Diversity in the workplace shouldn’t be taken at face value

Steffi Arkilander
February 4, 2021
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Workplace diversity is misleading if all higher-ups are white

Amid the Black Lives Matter protests that happened this past summer and McMaster University’s very own report that highlighted systemic anti-Black racism in the athletics department, diversity has become an important topic of discussion.

Notably, many organizations — such as McMaster — are trying to do better with their diversity by prioritizing hiring individuals that are Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, 2SLGBTQIA+ folks and people with disabilities.

Workplaces have huddled together to improve their diversity — for example, in November, McMaster committed to hiring up to 12 new academics and scholars that contribute to Black academic excellence at the university. This effort is to increase the number of Black faculty, as well as provide opportunities for Black academics.

Yet, this movement towards diversity wields a double-edged sword: in many ways, the words “diversity,” “equity” and “inclusion” have become buzzwords. While companies and organizations try to diversify their workplace, many have been criticized for the ways in which they approach diversity.

For example, last summer Bon Appétit went under fire for not paying its BIPOC employees as much (or at all) as the white employees for on-screen appearances. While the new editor-in-chief and other hires are BIPOC, it took inequitable pay and several racialized chefs leaving Bon Appétit for this change to occur.

Unfortunately, we aren’t doing much better in terms of diversity at McMaster.

Within the McMaster Students Union, there are many opportunities for students to get involved in both volunteer and paid positions. Fortunately, our student community is quite diverse and a lot of this is reflected in the students involved in the MSU services. But the higher up you get in the MSU, the whiter it gets.

Fortunately, our student community is quite diverse and a lot of this is reflected in the students involved in the MSU services. But the higher up you get in the MSU, the whiter it gets.

Since my second year, the MSU board of directors has only had one racialized member per board. Let me repeat that: every year, one of the four board members that lead the student union was racialized.

It gets worse — when you look at the full-time staff in the MSU that aren’t in a student opportunity position, they’re all white. The people who are at the top, in positions of power over everyone else, are anything but diverse.

The MSU is supposed to represent the undergraduate student body, but how can it do that if it isn’t as racially diverse as our student body? Sure, the people volunteering, working part-time, or in one-year contracts may be diverse, but the people who work for the MSU year after year and have control of it beyond one contracted year are white. I don’t know about you, but that isn’t diversity to me.

The Silhouette isn’t exempt from surface-level diversity, either. In the past four years that I’ve been here, every Editor-in-Chief has been white — and I’m sure that if I looked back even further, this would apply for many more years.

While I would say we have a very diverse staff team, we have a similar issue that the MSU has, which is the fact that the person with the most “powerful” position is white.

This raises the question: what is stopping BIPOC or even people from other marginalized identities from being Editor-in-Chief? The Editor-in-Chief has a role in hiring the following Editor-in-Chief. When several Editors-in-Chief have been white, they can — consciously or unconsciously — play a role in continuing this cycle.

We’re a student newspaper. We exist to represent students fairly and equitably, but how can we do that if we don’t even have important, diverse identities leading our newspaper? How do we hold others accountable if we don’t hold ourselves accountable first?

There are plenty of skilled and diverse writers and aspiring journalists that attend Mac. We should be wondering why more of these people — why not many Indigenous students, trans students or disabled students are applying for these roles.

These issues are not exclusive to the MSU or the Sil by any means. However, if we want to see change and true diversity in the workplace, we should lead by example within our student body first.

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