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Beyond the checkbox “Person of Color”

I am a person of color. To be specific, I am an immigrant from India, female, 30-40 years age bracket, no visible disability, and not a veteran – the five details almost every application (job, volunteering programs, or sometimes even speaking proposal) asks. As DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Accessibility) practitioner, I fully understand the importance of such demographic questions, yet, I admit to feeling exhausted when they do not appear to be more than a checkbox. In this article, I want to share my four experiences that humanize those details put together under the umbrella term ‘person of color’ and how those components on the checkboxes translate in real life. I have also included how those experiences “should be” to give a broader perspective on each.

Ready? Here it goes:

#1: When I am the obvious choice for “diversity”

Most of my work has been for groups (my full-time job or outside full-time job) with homogenous racial structure. With the understanding of diversity still a work in progress and often (uncomfortably) limited to race and color, I have often become a popular choice for the taskforces or subcommittee's invitations. I have received LinkedIn InMail offers to join independent volunteering boards to represent diversity additions. While this approach to address the gap of demographic diversity in the team by reaching out to people of color is understandable, it is still necessary to include why my particular work background is useful.

Articulating how my work fits all the future work needs is essential to make my hiring inclusive.

#2: When my imposter syndrome goes a long way

Looking back at all my past jobs, they had teams where I was neither clearly informed on why I am part of those teams nor explicitly told that I am the “diversity hire”. I remember times when I have questioned myself whether I am included for my race or ethnicity. The feeling of an imposter – whether you were supposed to be included or not can be intimidating. Now, after books, webinars, and holding on to the supporting inner circle, I have trained to reprogram my brain wiring when it starts to go in that rabbit hole. That circle of your family, friends, and kind colleagues matter a lot.

BUT, to make effective teams, especially now when working remotely, keep aside 10 mins for appreciating individual team members. The more we celebrate each other, the more could we design a more robust and inclusive team.

#3: When that pressure to be right becomes exhausting

I have always struggled with the ideas of “fitting in” vs. “standing out”. This struggle became more evident when I was the only one “looking different” than others in the taskforces or committees. Remembering those work calls, I always felt the pressure to voice my opinions in a way others did, so I become “common” and still convey my own unique perspective. The lack of diverse leadership personalities that resembles anything to mine made me consider tweaking my style to mimic theirs, so my point receives due credit. This is a dangerous slope because there is no end to it unless deliberate steps are taken as I did, well eventually did.

A quick solution for all the teams out there waiting to celebrate diversity – embrace every member's unique working style. Create space to hear every voice. The more different styles are welcomed and heard, the more likely it will be for people of color, especially early career members, not to feel pressured.

#4: When I am not comfortable talking about money and power

This has always been my classic pain point. When I entered the Nonprofit industry, this area was a new arena for me – focusing on the 6+/7+ gift donors with power and money - whether that focus was in the research work or the fundraiser training sessions.

From some of my early pro-bono philanthropic volunteering works, I always felt affiliations and relationships went above the big asks. This new approach of fundraising to focus on big gifts and donors took time to soak in me. I have recently concluded that building a network of industry colleagues who have navigated through such a money-talk challenge is immensely useful to understand my work better.

Consider intermittent team training sessions on these sensitive subjects, so your team (regardless of their identities) feel empowered at work.


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