My background lies in immigration and I hold two degrees. I also had a successful relocation and settlement company. I sit on two Boards. I began speaking professionally in 2008 and it’s my sole source of income. I am passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion and attendees who hear me speak comment on my authenticity.
Yet, I often speak on the emotional tax placed on BIPOC when they are put in a position of representing their race. Add the intersectionality of gender and it becomes more complicated. I cannot tell you how many times I’m the only woman of colour on the stage. I take that position of privilege seriously because I am painfully aware that I’m not representing myself and my talent anymore but rather women and people of colour. It can be an overnight responsibility that I don’t take lightly yet I did not choose.
I’ve always taken my profession seriously yet not myself seriously. Anyone who has heard me speak knows this.
What I do take very seriously is standing in your worth. I receive multiple requests from organizations seeking my expertise and noting how important it is to see women of colour on the stage. Yet…they don’t want to compensate me. The irony is that this is often women’s professional conferences. Caterers, graphic designers, AV techs are compensated. Of course they are. They have bills to pay.
Yet, the conference organizers want to empower me; my race and my gender yet don’t want to offer me a pay cheque. They woo me with compliments yet not compensation.
This ploy is counterproductive, counterintuitive and borderline gas lighting.
I always politely decline. I’m Canadian- born and bred to be inherently polite.
Next time I’ll redirect my response to this blog. Tokenism takes a toll. Enough already.
Tokenism doesn’t lead to structural change or the removal of systemic barriers in workplaces
Being hired as a ‘diverse hire’ or for tokenism impacts the mental health of marginalized employees as well. First off, it’s rather lonely being the only coloured person in a room- if that be a boardroom, a lunch room or even on the stage.
Being a token you tend to work harder leading to burnout OR you feel invisible because your accomplishment and achievements are overshadowed by the colour of your skin.
So what can companies do?
Listen- to people of colour of BIPOC- Black, Asian, Latinos, Indigenous all fall into this category. This can be done via employee resource groups, courageous conversations at lunch, meetings- both formal and informal and even water cooler conversations.
Learn- from one another; there is strength in vulnerability; be aware of microaggressions that occur in the workplace- how are you contributing or conquering those microaggressions? Are you validating someone’s experience?
Lead- are leaders supported and held accountable for their own inclusive or non inclusive actions? I can’t tell you how many times I speak at a company in person or virtually and someone says in the chat or via survey that the leadership team didn’t attend the session. Actions have consequences. Being visible at work shows up in a variety of ways!