Why diversity strategies must start on the inside

Image: Keith Major

Last week, social media was abuzz with news about actress, Tiffany Haddish, turning down a Grammys hosting gig. Why? They wanted her to host a 3hr live streamed event with no compensation. But, that’s not all. They also told her that her hair, makeup and wardrobe costs would at her own expense.

When I first saw this story, the first thing that struck me was the audacity. Was it surprising? No. As a Black woman who does a lot of speaking and hosting engagements, I have experienced my fair share of this kind of “offer” because apparently, we should be happy to not only pay our bills with “exposure” while making money for event organisers, but also be ok with the erasure of our years of work, experience, investment in developing our skills, building our audiences and creating content that is relevant, impactful and helpful to our communities online and offline.

This year, particularly, we have seen a surge in organisations establishing Diversity departments and recruiting (usually Black women) to head up these departments to show how serious organisations are about ensuring they are doing the right thing and being inclusive of marginalised groups.

Now, here’s the gag, around April of this year, the Recording Academy announced the appointment of Valeisha Butterfield-Jones as it’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. The first time this position has ever existed. This was an exciting move for people in the industry because it created hope that Black voices, Black art, Black creators, Black women and other marginalised groups would finally be seen, recognised, included and, of course, rewarded.

Image: Valeisha Butterfield-Jones

Eight months later, the Tiffany Haddish issue happens. So, what went wrong?

So often, organisations – even those with good intentions – underestimate the importance of first transforming their internal culture before focusing on external campaigns and intiatives. Although the Grammys have since apologised to Tiffany Haddish, this incident has exposed the complexities of having Diversity champions like Valeisha Butterfield-Jones putting in the work to create a more inclusive organisation, but other parts of the business either not buying into it, not supporting the strategy or being resistant to the change required to eradicate a culture that exploits marginalised groups, especially Black women. Or they just haven’t taken the time to reflect on their own behaviours and decisions and how those are/have been harmful to marginalised groups.

And this challenge is not unique to the Grammys or the Recording Academy. It’s everywhere. Organisations loudly and proudly speak about their commitment to diversity or transformation and correcting the injustices “of the past” without ensuring that all decision makers are trained and have their performance metrics linked to their performance in that area. That’s the language people understand. If there are no consequences for not being aligned to diversity commitments and making decisions that are reflective of your understanding of the need to ensure equality and equity for marginalised groups, people will continue doing what they’ve always been doing – disrespecting, undervaluing, not paying, underpaying the people who have always been marginalised.

Even if an organisation has a Diversity & Inclusion Executive, diversity and inclusion is everyone’s business if it’s actually going to work and be sustained in an organisation.

Sihle Bolani
Photographer: Thembela “Nymless Ngayi
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Sihle Bolani

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