I get it. You want to hire a person of color. You’ve done an assessment of your organization and you realize you have to change. I know… All of your peers are putting in searches to find just the right person. However, I want to caution you. If you move too quickly without doing the proper leg work, you could end up derailing that person of color.
Are you convinced that you need a person of color? You have to be able to answer that question with integrity. If you’re not convinced that you are missing out, then please do not hire a person of color. You may end up playing into the cultural platitudes of tokenism and thus you could be rebuilding the very structures you want to dismantle. Paul the Apostle exhorted the Corinthian Church in embracing the truth about their situation – they needed one another.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:15-26 NIV)
Will your current culture oppose the very person you are seeking to hire? This is huge. You may have a vision for a diverse team, but if your culture is not ready for this move then you will destroy the person you want to hire. At the end of the day, there are norms and systems of belief that your current organization has. Often times we demonize what is different than us. When you hire a person of color you are not just hiring them for their character, chemistry, and competence, but you’re also hiring the culture that they carry. What ends up happening when you hire someone who has a different culture is a clashing of cultures. Culture clash isn’t bad in and of itself, but if your organization is not ready to handle the clash with honor, then there could be pressure to assimilate to the broader culture as a person of color. I’m sure that’s not what you’re aiming for. So, you must prepare your organization for such a change.
How much power will they have? If you hire a person of color and give them responsibility without authority you’ll demoralize that individual. In the end, they’ll be a public shaming by the very culture you invited them into. Clarifying how much power they will have, how much latitude to run, and the boundaries they will be allowed. Far too often, I see leaders rush out to try and hire a person of color so that they don’t appear to be homogenous and behind the times. This, in my opinion, is putting the cart before the horse. What matters at the end of the day is asking yourself this very question, “am I willing to share the power I have so that I can achieve the plans I desire?”
If you cannot answer these questions with clarity and precision, then please DO NOT go out and hire a person of color. In the end, that person will leave devastated, and on top of that, it will discourage your organization from moving forward in the future.