We Look but We Don’t See

There has been a lot of media attention on recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and far too many others in the U.S. We have also seen an increase in activities of anti-Asian racism stemming off of the onset of COVID. These aren’t isolated incidences but part of a larger, systemic problem that has been around for centuries. Michael Rizzo, postdoctoral fellow at New York University and the Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab says, “Many people, especially white people, underestimate the depths of racism.” 

Racism continues to be pervasive in our society, and it also extends into the workplace. To help correct this and bring more awareness, many organizations have made commitments to increase diversity and inclusion (D&I) hiring, training, development, and promotions. Meghan Biro, contributor to Forbes.com states, “But D&I — as we tend to call it — brings with it some risks: it mutes the tragic reality that the reason we can’t improve D&I is the same reason the country is in upheaval right now. Recruiting, Hiring, Promotions and Development all suffer from the same national virus — the other virus — and that’s racism.”  

I’m not here to claim that organizations who do not have D&I initiatives are blatantly accepting of racism in the workplace. Nor am I advocating hiring people just to fill diversity numbers. This has more to do with bringing awareness to the leaders of these organizations. As I have participated in many mentoring programs over the years, I remember overhearing a manager ask one of his supervisors why they wanted a certain person as their mentor. The supervisor replied that she chose this director to be her mentor because they were a minority female. The supervisor felt that there were very few leaders within the organization that looked like her and could relate. Therefore, she wanted to get a more relatable mentor who understood the challenges of being a female minority in a predominately conservative, white male-dominated industry. 

The diversity of a team is more than just the diversity of its members. It also includes diversity in leadership, diversity of work styles and diversity of backgrounds. There have been numerous articles written on the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I read the article titled: Top 13 Reasons Why is Diversity Important? [2021] | Diversity & Social Impact Made Easy. A section in the article explains that the Diversity, Social Diversity and Inclusion Best Practice is to intentionally structure your companies based on your target customers. It stressed that you can’t focus on your customers if you don’t understand how they think. Having diverse thinking allows your team to understand and design better customer experience, which leads to better customer satisfaction – better customer services.  

In our contact center industry, delivering great customer experience is more important than ever. I remember working for a company where the marketing department was putting together letters to send to our customers. When I read the letter, it seemed confusing but the folks in the marketing department, many of whom had very long tenure within the company, thought it made sense. Needless to say, those letters generated 23% more calls than what was forecasted and the talk time for our staff increased significantly as well. Rather than reflecting on what drove those calls, the focus was directed at why the call center failed to handle those calls within service level. Understanding your customer base and designing the experience, regardless of channel or method, takes understanding and tolerance. Working in numerous call centers, they typical employ the most diverse workforce compared to the rest of the organization. And as the company calls upon representation from the call center, we must also educate our people to be brave and speak up in terms of offering input through a diverse lens. It goes to that saying, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ so we have a wonderful opportunity to help educate others with different perspectives.  

The mere act of asking others for their opinions or giving others the stage to talk, indicates an environment of respect for others. And if we provide people with the opportunity to be heard, the employees will feel supported and valued, hence reducing turnover. Studies from both Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company found that financial performance improves as organizations become more inclusive.  

It’s my opinion that diversity and inclusion today, are like marketing buzzwords and opportunities to be politically correct. It reminds me of the early onset of social media. Companies were just starting to understand it. It wasn’t clear yet what social media was or how companies should use it, but many companies knew that had to have it.  

People who are classified in an underrepresented group merely want opportunities. I have seen it firsthand of people being overlooked and bypassed for promotion, training and development based on factors such as not looking the part. People who speak with an accent and being thought of as less intelligent. Being a women and minority, I am sensitive to these types of observations in the workplace and believe that it takes consistent effort, bravery, and education to help open others’ eyes to what we see or experience. When I was in my late 20’s, I remember talking to my female manager at the time about my interest in getting into leadership. She told me, “Oh Hui, I don’t see you in management. You’re too book smart.” And it is those experiences that has caused me to continually develop and grow into positions of influence so that I can be a positive role-model, help make a difference for others and create a pathway of opportunities for those that are different.