March 8th marks International Women’s Day, designed to reflect on our values as a society and honor multicultural women globally. As an aspiring author, creative professional, and multi-ethnic Asian-Hispanic woman, I see the call for diversity as a major focus in the publishing world as it seems to be throughout all businesses.
While wanting diversity is an important step, as a woman of color (WOC), I have experienced the hypocrisy in the call for people of color (POC) to have the same opportunities as white writers and working professionals. Yes, #diversity, #POC, #BLM are all fun, #woke little hashtags, and look really 21st-century-cool. Yet the need for inclusion is more than the preferred pronouns someone lists on their social media. Inclusion goes beyond an antidote to an EEOC claim brought about because an applicant was pre-judged based on their race, age, gender, or sexuality. But the scream for diversity has started to feel like a trendy marketing ploy. It has been my own experience that brown people are becoming exploited in superficial marketing claims from companies to be more inclusive with no legitimate intention of following through.
Diversity and inclusivity should be more than words on someone’s website, just as International Women’s Day should be celebrated all 365 days of the year.
How Diverse Are Companies & The Publishing World Today?
I see more white authors, regardless of gender, being published than non-white. There are even fewer Hispanic authors being published. This is true for pay scale discrepancies as well. According to a 2017 Pew Research report, Hispanic women were paid less out of all minorities. Most recently, a 2021 article on women of color and the wage gap confirmed that Hispanic women continue to see the most significant pay discrepancy, as they are paid 57 cents to every $1 earned by white working professionals. Black women saw the second-worst pay gap earning 64 cents on the dollar.
I refuse to believe that the lack of POC authors is because there is a lack of talented minorities. I also refuse to believe that the reason why Black and Hispanic women are paid less out of all minorities is due to a lack of skills and education. I agree with this Harvard article on negotiating tips for WOC, which explores why WOC are afraid to speak up and negotiate their worth. We’re often encouraged to silently be grateful for what we have and to not ruffle feathers. We’re expected to not stick up for ourselves when we encounter unfair hiring practices and observe blatant hypocrisy from companies claiming to be pro-diversity.
What’s It Like To—You Know— Be A Brown Person?
I was actually asked this question in a recent interview. Nope, I’m not joking. Given that it’s International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate diversity, I’m not going to stay silent and be afraid to speak up about this awful experience. It’s a situation I feel compelled to discuss. I sometimes keep in touch with a professional recruiter that provides guidance from time to time for situations like this. When I told her that I was asked, “So, what’s it like to, you know be…” (A brown person. A minority. Ethnic?)—she couldn’t believe it.
My recruiter friend exclaimed, “Okay, now that is illegal!”
She echoed what a Business News Daily article wrote about illegal job interview questions, and being asked about my ethnicity was one of them. The company that asked me this tried to claim they promote diversity and inclusion. Yet all of their executives and leadership team were white. Perhaps the question was meant to show “wokeness,” but it was a terrible taste in judgment. First of all, this question didn’t come out well, given that the interviewer happened to be white. Second of all, my ethnicity and brownness had nothing to do with whether or not I could perform the job duties. Instead, the question and their strong emphasis on being diverse made me scrutinize their marketing team that interviewed me, which ended up being 100% all non-POC women. Even the recruiter was a white male.
Meanwhile, my previous company I had worked with was a very diverse team consisting of people from all over the world, including Israel, Russia, Ireland, and Mexico. Literally, most of the staff were from other countries and not U.S.-born. Then there was me—half Korean and half Puerto Rican from Dallas, a multi-cultured American who only spoke English. I had a great experience working with such an eclectically cultured mix of individuals that included gender-fluid, LGBTQAI co-workers at my previous start-up. So, this recent company, which was much larger and more corporate, claimed to be pushing diversity but only seemed to be doing so as a marketing scheme. When I researched them, they had hardly any minorities on staff in upper management.
Diversity Claims: An Organization Must Live What They Preach
Diversity is more than a tagline. Diversity is more than a templated response to negative Glassdoor reviews. Diversity is more than cool graphics and a picture with different skin shades holding hands. Diversity is action. Diversity is actually walking the walk and hiring not just more POC, but placing strong WOC in leadership. Diversity is publishing more authors that are WOC, too. Diversity is having a mentorship plan in place to encourage POC or WOC so that they can obtain the on-the-job and leadership skills they need to foster their dreams.
Even still, as someone with a master’s degree and 20+ certifications (literally), I often feel that it takes so much more for a WOC to prove herself in her profession. A WOC has to have double the education and experience as her non-POC, non-WOC co-workers, and white hiring executives just to be considered for a role. When we do go for a senior-level position, POC, WOC are given excuses for why we didn’t get the position. This happened to me recently when an all-white marketing team panel claimed I had too much experience for a position that was advertised as senior-level, only for them to reclassify the position as a junior position.
Studies show that a POC with master’s degrees is still harder to come by, even in 2022. It’s even harder to find a WOC with graduate-level education. A Forbes article even begged the question: Where are the Women of Color in Academia? The article points out that when it comes to higher education, WOC in leadership roles face a double-whammy of both gender and racial bias. It seems when there are roles that a POC can fill that could and should be in management or in leadership, the position is often given to white individuals. While you might say, “Oh come on, that doesn’t happen anymore. Maybe you weren’t the right fit, or you didn’t have the right skills.” Yes, that can happen. But too often prejudicial hiring practices are the culprit, even if the white company leaders don’t realize it. The reason they don’t is because their white privilege has made it that they never had to deal with such things themselves.
I’ve even seen a company ask for applicants to fill out their age range in the guise of “diversity and inclusion.” I did not feel comfortable sharing my age with this company and skipped the question. But it shouldn’t have been on the application, to begin with. In the past, I’ve also had more than one experience where a senior-level position that was initially filled by a non-POC male was then given to me, a WOC. The job title was then adjusted to junior-level to reduce the pay for the same work.
We Want To Hire More POC & WOC, But Not Those That Are Too Educated Or Experienced
That is essentially what happened to me while I was interviewing for a management role within a marketing department previously mentioned. Instead of asking about what I could bring to the table, the non-POC interviewer asked me questions about my brownness. Later, the company claimed that I was too experienced for the position advertised as a senior-level. That is when they decided to change the position’s title to a more junior role. This was after everyone saw my graduate education and senior experience via my resume. This was after five, one-hour interviews, very lengthy online question-and-answer sections, an online “values” assessment, and finally booking me with the company’s senior VP and the son of the owner. I seriously thought they were going to ask me for my firstborn child or my left arm. The recruiter told me this sixth interview would ultimately be the job offer. A little over one hour before the meeting, the recruiter called to inform me it was canceled, as the marketing team changed its mind about the position.
Shady stuff like this happens all the time, and it isn’t right. As a WOC, I shouldn’t have to be afraid of sharing this awful, unethical experience. Taking ethnicity out of the equation, hiring professionals should know what they’re looking for in advance and not put candidates through such rigorous hiring processes. No working professional, no matter color, creed, or gender identity, should be essentially told they got a position, and then oops…we changed our mind. We’re now retracting the position and changing the job title. A solid company that knows what they’re looking for doesn’t string candidates along like this.
That is what I find hypocritical when companies and industries call for diversity, more POC, but then they don’t want them to be too educated. They want to hire more minorities or a WOC, but not those with too much knowledge? They don’t want to pay them wages that they would pay an experienced white professional with a similar master’s degree?
What’s wrong with this picture?
Celebrating IWD Means Admitting Inequalities Do Exist: Exploring Old-Fashioned Racism vs. Modern Racism
Unless you’re a POC or in an underrepresented community such as LGBTQIA, the disabled, or mental-health challenged, then you will not understand what it’s like for us. It doesn’t matter if your loved ones or friends are minorities. Being a white individual sporting “woke” hashtags on your Twitter bio supporting minorities and other underrepresented communities is much different than actually being a POC or WOC. Non-POCs have no experience like I, and 40% of the U.S. POC population that must endure modern racism. Modern racism is much more disguised, manipulative, and covert. Modern racism victimizes and gaslights. Furthermore, it is intimidated by WOC rising to the top. It hides behind false pretenses and often shows itself as the “white savior complex” with no intention of making lasting changes to reduce modern racism and double-jeopardy hiring practices that WOC with higher education face when aspiring toward leadership roles.
Inequalities do exist, no matter how we try to market equality for the new millennial generation. We can come up with dozens of catchy headlines and trendy hashtags that promote “diversity.” But diversity is much more than all talk and no action. Inequality exists in all areas of life, from our professional careers to our aspirations as published authors. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded on the principles that inherent cultural prejudices that have been a sordid part of our history books continue to remain a reality for Black people, and the same goes for POC of all shades. POC doesn’t have to be interrogated by a police officer, or in my case, the U.S. Border Patrol when I drove to Mexico to experience racism. I have Puerto Rican family members who are NYPD, but that didn’t make the situation any less intimidating.
My Experience With Old-Fashioned Racism
Two years ago, my husband and I were trying to expand our family. We went to Mexico because infertility treatments were more affordable. I often had to do the drive to TJ on my own. I was harassed so badly at the border crossing into the United States after driving to Mexico to get IVF treatments that I had to file an official complaint against them.
Let’s just say someone from Washington, D.C., called to clear up the matter, and those border agents didn’t bother us again. But, it was a horrible experience. There were numerous treatments, and therefore numerous times, I had to drive to Mexico. Anytime my white husband would be behind the wheel, we had no problem. Anytime a WOC like myself went by herself, they racially targeted me with drug dogs, secondary checkpoint inspections that included a crowd of officers glaring, whispering, and using intimidation that left me shaking so badly they accused me of being on drugs when I’d never once done drugs my entire life.
All I was trying to do was have a baby after suffering secondary infertility and I was harassed by border patrol so badly that it was traumatic. Still, there are much more subtle ways modern racism pokes its head out, and it’s often not so obvious. It can be as simple as shady hiring practices by companies claiming to be about diversity and “wokeness.” To properly celebrate International Women’s Day, society must admit to a systemic problem on a global scale.
The Bottom Line
Cultural diversity and inclusion means not being intimidated by a WOC, by her success, education, and experience. Instead, it requires necessary footwork and actionable steps that must go beyond EEOC claims on a company’s web page. It requires all industries willing to employ not just more non-POC women, but more WOC in leadership roles. It is making a concerted effort to celebrate minority-owned businesses everywhere.
We’re living in the 21st Century, and we have a long way to go before we achieve fairness, equal pay, and especially diversity in the workplace, as well as diversity amongst traditionally published authors that acquire a book deal. There are plenty of talented, educated, smart, and capable WOC that are not given a chance to shine. International Women’s Day is more than celebrating multicultural women from all communities everywhere. It is a day to shed light on a problematic issue facing our country and its ongoing modern racism that continues to reduce WOC, make them small, keep them underpaid and oppressed.
There is plenty of proof that too many WOC are underpaid and have to almost go to superhuman levels to prove themselves. We have to jump through numerous hoops and hurdles to achieve the same level of success as a non-POC, whether it be a leadership title or the higher paid position earned. As much as we like to preach diversity, inclusivity, and multi-culturalism, there is simply not enough being done to improve the situation. Sadly, people want to talk about diversity, yet they don’t want to hear the raw truth from a WOC that has lived through subjugation their entire lives.
Until more WOC are traditionally published, until more Hispanic women stop becoming the cheapest labor, until more qualified POC are entrusted in leadership opportunities—our society will forever remain divided between non-POC and the minority race beneath their feet.