Last week, the search for the missing Titanic submersible ended when it was determined that the vessel imploded, killing all five people aboard. Since then, social media and commentary have been busy with different perspectives and insights on the event.
One lesson that stands out to me in this story as a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practitioner is the lack of diversity within the team at Oceangate, the company responsible for creating the vessel and leading its voyage into some of the deepest depths of the sea. While all information about their team is no longer available on their website, a scan through their social media platforms reveals a team composed of mostly White men. It leaves me wondering: what if the composition of that team, and the varying ideas and perspectives it would have welcomed, had been different?
It’s been reported that former Oceangate employees raised concerns about the safety of the vessel years ago– and as a result, were fired. While it may not always end in the loss of life, similar instances happen within organizations and companies all of the time. Leaders of these places may have lofty missions and grand visions for change or making an impact but often fail to seek out the collaboration of other experts in their field who don’t look like them or share the same cultural or social capital. Building a team only in one image robs organizations and corporations of the chance to welcome perspectives and voices that may differ from theirs but are needed to create safe, authentic, and equitable experiences in the world.
The people that make up an organization or company represent the ideas, concepts, beliefs, and ultimately the actions or final products that will be shared with the world. When the people on your team fit only one profile (likely White, cis-hetero, male), it reinforces White supremacist ideals that only the knowledge and input of those with a disproportionate amount of power are valued.
Many organizations and companies begin their DEI journeys by hiring a Director of DEI or getting in a few people of color hires. This cherry-picking approach places band-aids on a system that needs a complete replacement. Shifting culture from one that upholds White supremacist, anti-Black values into one that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive means both were seeking out and creating the conditions for people of color to thrive in the said environment and simultaneously shifting your own beliefs to carry out this change for the long-haul.