“Marketing!” That’s how I was taught to answer the phone in the busy corporate office where I worked as a secretary one summer.
My replacement insisted on saying, “Good morning, you have reached the marketing department. This is Jennifer. How may I help you?”
I tried to get her to change. “Jennifer, they’re going to think you’re wasting time answering the phone like that. Keep it to one word, and you’ll do better around here.”
Two weeks later, when I called to say hello, a new person answered the phone. “Jennifer doesn’t work here anymore.”
I am white, and Jennifer is black.
Without articulating it at the time, I had foreseen that our all-white office would associate her more relaxed manner with her “culture” and would find a reason to fire her. Never mind that a small amount of friendliness at the beginning of a call would likely save time later by putting callers at ease. Never mind that our callers were often customers who had bounced from department to department by people who were too “busy” to figure out what the callers really needed. We had our little white playbook, and that’s how it was done.
Sadly, the wind energy industry is no exception. Just walk around any industry trade show or attend one of the big-ticket seminars. My first thought is always, “Why are we so white?” Women have made great strides in the wind industry, and we need to figure out how we can be more welcoming to people of color.[adright zone=’190′]
Ethnic and racial diversity benefits businesses. McKinsey & Company bluntly states that “companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially” and notes an even stronger benefit for ethnic diversity than gender diversity.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama appointed Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sotomayor’s comment about bringing strength as a “wise Latina woman” sparked vigorous public debate. Sotomayor was not suggesting that her heritage alone qualified her, as some opponents noted; what she meant was that a more diverse court would be stronger.
Along with the recent studies, this perspective turns the old “affirmative action” debate on its head. Now, ethnic and gender diversity is recognized as an essential part of businesses rather than only a matter of access for underrepresented populations.
Having a diverse workforce in itself does not solve the problem; companies need people from many different backgrounds at the highest levels of leadership in corporations. So, how do we make this happen in the wind industry?
It has been shown that top-down diversity programs in corporations, such as diversity training and grievance systems, have not produced noticeable change. Participants even report more animosity toward other groups afterward!
Some of the problem lies in the belief that “welcoming” and “inclusion” are passive concepts. The thinking behind these initiatives goes something like this: “If we do some sensitivity training and stop making racist jokes in the lunchroom, we’ll remove all obstacles, and then we will magically become more diverse.”[adleft zone=’190′]
At the same time, people tend to tell people they know about job openings, and they tend to hang out with people they feel more comfortable with. What can we, as individuals who work in a largely white industry, do to promote diversity in our ranks?
We need to make a verb out of our diversity initiatives. Locate offices and host events in diverse urban neighborhoods instead of manicured suburban office parks. Engage with a variety of vendors at all levels of business; this will promote professional relationships between your employees and the larger community.
If you’re white, make an effort to get to know all of your colleagues, not just the pink-skinned variety. Learn people’s names. Encourage a person of color to seek a job promotion he or she may not have considered. Walk across the room or across the parking lot to say hello. Welcome the perspectives of others, which sometimes may look like shushing a room full of white people and saying, “I’d like to hear what Jennifer has to say.” Make mistakes, and be awkward.
I’m deliberately not including a paragraph with advice for colleagues of color. I don’t think I’m qualified to do that! The missing piece in this article is exactly the piece that is noticeably missing from our industry.
All those decades ago, if Jennifer’s colleagues had welcomed her perspective, she might be chief marketing officer of the organization now, and it would be nationally known for its efficient handling of calls.
Making an effort to include people of color in the wind energy industry is not “affirmative action” – it’s a matter of survival.
Naomi Pierce is a marketing manager at Vaisala. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.