Why You Should Negotiate Reparations Severance into any Diversity Job Offer
So you’ve just been offered that new diversity job, now what? If the first thing your employer does is schedule a headshot, be very afraid. Corporate Blackwashing is trending. People are disappearing their diversity hires almost immediately after they score the LinkedIn-woke-washing optics victory with their BIPOC executive hires plastered on our timelines. It’s time to subvert this trend and start protecting our people. Severance is for all valued employees. Reparations severance is for BIPOC employees for the abuse we take at work, its historical roots, and the present day implications that trap us on the bottom rungs of every economic and societal hierarchy.
Hazard Pay – It’s not just for essential workers.
If you are Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Color (BIPOC) working in diversity, you deserve hazard pay. Navigating racist systems, structures and colleagues in the throes of, or on the heels of, a global (racism) pandemic is hazardous to your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Between the emotional tax of being BIPOC in the workplace and the insanity that is navigating a delusional white supremacist world, People of Color are demonstrating Herculean levels of resilience that illustrate precisely how we have survived centuries of oppression. Nonetheless, the fact that we are resilient AF does not justify the capitalist and sadistic abuse of our people.
There’s a reason high-powered CEOs get golden parachutes and perverse payments. These CEOs are responsible for billions in capital and the responsibility for the health of the organization ultimately falls on them. They are rewarded for absorbing all that risk…even if they fail or the company’s priorities shift during a merger or acquisition. Well guess what? You, the new or future diversity leader, will be fired for not ‘fixing‘ diversity expeditiously. When you ‘fail’, the company’s priorities will shift away from diversity. Honestly, that’s what most companies actually want. Funny, it took them the life of the company to break the culture but they want it fixed in a few months.
Leadership needs diversity officers to fail so they can move on to the work they’d rather be doing. Many of these enterprises don’t care about their employees, and they certainly don’t care about the token diversity hire. White, assigned male at birth (AMAB) folks established the precedent for the golden parachute. We are simply invoking the same option for what amounts to equal risk to our careers and reputations. I propose that we don’t allow corporations to place the burden on our backs without providing cover anymore.
I believe that when you put everything on the line to help a company define, often for the first time, diversity values and processes – you need protection. You are signing up to work in a rigged system designed specifically for your failure. Even the well-intentioned groups who think they are ready for antiracism and human equity work usually aren’t. They are ready for the performative aspects. They are ready for the optics victory. They are ready to treat the symptoms by aggressively hiring BIPOC people without ever ensuring that the culture is safe enough to protect us from harm, discrimination, and humiliation.
Don’t be the token BIPOC for hire. Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish. Don’t over-promise if you don’t know the culture. You are likely to encounter some insurmountable walls and barriers that will make you look like a failure if you overcommit. Promise to ascertain the situation. Scale the budget request according to the size and revenues of the business, and the scale of the inclusion challenges.
High quality, effective measurement tools are expensive. Expert interventions are even more expensive. Do not let anyone hire you without a commitment to providing you a respectable budget. You need a set of terms and conditions that if unmet, allow you to walk away from the job, with a delicious severance package. And if they let you go, you also get a package that can scale down the more years they keep you. You can choose to vest them over time if you like. But it should never diminish to nothing. You see, they will essentially ruin your credibility based on their lack of accountability. Don’t let that happen.
Your contract should memorialize anything you can leverage as a breach of contract should they fail to uphold. Such a breach should yield maximum severance without triggering automatic legal intervention. You should have your own non-disparagement because you best believe they will have a nondisclosure protecting the company against your side of the story. Protect your career against theirs. Choosing your terms will be harder the less experience you have, because it is upon the terrain that most of us learn corporate tactics and can therefore prepare for them. Consider memorializing things like:
- Regular access to the CEO
The more people you have to push through to get to the boss, the harder it will be to get anything done. You should meet one-on-one with your CEO no less than quarterly. If your CEO doesn’t have time to prioritize diversity work at all, run. It’s a sham.
- Dedicated budget with flexibility
Doing diversity work well requires reinforcements from many disciplines. Unless you are a Jane-of-all-trades with a track record for success leading impactful diversity initiatives alone (you’re a unicorn and need a $300K-$500K salary with 12 weeks annual vacation), I suggest you negotiate for some operating cash. Hire and budget to get support in the areas you are weakest or least enjoy. It’s no different than entrepreneurship. We hire for our deficiencies first and that’s how we scale. A nascent diversity department is an adventure in intrapreneurship. Treat your department like a startup and and secure your investment capital early!
I mention flexibility because like with a startup, there are always variables you cannot anticipate. Don’t let them get hung up on numbers and force you to stay confined to a limited, insufficient budget. Be realistic about the nature of emergent challenges and the need for flexible emergent strategies. Get a commitment for open dialogue and partnership versus a dictatorship. Get them to commit to doing what’s necessary versus what’s cheap.
Dropping the initiative for lack of budget or refusal to make funds available is more gracious than scapegoating a Person of Color out of cowardice and a lack of accountability and integrity. Make it clear you won’t be scapegoated. They need to know you aren’t a pushover. And if your ‘aggressive’ negotiations lose you the gig, ask any fired Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) whether it was worth the money. It never is. You need to know if they are responsive and respectful of you as early as possible. It’s not worth risking your sanity, health, or professional reputation.
- Reparations Severance of minimum one-year’s salary
It will take you at least that long to recover from the racial trauma we have to endure in these white spaces filled with well-intentioned people. The subtle acts of exclusion alone will erode your resolve. The gaslighting will leave you questioning your sanity. The last thing you need after they discard you for their own negligence is to have to hunt for work while wounded. This is soul extracting work that requires an immense amount of self-care. The space between gigs is arguably more important than the time in the trenches.
The person you cultivate and discover in the spaces between commitments shapes the way you influence and manifest within a given institutional context. People read my books and always have the same question:
“How do you have such kindness and grace for people with such a challenging and painful subject?”
The answer is self-care and grace for myself first and others — after. I’m no martyr. I refuse to throw myself on a pyre for organizational imperatives and false virtues. I seek to know myself, love myself, and forgive myself daily so that I can bring the best I have to offer into any space. If you are not a clear channel with a strong sense of self and purpose, the garbage that people throw on you may stick and you may confuse the stench for your own aroma. Hurl crap at me all you want, I know who I am and what I’m made of. I don’t engage trolls or worry about the haters. I stay on my grind, on my mission, and in my meditation. My peace is non-negotiable.
- Support staff
If anyone expects you to manage inclusion alone, beware of tokenism. This is the ultimate setup for failure. Don’t allow yourself to languish on an island of solitude, especially as the only lonely BIPOC employee. It’s not a diversity department of it’s one person, unless the company has less than 25 employees. More than that and you need, at minimum, partial dedicated staff. But if you are a legit CDO or head of diversity at a company with 30 or more people, you at least need an admin. The more employees you have, the more support staff you will need. They don’t want to give you staff, fine. Increase the budget request. You can outsource most anything with operating cash. See how that works? There are no effective shortcuts. Leadership is either committed and ready for inclusion or looking to score a visible win with minimal effort. Yes, they budgeted for your position. Great. Congratulations. That’s just the first step, and it’s quite far from the last.