Those who favor and oppose diversity actually share very similar concerns. This thought occurred to me when I read the end of this interview with Slack developer Kaya Thomas:
The interview ends with the following exchange:
“Brown: As one of the few black women in the industry, have you ever felt tokenized?
Thomas: Yeah. It’s something I struggle with. I think it’s related to imposter syndrome. Did they pick me because of the work I did and my accomplishments, or do they want me to fill in these boxes? You can never know whether or not that’s the case, being a black woman. Most times, there isn’t anyone else like me in that space. It can be detrimental to my mental well-being if I always think that I’m a token. I do know that I’ve worked hard. I’ve earned my spot, but even if I am [a token], at least I’m still here and providing the space for women like me to get here.”
None of us want to feel like we don’t deserve our success. Kaya struggles with these feelings because she worries, despite the fact that she’s earned her place (as is amply apparent from the interview) that she’s been picked because she fills in certain boxes.
The mirror image of this is the deep emotional reaction that some well-off Caucasian men feel in reaction to diversity and inclusion. By definition, if we say that white men are overrepresented, it means that we’re also saying that some of them don’t deserve their place.
It’s one thing to be in favor of diversity in the abstract; it’s another to support diversity to the detriment of your own career.
This is a difficult subject to grapple with, and none of us can be disinterested.
My own approach is twofold. First, it is important that we seek to eliminate false negative stereotypes and biases. We need to hire based on reality, not inaccurate perceptions. Second, we need to recognize that diversity is valuable in and of itself, not just as a remedy for past injustice. Diverse teams are more innovative and productive; we should seek diversity and inclusion for economic, as well as moral reasons.
It’s important to acknowledge that these changes do impact some white men in a negative way. If one group previously held a disproportionate share of high-tech jobs, and society corrects that distortion, the overall benefits to society will be positive, but the local impact on that group would still be negative. We shouldn’t expect them to be cheerful about the situation. But we also shouldn’t let that stop us from doing what is right.