bring about change. “Answering those questions comes at a cost,” she said. “We’re talking about trauma. If we can recognize that witnessing a man getting killed on TV for no good reason is traumatic for Black people, then it’s traumatic for them to revisit it.”

So many companies have issued statements in support of Black Lives Matter that it’s easy for managers to believe that everyone on staff will be receptive to diversity efforts. That’s not the case. This summer, Ms. Payne said, employees of all races have asked her: “Are we supposed to be having these conversations in the workplace? I thought these topics were off limits, like religion and politics.”

That makes it easy for Black employees leading the diversity and inclusion efforts to end up on the receiving end of their colleagues’ confusion and frustration. Even their anger. “When you start digging into political differences, like Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, this can be an ugly discussion,” said Lindsey D.G. Dates, a partner in the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg, who has been asked to lead on diversity and inclusion efforts at the law firm. “So the risk that you run by having these discussions so publicly, is that you can be ostracized by colleagues, intentionally or unintentionally.”

Mr. Dates said he had taken on the work despite those risks. “I do not come to these conversations enthusiastically,” he said. “With that said, I do believe I have an obligation to advocate for people like me.”



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