That Have Nothing To Do With the Talent of Black People
“Daddy, where are all the planets?” Caleb asked, eager to actually use his own telescope.
“I’m still… looking,” I replied. His toy stayed affixed to my face as I scoured the sky like a blind sniper. I was determined to find Venus and Saturn before bedtime.
“Maybe we need a better telescope,” he said. “Are you looking in the right spot?”
Instead of cosmic wonder, all my son saw that night were cloudy stars. Even though we couldn’t see the planets, he still believed they were there. Worth looking for.
This scenario plays out during the daytime as well. Across tables, text threads, emails and cold calls, many companies are scrambling to do what they promised 2 years ago. How hard could it be?
But simple and easy are opposites. The Black talent you don’t see is a direct reflection of what you don’t do. And it’s nearly impossible to undo decades of exclusion and discrimination by hiring one diversity leader. The talent pipeline that runs dry leads to a well you never watered. I know, I don’t want to talk about this either.
So what do you do now?
Stop. Stop blaming the Black candidate pool for the de facto “Whites Only” sign still bolted onto your boardrooms. Stop building DEI programs to “improve people” without removing the mindsets, cultures and even leaders who continue to resist equity. And stop assuming there’s a charity solution to a systemic problem.
Here’s the truth. There are legitimate reasons you struggle to hire Black people that have nothing to do with how capable they are, and everything to do with you. Remember, racism is a system, not an event. And corporate racism isn’t a problem to solve for Black people. It’s an organizational epidemic to address for everyone. It always, always, always involves the redistribution of power. Anything less is BS.
Okay, here are 10 reasons you can’t find Black talent, that have nothing to do with the talent of Black people.
1. We know you.
Black people talk to other Black people. We talk when you’re not looking. We ask questions about the real reason roles are open. We scroll through the walls of white headshots on your website, auditing your actual commitment to equity. We intuit where it’s safe to be ourselves. The words you said or didn’t say to one person become a witness to how you will treat another. Don’t pretend to be better. Just do better.
2. You aren’t looking for Black talent.
You’re looking for Black tokens. You seek someone who won’t bring their otherness to work. Someone who will comply with a culture of submissive loyalty. We see through the timelines filled with stock images of smiling brown faces. No candidate wants to be your diversity campaign. When hiring Black talent feels like a community service project, a chore, or a punishment for being white, maybe you’re the issue?
3. You depend on Black people to find Black people.
We’ve all gotten the call. It’s the HR leader – the same one who magically makes discrimination complaints disappear – looking for help recruiting the people she is ignoring. She needs to present a few potential Black candidates to the hiring manager this week. Clearly, she sits on the diversity committee and has hired Black people before, so she’s not racist, right? Yet even though she’s not actively excluding Black people from her hiring process, she’s unwilling to acknowledge how she reproduces racism by leaning on the same networks and nepotism where Black people are excluded. No one wants to invite their friends to work at a place they can barely tolerate. Every corporation has a Karen.
4. The job is whack.
Just because it comes with a paycheck, a title and a loaner laptop doesn’t mean it’s a good job. Sometimes it’s not a fit for any person. Many people are opting out of corporate altogether, exhausted by years of exclusion and double-standards. Yesterday’s price is not today’s price.
5. The job is impossible.
Like Black head coaches in the NFL, Black leaders in corporate America don’t get very many second chances. Our counterparts can bounce around for years doing mediocre work for a living. Our country has perfected it. But in the words of the world’s favorite Jewish carpenter turned martyr, “Not so with you.” Our career dice roll differently. It’d be nice if you helped make things more fair, but Black leaders aren’t sitting around holding their breath. We have to be so much better to get in the door and much more discerning walking through it.
6. You haven’t really tried.
That table you sponsored at the NAACP banquet isn’t a fast pass to mounds of Black excellence. The same energy it takes to find top notch talent of any color is still the cost of entry. Conscious or not, lazy outreach and biased efforts will make finding diverse talent feel like scratching lottery tickets. Why leave it to luck when you can evolve the hiring process to be much more equitable? There’s really no excuse. I thought about linking to a list of diversity resources here. Then I remembered this thing called the internet you already use for everything else you want to learn, do and find.
7. You’re looking for diversity instead of being diverse.
The companies that do this well are intentionally diverse so the people they reach are too. Instead, some White leaders who only have white friends use their personal segregation as an excuse for the company’s discrimination. This happens all the time. All. The. Time. Stop it. Side Note: in 20+ years I can count the number of calls I’ve had with Black recruiters on one lonely hand.
8. People ≠ Props.
Two years ago, I talked to both the Chief Sales Officer and the Chief HR Officer of a tech company that’s considered an industry leader in inclusion. They were excited to talk today and get to know me right away. I obliged. They were pleasant and enthusiastic, but a bit rushed. Twelve hours later they let me know they offered the role to someone else but appreciated my time. Huh? In follow-ups from the team, I was able to recreate the crime scene. They had chosen a candidate before our conversation (perfectly talented I’m sure) but needed my bald, shiny head as evidence of their efforts to attract Black talent. I was a prop, a very sexy one I hope. Next time just use a stock image.
9. You have Black baggage.
”Black baggage” is what I call the collection of microaggressions, code-switching and trauma that can happen to people of color in white spaces. Before a journey, I stuff these bags with aspects of my identity and check them in before the flight. There’s no space for it. What I didn’t know is White people also have a version of Black baggage. Crazy right? That one new hire that flopped. That rude pizza delivery driver. The direct report who speaks her mind. All Black. All still living somewhere in your brain as you slide Tyrone’s resume in the trash. Some people call this discrimination but I don’t know you like that.
10. You don’t look at skin color.
You just hire the best person for the job. Period. And, somehow, after all these years all these hires just happen to be white. Strange. It’s like good Black people don’t even want to work with you. But you can’t control that. And you damn sure won’t be one of those “woke” folks, hiring Black people just because they farmed for free a million years ago in America. You worked hard and so should everyone else. Besides, you know Black people who are successful and they aren’t complaining (to you). Let’s stop talking about it. If you secretly agreed with any of this please never call me.
Black talent is everywhere. Recruiting talented people who are different doesn’t mean lowering your expectations, it means raising your efforts. Don’t mistake your inability as an indication of their capability. It’s likely a more accurate mirror of your culture, a microscope of your company, and an index of your individual values.
It must be said. Black leaders are not immune from exhibiting this same biased behavior. Many of them (us?) got where we are by adapting to the myth of Black talent scarcity or preserving our positions by being silently complicit. This, too, must stop. We can’t change a reality we never challenge. There are amazing white leaders in every company who are not only conscious of these conditions but also working to transform them. I’ve been lucky to know them and work for them. They’re doing what others won’t – trying.
I’ve been in rooms full of the baddest, most qualified, most dynamic, most savvy leaders I know. Many of them happen to be Black. All of them are talented beyond belief. None of them are hard to find or looking for a handout.
Look up. We’re living in a universe full of stars. Let’s not be full of excuses.
Agree? Disagree? Drop a civil comment below. A few more of my thoughts on the subject if you’re curious: