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Beyond the “Person of Color” Checkbox

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I am a person of color. To be specific, I am a female immigrant from India, between 30-40 years old with no visible disability, and I’m not a veteran – the five details almost every application (job, volunteering programs, or sometimes even speaking proposals) inquires about. As a Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Accessibility (DEIA) 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 that are under the umbrella term “person of color,’ and I want to explain how those components on the checkboxes translate in real life. I have also included how those experiences apply to your organization and what you can do create inclusive and respectful teams.  

When I am the obvious choice for “diversity”

Most of my work has been for groups (my full-time job and activities outside that work) with homogenous racial structure. With the understanding that diversity is still a work in progress and often (uncomfortably) limited to race and color, I have become a popular choice for the taskforce or subcommittee 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 your work needs is essential to make my hiring inclusive.

When my imposter syndrome goes a long way

Looking back at all my past jobs, I realize 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 on whether I was included for my skills or my race or ethnicity. Feeling like you are an imposter – wondering whether you were supposed to be included or not – can be intimidating. After some self-reflection, including reading books, listening to webinars, and holding on to a supportive inner circle, I have reprogramed my brain so that I don’t end up down the “Am I good enough?” rabbit hole. Your circle of family, friends and kind colleagues matter a lot.

However, to make teams effective, especially now when working remotely, set aside 10 mins to appreciate individual team members. The more we celebrate each other, the more we will design teams that are robust and inclusive.

 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 that “looked different” on the taskforces or committees. Remembering those work calls, I always felt the pressure to voice my opinions in the same way as my colleagues; I make myself “common” and still convey my own unique perspective. The lack of diverse leadership personalities that resembled mine made me consider tweaking my style to mimic theirs. I thought this would allow my points to be better received. This is a dangerous slope because there is no end to it unless deliberate steps are taken to change this behavior, which is what I 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 those early in their career, to not feel pressured.

 When I am not comfortable talking about money and power

This has always been my pain point. When I entered the nonprofit industry, this area was a new arena for me – focusing on the six and seven figures gift donors with power and money - whether that focus was research-related or the fundraiser training sessions. From as early as my pro-bono philanthropic volunteering jobs, I always felt affiliations and relationships came before the big asks. This new approach in fundraising where we focus on big gifts and donors took time for me to understand and absorb. I recently discovered that building a network of industry colleagues who have navigated through these money-talk challenges is immensely useful to understand my work better.

At your organization, consider intermittent team training sessions on these sensitive subjects, so your team (regardless of their identities) feels empowered at work.

MeenaMeenakshi (Meena) Das (she/her/hers) is a fundraising analytics consultant. She specializes in designing survey-based research tools and analyzing engagement. Meena appreciates spending her time outside work as a mentor to immigrants and as pro bono research adviser to small shops. Her two recent favorite projects are working on making data-based research tools more Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) compliant and designing the second season of her podcast “Being and Unbeing an Immigrant,” where she wants to bring together the families of immigrants left behind in the home country. Connect with Meena on LinkedIn.

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