A custom illustration of a Black male office worker, wearing glasses and holding a stack of papers, standing in front of 3 cubicles. In the cubicles behind him are his white coworkers.
A custom illustration of a Black male office worker, wearing glasses and holding a stack of papers, standing in front of 3 cubicles. In the cubicles behind him are his white coworkers.
Michael Kennedy for Index

The Only Black Guy In the Office

Behind the Headlines of Corporate America’s Latest Blunders

Racism, sexism — the whole nine!

The Only Black Guy In the Office is a Seattle-based, midlevel marketing manager who writes about navigating the White waters of corporate America. He’s like a modern-day Dilbert — that is, if Dilbert were Black, woke, and outspoken about the foolery, joys, and microaggressions that Black professionals experience on the daily. The Only Black Guy sounds off about his career experiences in his eponymous weekly column at LEVEL. Here, he’ll regularly chime in on the latest mishaps in white-collar corporate news as only he can — straight, with no chaser.

This just in: Diversity training doesn’t work

Remember how in the midst of last summer’s racial reckoning in America, there was a mass sweep of companies scrambling to have employees participate in DEI training? Yeah, so apparently those are about as effective as Michael Scott’s ethnicity role-play exercise from the “Diversity Day” episode of The Office.

It’s hard to Ctrl+Alt+Del away a lifetime of prejudiced thinking after watching some guy in a 90-minute video comparing racism to Santa Claus.

Not only is diversity training ineffective in removing deep-rooted bias, but it can also backfire, having an adverse effect on a company’s culture. “A lot of our research shows training makes the dominant group — usually White men — feel threatened and fearful of being excluded,” says Alexandra Kalev, a professor of social sciences at Princeton. “They fight back instead of internalizing [the training].” It makes sense. It’s hard to Ctrl+Alt+Del away a lifetime of prejudiced thinking after watching some guy in a 90-minute video comparing racism to Santa Claus — especially when that requires true self-reflection and willingness to cede one’s privilege in favor of equality.

There are better solutions to problem-solve for racism in the workplace: making diversity training voluntary for employees, creating a task force to study data around hiring and promotion trends, and offering specialized training to elevate BIPOC employees into management positions with power.

While I want to be hopeful about the swell of DEI initiatives, in many cases they seem like a Band-Aid fix for corporate inequity. Plus, I’m skeptical about the whole cottage industry of diversity, equity, and inclusion “consultagencies” — a cash grab that financially pays off for the practitioners while scoring internal and external goodwill for the companies that host them. As Kalev says, most workplace diversity trainings come with a hefty fee, “so you can do the 1+1.” It all adds up for me.

Google takes employee gaslighting to the next level

From cornering the market on internet search to creating smart devices for inside and outside of the home, the modern world owes much to Google. Its latest corporate workplace innovation, however, is one for the ages: Google, apparently, has solved workplace discrimination and harassment!

Several current and former employees told NBC that after speaking with HR about experiencing sexual harassment or racism while on the job — violations like inappropriate comments about skin color and ethnic hairstyles — they were ordered to take medical leave and seek treatment from mental health professionals. That’s right, folks: Rather than actually dealing with the root of the issue head-on, Google offloaded its harassment and DEI-related complaints and insisted that harmed employees talk it out in therapy. Out of sight, out of mind — literally.

But things only get more sinister from there: Employees reported returning from their required leave of absence only to discover their roles and managers had shifted, negatively affecting future performance reviews and promotions. Say what! How about instead of using mental health as a scapegoat and passively punishing those who speak out, you actually attempt to affect systemic change within the company? Google declined to respond to any of the claims made against them in the report. Hey Google, care to comment?

Working women just can’t get a break

Earlier this month, Idaho state Representative Charlie Shepherd channeled his inner Ricky Ricardo while speaking on a bill intended to provide support for early childhood education and the families hit hard by pandemic-mandated remote learning. “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home,” the freshman Republican legislator said during a House floor debate, which ended in the proposed $6 million federal grant falling one vote shy of being passed. “Any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.”

Look, I already have my own personal doubts about GOP politicians’ proclivity for actually improving the lives of their constituents. But this dude’s hot mess of outdated patriarchy — which sought to maintain the “family unit” — feels especially fugazi. Not only does it shun resources for kindergarten-bound kids, but it also unduly imposes gender norms on working women (who, surprise, surprise, have been hit hardest by coronavirus-related job cuts and the massive shift to WFH life). I have the utmost respect for women like my colleague Susie, who regularly holds her toddler while sharing project updates during Zoom meetings without missing a beat, camera on and all. It’s unfortunate that this elected official seems to live in another era.

This is all in line with a larger 2021 Women’s History Month trend in corporate America, marked by Twitter gaffes including Burger King’s “Women belong in the kitchen” tweet and performative feminism fails. As for Shepherd, he was soon enough pitchforked by protesters following his remarks, as around 100 people took to the statehouse steps to express their ire. And of course, he backpedaled on his comments, claiming, “I in no way think the father has any less responsibility or should play any less role than the mother in raising their children.” Uh-huh, save it for I Love Lucy.

The Only Black Guy In the Office has a new home here on Index! Once a month, he’ll drop in to share his commentary on the latest in head-shaking corporate and workplace-related news, either offering praise or throwing flags on the play. Follow him on Medium so you don’t miss it.

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.

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