The E in DE&I in Corporate (Biotech) America & Brownness in The Publishing Industry

The performative commoditization of diversity, equity and inclusion and two decades to be an overnight success.

As the daughter of refugees, and as an immigrant, to be othered has always been a part of me.

Tagore’s 1905 protest poem, “Ekla cholo re”, the essence of which is, “if no one responds to your call, go your way alone” has informed me since my childhood. This newsletter will be a slightly more serious one, just because I feel we don’t talk about this enough, especially in my paycheck world of oncology pharma and diagnostics companies. It applies to all of us, so I hope you’ll stick around and read.

A few years ago, when the US attacked Afghanistan, I was strictly a fiction writer—yes, times have changed since then. A novel-in-progress, “Queen of the Block”, was about a US marine with PTSD, his dog, a pitbull-mix from Kandahar, and an Afghan 7Eleven night clerk. I was struggling to get published and a now ex-friend/writer said, “You’re so lucky you’re brown. Brown stories are what they want, no one wants our old people white stories.”

I remember feeling guilty that I stole the opportunity from her (even though I didn’t)—othering, and then the invisibility in writing as a BIPOC is as alive as it is in corporate America.

Just so we are all on the same page on my publishing history, my food memoir Khabaar will be out in Spring 2022—I have been writing, submitting, working with agents, editors and mentors for two decades—it’s taken me TWENTY YEARS to get my first book out.

Being brown doesn’t help in a white publishing industry.

What We Do in Corporate Biotech/Pharma

Many immigrants and/or women in science, especially of color, strive to be the ‘model’ example of what they are expected to represent. We work hard, we follow what the ‘right thing’ is, and reach for what’s socially and professionally assumed to be success. We are or try to be model–which is to say, we aren’t ‘difficult’. For us, the glass ceiling remains real while we may be invisible to many.

Since last year, in the middle of the pandemic–when Black lives were destroyed, when women left their jobs as a result of ‘work from home in a pandemic’, meaning that they had to manage home and family by sacrificing their careers, and now with rising violence against Asians–it’s no surprise that in corporate America, we have proactively worked toward diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. But have we, really? Is it a call to action, as most civil rights and social justice issues compel us to, or is it the ‘right thing to do’, i.e. ‘it’ll look good as a corporation’?

DE&I–the start, the history, the now

What does it mean to be diverse? To be inclusive? And to argue for equity? Since last year, hiring experts showed a 30% increase in DE&I jobs and programs with a six-figure salary associated with such hires. This is what I call the DE&I industry and to me, this is alarming. Have we moved away from the social justice movements that birthed these programs in corporate America?

Are these acronyms simply buzzwords and are they only performative?

And as leaders, we’ve asked what we need to do to make our spaces psychologically safe and inclusive. Because without that, our teams aren’t engaged.

We are told, people with diverse backgrounds in the workplace is a good thing. We are told this will lead to diversity of thought. A diverse group leads to a positive ROI versus a company that isn’t. But even if you have diversity of thought, ask if your group actively includes such diversity. If diversity and/or inclusivity aren’t aligned, there is no change. Also, your group may have D&I, but question if there is equity. The reason I ask this, is because for the last few decades, did not include equity.

Why is Equity Important?

DE&I is a newer concept. Equity is when everyone, and by everyone, I mean, all, regardless of their age/disability/gender/sexual orientation/physical ability has a equal or level-playing field. DE&I concepts arose as social justice movements.

We need to regroup to get back to helping those who need this help the most.

According to writer and organizer, Kim Tran, “The diversity, equity, and inclusion industry lacks a compass guiding it back toward the politics of class and racial struggle from which it sprang.”

Have we deviated so far from what DE&I really should be? Are social justice leaders and corporate leaders not aligned in why we need DE&I in our workplace? What can we as corporate leaders, activists and representatives do?

My 2c:

  • Well, for one, recognize that the culture of a workplace will determine whether a diverse worker feels safe and included. In corporate America, starting and maintaining a DE&I group within an organization is the FIRST step. Talk to the leaders, make sure they support it. Support means metrics, making sure you’re better off, whether it’s pay, working hours, inclusion, engagement—all can be measured. Science and data are good, especially when measuring diversity and inclusion. And those two will work only if equity is part of it.
  • This is common sense, but then, common sense hasn’t been that common lately.
  • Focus on equity. Within the organization, look at diversity in all leadership spaces, ask the difficult questions about inclusion. But if your space isn’t equitable, D&I will fail. Ask the leaders, especially allies, what they’re willing to do. And why? If we don’t ask, we don’t know.
  • I would like to recommend we stop thinking about ‘equity’ as a power struggle. I’ve heard many talk about equitable distribution of power within DE&I initiatives–no, that’s not how we help our community. We have to be strategic as representatives, and be aware of our people as part of our world, our community.

This isn’t war. There isn’t a single winner, but there are many who have suffered tremendous losses.

    • In corporate America, as a BIPOC employee, I’ve always recommended the employees who ask, to ask for mentorship and sponsorship programs. I recommend the same of writers. While writers are quirky, moody, mercurial, socially awkward, know that science people are worse. And if you’re a biotech leader and someone knocks on your door or sends you an email asking for 5 minutes of your time, give it to them–it took them a lot to press ‘send’ on that email, or to knock on that door. Similarly, if you’re a successful author, a published one, or someone who knows more than the other, raise your hand, don’t be a dick—you’re here because someone saw potential in your and your words. You can do the same of someone who may need a gentle push. I said it earlier in a previous newsletter, be kind, don’t be a dick.Perhaps we need to learn, and unlearn our own biases. Maybe instead of grand gestures of performative ‘diverse voices in publishing’ or ‘diverse leaders in biotech’, we actually consider DE&I as an initiative for the underrepresented, the undermined and the underprivileged? An initiative that represents the social justice movement that gave rise to it in the first place?

 

Thank you so much for reading this all the way to the end—I know, I know, I rant a lot, but then, it’s all worth it in the end, isn’t it? Thank you, I appreciate you. In appreciation, here’s what I made recently—Sabudana (tapioca pearl) khichdi, Maharastrian style with tons of peanuts and cubed potatoes.

Enjoy!

 

    M.

Literary Representation

Dana Newman Literary Agency
1800 Avenue of the Stars, 12th Floor
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County 90067, USA

info@dananewman.com

Publisher, "Khabaar: An Immigrant Journey of Food, Memory and Family"

University of Iowa Press
119 W. Park Road, 100 Kuhl House, Iowa City IA 52242-1000
Ph: 800-621-2736

uipress@uiowa.edu