What does it mean to be a “diversity hire?” Is it just a marketing ploy, or are organizations truly looking to diversify their team’s thought leadership? And what effects do these expectations have on the employee?

Brave Conversations with LCW Host Larry Baker (he/him) is joined by Ana Goehner (she/her) to discuss her lived experience “checking two diversity boxes” as a woman and immigrant Latina, including veiled compliments, lack of representation, and cultural compromising.

Meet Our Guest

Ana Goehner
Bilingual Career Strategist, Digital Butterfly Communications
LinkedIn | YouTube | Instagram | Website

Ana Goehner is a bilingual career strategist, career development instructor, and founder of Digital Butterfly Communications. Ana is a certified HR professional and a first-generation college and MBA graduate. As a solo Brazilian immigrant, Ana spent more than 10 years advocating for her career in corporate America. Now, she helps people find work environments that foster career development opportunities. She encourages her students to become Chief Career Officers and advocate for their career well-being.

Show Notes & Highlights

6:11  Ana shares her experience with the phrase “diversity hire” as an immigrant Latina woman

10:56  Ana speaks to feeling not good enough just because you’re perceived as “different”

18:30  Ana reflects on losing yourself through forced workplace assimilation

28:18  Ana discusses exit strategies and empowering yourself with knowledge

34:48  Ana and Larry encourage allies to speak up when they hear the term “diversity hire”

38:40  Ana describes tokenization and the many variables of identity

43:51  Ana describes how language in job descriptions can be exclusionary

Show Transcript

Larry Baker: Hello, and welcome to Decoded: Brave Conversations with LCW. I’m your host, Larry Baker, and I use he/him pronouns.

For those of you unfamiliar with LCW, we are a global DEI training, consulting, and translation firm that partners with organizations to develop mindsets, skills, and systems to succeed in a culturally diverse world.

This season we’re unpacking coded language in the workplace. “Coded language” refers to phrases that could be potentially masking bias, or quips that may have unintended negative impact. Each episode we’ll discuss the real meaning and implications of a new coded phrase, how it connects to larger systemic issues, and then hear personal stories and some tips to help us notice and call in bias.

So welcome to Decoded: Brave Conversations with LCW. My name is Larry Baker. I use the pronouns of he and him, and I am your host for this Decoded series. Today we are going to be talking about the phrase “You’re just a diversity hire.” So what does it really mean when people say that you are a diverse hire? Is it just a simple marketing ploy, or are organizations truly looking to diversify their teams through thought leadership? And then what effect do these expectations have on the employee?

I have with me today Ana Goehner, who is a bilingual career strategist at Digital Butterfly Communications, LLC. And I’m gonna give Ana an opportunity to introduce herself and tell us a little bit more about her and what she does. So, Ana, if you would, please introduce yourself to the audience.

Ana Goehner: Sure. First, I wanna say thank you so much for having me on the show. I’m really honored to be here, Larry. And yes, so like you said, I’m Ana Goehner. My pronouns are she/her, and I’m a bilingual career strategist and a career development instructor.

I use the word “bilingual” because I want people to get a little hint that I may have an accent, I may be from a different country, or my being two cultures, right? So that’s why I use the word “bilingual.” And the main thing I do is to teach professionals how to advocate for their career wellbeing and find a healthy, positive type of work environment.

When I talk about career wellbeing, I want people to understand that that means you are using your natural strengths and the skills that you enjoy at work in an environment that suits you. So of course, you’re going to be doing things that you dislike at work, but if the majority of the time you are able to tap into those skills and in your strengths and you are in an environment that fully embraces you, that’s where you can find job satisfaction. That’s where you can find work and life harmonization and where you might feel seen and heard by your manager and your colleagues. So the formula that I like to talk about is using your strengths and your skills a good amount of the time in an environment that works for you. When I talk about career wellbeing, that’s kind of what I mean.

And for me, I am an immigrant and a first generation in a corporate environment. My parents never worked a corporate job, and I spent more than 15 years working in environments that didn’t suit me. For me, I didn’t have a guide to help me navigate the corporate world in Brazil and in the United States, so I felt stressed, undervalued, overworked, and underpaid. And I know how frustrating that can be when you hustle in an environment that doesn’t help you thrive and grow.

So my work involves a lot of self-advocacy, and I love to educate people and help them understand that they can advocate for themselves at work. They can have allies, people who will vouch for them, but they need to advocate for what they want and not just wait for things to happen to them. So I help people learn how they can speak up at work.

Larry Baker: Thank you so much for that detailed introduction of who you are and what you do. There were so many nuggets that you brought out with your introduction that I think will lay the foundation for this conversation around this concept of “you’re just a diversity hire.” You touched upon your emphasis around career wellbeing and giving individuals the tool to advocate for themselves.

So can you give me a little bit of a background of your experience around that phrase “You’re just a diversity hire?” Do you have a story you can share?

Ana Goehner: Oh, absolutely. So, when I first came to the US, I was a student and when I finished graduate school, I had to learn how to navigate the US market. It was really tough for me to find a job, so I had to learn that whole process on my own. And when I did find a job and as I went through my career—I’ve been working in the US for more than 10 years—I remember well-intended people, and I would say this because I give people the benefit of the doubt; sometimes they don’t know better, right? But I remember being asked to straighten my hair, that I should put my hair if it was curly like on a ponytail or straighten my hair because I’d look prettier where my hair was straight, or buy clothes at a specific store that was really expensive for my salary and budget.

Larry Baker: Mm-hmm.

Ana Goehner: There were many times that I was in an environment where I was the only immigrant Latina woman working there. There was nobody else like me, and it was really hard to navigate because there were times that I would see peers that had way less work experience than me getting different tasks that were projects that would make them visible, that would get tangible results. And for me it was always the invisible tasks. Even though I already had a graduate degree, I remember just getting these very invisible tasks. And sometimes I would ask, “Can I be a part of this project?” or “Can I do this instead?” But I always felt like I was just there to check a diversity box cuz there was nobody like me and they didn’t know how to help me feel like I was a part of the team. I was a part of the company.

So there are many stories like this, but you know, there’s the hair, there are the clothes, there are a lot of things… I had to change who I was to fit in. So basically the whole thing about being a culture fit, not a culture add. I felt like this in many spaces, where it almost makes you feel like you don’t have the necessary skills or experience, even though you do, but like there’s always that inner voice telling you based on the things that you experience in the workplace every day.

Larry Baker: Yeah.

Ana Goehner: There’s always that inner voice telling you you’re not good enough for this job, or they can’t see you for who you are, or you have to work here for like six years to get a promotion—all these different things. When you see people you know who kind of fit the environment getting promotions and the group projects and all these different things…

I have many stories, but these are some of the basic ones that happened more than once. I definitely felt like I was the diversity hire, just checking the box and just like, “Okay, you’re here, but now you need to be one of us.” If you’re not one of us, you feel really isolated and alone if you don’t try to do things to fit whatever the culture they have in place.

Larry Baker: Yeah. Ana, again, you just said a couple of things in your conversation that relate to how this phrase actually connects on two different levels. So for one, how it connects to the larger systemic issues that we have in our society, but how this phrase actually impacts individuals in the workplace.

So I’m gonna ask you first to attack where this phrase impacts you in the workplace. And you touched upon it, how you mentioned that you saw other people be given special projects and you were passed over for those projects. And then societally, there were conversations about your appearance and in the hairstyles that you wear.

So talk to me a little bit more about how has it impacted you in the workplace, but then how did it impact you on a larger level in society?

Ana Goehner: Sure. For me, since I first started working in the US, I always felt the need to prove myself. I was always looking for the certification, the class, always trying to find ways to improve my skills, let’s say—for a lack of better word—to just like look the part. I want to be hired for my skills and experience. So I just became this leaner. I mean, I’ve always been a learner, but it was like 10 times the achiever, 10 times more. Just trying to prove myself in every single space because to me, just saying that I had the experience, it wasn’t enough. I had to have the certification, I have to have this and that.

It got to a point that I really felt like, again, I wasn’t good enough. Or sometimes I would see in job descriptions, right? Like I just came across one today that kind of brought back some bad memories from the past with certain words, keywords like “a rockstar,” “dynamic work environment,” “fast-paced environment,” “Ivy League,” or all these different things, right?

Sometimes you feel like, “I don’t have that. I don’t come from this background.” I grew up in Brazil, and I didn’t grow up with much at all. So I did the best I could with the little resources I had. And when I came here, I remember reading job description and just thinking right there I’m never going to get this job just because of the language. Right?

Larry Baker: Yeah.

Ana Goehner: And then the ones that I actually got, there were still things like I said in the workplace that I would watch people getting the projects that were visible. Like you get the tangible results and then you get praised in meetings. And for me, I remember the very few times that I tried to speak up in a meeting, I was always shut down— like “We’re not gonna talk about this right now” when it was an actual important issue that I felt like everybody should know, or help me at least figure it out how to move forward with it, or if they knew somebody could help me solve the problem. I remember being shut down.

So what happened was I spent many years in toxic work environments without knowing I was actually in a toxic work environment. Because what was sold to me when I first moved to the US and learned more about the culture, what I understood was that you had to work really hard and hustle to get anything, which is something that, you know, coming from Brazil, I already knew and that was already ingrained in me. But I felt like here that need was 10 times higher. I really had to work hard, but then what does it mean to work hard? Working like 50-60 hours a week, saying yes to everything and everyone, not taking vacation? Just going from one test to another and doing all sorts of things because, again, that need to prove yourself, that need to show that I am here, I am worth it.

It’s something that I particularly don’t like to say, and I help people don’t feel that way about themselves is when they say…  job seekers for example, they talk about, “Oh, I want this company to take a chance on me.” That’s kind of the mindset that I had that “Oh my gosh, I am here. I should be grateful. And these people took a chance on me.” And I’m not saying you should be ungrateful when you get a job. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t feel like, “Oh my gosh, I am here, and I should be grateful that I am hustling and working like crazy. I have no life outside of work.”

I feel like that’s a mindset shift that I had to have in order to be where I am today, in order to not have those feelings of I am a diversity hire, I am here not necessarily by chance because they needed somebody like me on the team.

Larry Baker: Yeah. Ana, your experience really echoes personal experiences that I’ve had where you have this mindset that you’re always trying to prove that you belong. One other factor that we haven’t really touched upon, but it’s an underlying cause that we have to be aware of when we are viewed as this “diverse hire,” is that there is a hesitancy from those individuals that are in positions to give out the stretch assignments because they have this mindset that, “Wow, if I give this person this assignment and they’re not successful, how will I be viewed? How will my colleagues and my peers view me if I give a diverse person an opportunity and they fail?” as opposed to having the same mindset that you would have for any person that you put into a stretch assignment if they fail— they didn’t fail because they were a diverse hire. They may have failed for whatever other reasons that anyone would’ve failed in that particular situation.

So that whole hustle mentality and that whole working harder and working longer, that’s almost just the price of admission, right? In my culture, we refer to it as the Black tax. That’s just what you have to do as a Black person in this environment. But then the other piece that a lot of people don’t talk about is that even when we do that, there’s still the hesitancy from the person that’s making the assignments because their reputation may be changed if you don’t have success being a diverse candidate in the organization.

And I really think that it ties into more systemic issues. Again, you talked about in society how you were given advice about your hair and things that have absolutely nothing to do with your skills and your knowledge or your experiences. But it’s almost as if there’s this mentality that you have to conform to what they think a person in their organization looks like, not necessarily what they bring to the table, but if you can have this look, maybe people won’t see you as being diverse.

So you touched upon that. How did that impact you, that type of advice about straightening your hair and buying clothes from this store and that store? How do you think that that had an impact on you when you thought about yourself outside of the workplace, maybe?

Ana Goehner: Mm-hmm. I felt like the impact was like losing who I was, right? I am not the person who shops at this or that expensive store. I am not the person who can straighten my own hair cuz I’m okay with curly hair. It’s okay for me. But like many other things that were happening in the workplace, when people would talk about their expensive vacations and things like that, that’s not something I could at the time do, or anything along those lines. I was barely making it. But I feel like it’s just losing myself and losing myself, I would say, inside the workplace because again, I was doing everything to try to fit in.

But I would also say outside of the workplace because then it’s like, “Who am I? What kind of friends can I have? What kind of people should I seek? What kind of advice should I listen to?” And being from a different country, I had friends from all over the place, all over the country, all over the world, right? And they all had their own ways of seeing the workforce or seeing the world and their own background. So it was really hard for me to kind of find myself. There were times that I remember thinking like, “Who am I? I don’t know who I am. I was this girl who came from Brazil, and now who am I? Am I trying to be someone who was born and raised in this country, or am I trying to be Ana, the immigrant who came to the US and now is living here, but she still has her own values from her culture?”

It was really hard for me because there were many times that I felt like I wasn’t Brazilian, but I also wasn’t American. Even though I am a dual citizen, sometimes I feel like there were times that I felt like I was not Brazilian enough, I was not American enough. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and that affected me outside the workplace too. Because the things that I love to do, like today I dance a lot, I love dancing, but for many years I was working so much and doing the whole culture, hustling, and all these things that I felt like I had to live for work and not work to live kind of thing. I just had to dedicate my life to work because that’s what every young person in this country did after they graduated from college or with their graduate degree—they had to hustle and try to climb the career ladder.

So those were the things that I learned, and those were the things that I thought were good for me. But at the end of the day, they were not because then I found myself going from one wrong environment to another—sometimes toxic, sometimes not necessarily toxic but an environment that they would talk about diversity or something along those lines, but as soon as you started you are pretty much in a sink or swim type of situation. You either tried to figure it out, how to be and how to fit, or within a matter of months you’re gonna realize that… it gets to the point that you realize that you don’t belong there. This is not a place for me. And then you start looking for a different job or you change who you are, which is something that I’ve done many times. Just kind of try, “Okay, I can talk this way, or I can do this thing because it’s not how they act here.”

And sometimes they were part of my own culture that I’m this person. I like to talk and smile and all these things. But sometimes if you are in an environment where people carry themselves with they don’t smile enough, they don’t do any sort of small talk, meaning “How are you?” …but like when I say, “How are you?” I really wanna know how are you today? Not necessarily “I’m fine, thanks” when your facial expression is telling me that no, you’re not fine. You know what I mean? But there were many times that I had to play that role.

I’ll say this—sometimes with emails, I’m always the kind of person, “Hi, how are you?” But there were a time I remember somebody giving me feedback. There were two types of feedbacks that I remember that I can talk about. One was “you say ‘sorry’ too much” or “you apologize too much.” Meaning this was something from my own culture, right? If I did something wrong or if I felt like I would just say, “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to do this way.” And I was told before, “Don’t apologize. You shouldn’t apologize.” And I was like, but what is the silver lining? When should I apologize? When should I say sorry? And it was that vague type of feedback that I didn’t know what to do with it. Even when I feel like the other person maybe took something a different way, I shouldn’t apologize. I didn’t know what to do with that kind of feedback.

And the other thing is being in the workforce and when you send an email to somebody, not even ask in the chat messages, “Hey, how are you?” Not doing even that and just go straight to the ask. I am not that kind of person. I don’t operate that way. I want to say at least “Hi.” But I was told before that you should just like, “Oh, quick!” And it’s something that I had to adapt because I didn’t know how to. For me, I like to give context. I like to give a little background so you don’t misinterpret something that I write or something that I say because I’m a non-native English speaker. I wanted to make sure that people would understand me years ago, so I would give them some context, some background.

But I was told before, “No, you need to go straight to the point.” And that’s when the whole don’t apologize thing came afterwards because I always felt like I said this this way, but I don’t know how this person took it. So I would say, “Hey, sorry if I sent this message and you misunderstood,” that kind of thing. So I feel like in the past, I didn’t know if I was miscommunicating. I had to learn all of this by the way—I had to learn how to be in the workplace and how to communicate effectively and all these different things so I would avoid this misunderstandings where I don’t know, like am I being too short? Did I give you enough context to go forward? You know, all these different things.

And today I learned that when somebody give you feedback, you have questions, ask. When they give you like vague feedback, you shouldn’t apologize. It’s like, “Okay, but what do you mean? Can you give me an example? Can you help me understand what you mean when you say that? What did I do in the past that made you feel like I shouldn’t apologize?” You know what I mean?

Larry Baker: Focus on behavior? Yeah.

Ana Goehner: Exactly. You need to learn these different things. 10 years ago I didn’t know, and you learn. You learn as you grow.

Larry Baker: Ana, what you’re referring… like I said, a lot of the things that you say really resonate with my experience being in these environments as well. And the phenomenon that you were just talking about where you said that sometimes you didn’t feel like you fit in the culture at work and then when you went home you didn’t feel like you felt that you fit in your culture outside of work, to me that relates to this phenomenon of code switching, right?

So I’m one way outside of work, but then when I come into work, I have to flip this code to know all the rules and all the protocols of how to behave at work. And then once I get out of work, I have to switch it back on to be a part of the culture that I’m naturally a part of.

And that is absolutely a phenomenon that we experience because we have these diverse backgrounds, which I like how you were getting to it—that as an employer you should embrace that as opposed to saying, “Yeah Ana, I know that that’s how you do it in your culture, but at work I just need you to do it this way.”

So with that in mind, when you think about the advice that you give to people that may have this phrase aimed at them or someone uses this phrase, what type of advice would you give to the person that was told, “Well, we’re not gonna give you this opportunity cuz really you’re just a diverse hire and you’re here just to check the box?” What type of advice would you give someone that may have experienced that phrase in the workplace?

Ana Goehner: So if I can give just one word, I would say run (laughs), but I’ll expand on that because I feel like not everybody can just run from a bad situation where they feel like they’re not seen and heard. I do work with people, too, where they are in environments that are not good for them or that they feel that way. Even though sometimes things are implied, they’re not really said to your face, but they are implied, right? So I do work with people sometimes when they’re in those kind of environments and sometimes they can’t just leave.

They need to create an exit strategy. So the first thing is to shield yourself, meaning you need to figure it out ways that work for you to realize that it’s on them is not on you. You have the skills, you have the experience, you have the knowledge, you have what it takes to be on that job. But if you are in the wrong work environment, then it’s really on them. If you feel like your teammates or your manager, they’re just not on the same page and they don’t allow you to be your full self at work, then again, it’s on the culture and it’s on them. They are not making that space for you. But what we usually do, we take upon ourselves and we start believing those negative like self-talks and things. We start believing that I’m not good enough, I shouldn’t be here. But it’s on them.

So what I would say is more like on the mindset, try to shield yourself. Try whatever that works, whatever that means to you when it comes to positive affirmations, meditation, whatever it is to do that mindset, that self-care that elevate you, empower you to see that it is not on you is them, is their bias. It’s what they believe. It’s what’s ingrained in their brains. And honestly you can’t help people see when they want to be blind. They choose. It’s a choice. “I don’t want to see things this way. I can only see my way.”

So create an extra exit strategy for you, meaning the first thing is your mindset. It’s a constant work because you always have to be reminding yourself of your worth, of your values, all these different things, but work on your mindset. And the next step I would say is just start looking. Do some research. We have the internet. You can just go online and do research and try to figure out what companies have collaborative, supportive cultures. Then read as much as you can and then reach out to people.

Because sometimes again, words on paper, right? We can all get out there and write this diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging sentences, but what does it feel like to work at that environment? Do they really walk the talk? ‘Cuz anybody can just put words out there. I always tell people if you can, if you’re not in like a really desperate situation where you need to get out—if you need to get out, just find a bridge job, something that can help you pay the bills while you try to figure out your next career move, your long-term career move. But I would say do your research on supportive, collaborative cultures, people-centric, work and life balance, harmony, cultures that value those things.

But first, I also think you need to figure it out what that means to you. What are the things that you see today that really bother you that you want to improve, that you want in a different work environment? Because honestly, for some people, a fast-paced work environment or startup type of environment is what they want. It’s what works for them, right? But for other people, they want an environment that it’s more like work and life balance because maybe they have a family and they need to really get off the clock at a certain time and then help their family—that’s what they need, so they need more collaborative, supportive type of work environment.

So I feel like it’s important for you to understand what that means to you, and then just do your research. Like I said, just reach out to people. Try to figure it out if you have the time. The first step of the research is just going online and trying to read as much as possible everywhere, and then the second step would be to reach out to people who are former employees or current employees if you have the time. The third step that I like to teach people is when you go on for an interview, ask the right questions, especially a few questions about the work environment just for you to understand what that means. “Work environment” means pretty much everything inside a workplace: the culture, the conditions, the management style, and so many other questions.

There are many ways that you can empower yourself with knowledge before you accept that job offer. So it’s important to figure it out first what that means to you to have a collaborative, supportive work environment and then do your research and try to figure it out what are the companies or places that may have what you’re looking for.

Larry Baker: Yeah. I really like the piece of advice where you emphasize that if someone says this phrase of being a diverse hire, know that you deserve to be there and the problem isn’t within you—the problem is with that individual having a better understanding of what you actually bring to the table.

So let me switch. Instead of focusing on the person that had this phrase said to them, what if I am a colleague of a person that I heard them say, “Well, you know that person is just a diverse hire.” So what if I want to be an ally and I hear someone use this phrase? What type of advice would you give to me when I hear that phrase and how should I address that?

Ana Goehner: Sure. So if you were with other people, I would call this person to the side and just have a conversation with them and explain to them, “You used a word and I want to help you understand this word better from my own…” if I am a minority hire or something along those lines. For me, yes, I am Latina, woman, and an immigrant, so I understand what it feels like. So I can call this person on this side and educate them and help them understand that hiring diverse people means this.

Because I feel like more companies are really putting more focus on hiring people based on their skills and experience and not necessarily you’re here just to check a box. And help this person understand what it means when they say, “Oh, you’re a diversity hire,” and help them understand from my perspective, what does that mean for me when you say this. It makes me feel like I don’t have the skills or experience to do the job.

So just kinda have a easygoing conversation. Think about your tone of voice. How are you going to approach that person? Because it matters, right? For me, telling somebody, “Hey, I just wanna talk in,” just in a conversational, easygoing way. You don’t need to try to like educate them in a way that, “Hey, what you said there is wrong.” You don’t need to use these words, but you can just help them understand how you feel when they say this.

Or if you’re not from a minority group, you can help them understand the different ways a company may hire for diversity, equity, inclusion because they have a program and they wanna make sure that moving forward, that’s what they do instead of, “You’re just checking a box.” You know, we are just there just because we need to report, you know?

Larry Baker: Yes, exactly. Yeah, I like that when you said that everybody may have a different method, but overarching your response was speak up.

When you hear it, give that person some insight about how isolating and how uncomfortable that experience can be when you view that person as only being a diverse hire. Because at the end of the day, everybody wants to be treated in a manner that they feel like they belong. And I think in some other situations when it comes to diverse hires, when you’re brought into an organization, you can feel tokenized, and what I mean by that is they always look to you to represent your entire race.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve had any experience with that. Someone may say to you, “Ana, you’re a Latina. Tell me how all Latinas feel.” You know? And that’s really an uncomfortable position to be in because the reality is, you don’t know what all Latinas feel or what they would say or what they would do in that situation.

So that’s also part of this whole misuse of the phrase diverse hire and diverse employer. I’m sure you’ve had experiences around that as well, and you can elaborate on it, if you feel comfortable doing that—that would be great.

Ana Goehner: Yeah, sure. So this happened to me more than once, like multiple times. Like, “Oh, you know how it feels…” But what I do today when I talk about anything, I will say, “My experience, as a Brazilian woman was this, or is this.”.

Larry Baker: Yes, that’s great.

Ana Goehner: Cuz I wanna bring something here when we talk about diversity, right? Let’s say in a company there’s 10 employees. Let’s say four of them are Brazilians and they are Brazilian women. They all identify as women. It doesn’t mean that because the four of us came from Brazil and we identify as women that we’re gonna have a lot of things in common, that we’re gonna be best friends, that we had the same type of experience. It’s completely different, right?

When I first came here, I had a lot of Brazilian friends, and we all came from different parts of the country. We all had different upbringings, so you can’t say that one person knows what it feels to be. It’s my personal experience. I can only write a lot about my own experiences. But I never generalize because I feel like it’s not right to do this. Because yeah, I know what it feels like to be an outsider, but I know from my own view with my own lens. I don’t know what it feels to you to feel like an outsider. You know what I mean?

Larry Baker: Mm-hmm.

Ana Goehner: So I’m very careful with language and the way I talk about things because I don’t think we should generalize and believe that everybody, just because they came from the… I still get a lot of people, sometimes they’ll come to me and say, “I just met so-and-so from Brazil and is this, this, and that.” And I’m like, “Oh cool. But you know, my experience is a little different.”

So they absolutely get the idea that they have in their brain, and I feel like that creates a lot of bias to it because I have an accent and I can’t change who I am. I’m not gonna change my hair, my skin color, and my accent. I’m okay with all of these things. But sometimes well-intended people, they might come to you and say, “I met so-and-so and their English was perfect. They had no accent.” And I’m like, “Okay, that’s nice. I’m so glad you have this experience with this person.”

I’m saying this because I heard that from other people. And the person, sometimes they don’t realize how saying these things might make you feel. I learned English as an adult on my own. I didn’t have the experience like some other Brazilians, maybe they had the means growing up to go to an English school to learn English or to travel to the US with all these different things. I didn’t.

So you can’t generalize and believe that one person’s experience—just because they came from the same country or they say a few words to you—you use that information to believe that all Brazilians are the same. It’s not. It’s on the case.

Larry Baker: I agree. When you said that, you reminded me of a funny situation that I had a while back when I was working at this organization. And they said, “I met so-and-so from Chicago.” Now Ana, you know, as well as I do, Chicago is huge.

Ana Goehner: Yes.

Larry Baker: So the first thing they would say is, “Do you know–?” I’m like, “Well, probably not.” There are like millions of people in Chicago. And just because we’re from the same culture, that does not mean that I know them.

One other thing that I wanted to touch on before we leave our conversation around this phrase “you’re just a diversity hire…” Talk to me a little bit about your experience when you have people that tend to put top talent and diverse talent in competition with one another, or in other words, they don’t really believe that as a diverse hire you are truly the best talent. And I know for myself personally, having those conversations that focus around you absolutely can have the top talent be a diverse hire, and you need to have that mindset.

Can you talk to me a little bit about how you have addressed some of those issues where someone said, “Shouldn’t I just hire the best person for the job as opposed to looking for a diverse hire?” Talk to me a little bit about those conversations you may have had.

Ana Goehner: Sure. So I wanna start again with the job description situation. Because sometimes there’s gonna be language there that it’s more towards the top talent. And sometimes you even read those sentences in a job description, right? “We hire top talent.” And you may even apply if you are a diversity hire, if that’s the box that they put you in, but at the same time you wonder, “I don’t even know if they’re gonna hire me.”

And when you are the person looking at the resume when, when they look… Name: “Oh, this person has a name that I can’t pronounce. And this other person has more like a regular name” School: “This person went to this university, this person went to a university outside the country.” And all these other things. And sometimes there’s the bias about being a diversity hire, they fit that box. They may have way more work experience. They may have way more skills and education because they already feel the need to prove themselves than the other person.

Because there’s that bias, right? Like maybe name, maybe school, maybe where they work before. There’s that bias that because they have those things, they are going to be top talent.

Larry Baker: Exactly.

Ana Goehner: But it that really true? Why don’t you invite both people for an interview and then treat them the same during the entire hiring process? And then at the end you figured out which person actually has what it takes to perform the job.

So I feel like it’s important, again, talking about language. This is always important to think about the language, how you’re writing those job descriptions. Are you using words that automatically make people who identify as women not even apply, or you use some words and go on and on and on. You don’t use the word “fast-pace,” or you use like a couple words here and there.. I saw another job description that—it wasn’t even something that you were going to work with the public—but a job description said exceptional English skills. And then it went on and on and on. And this person is not gonna talk to anybody in this role, in this position. They’re just basically going to do work behind the scenes. Why there’s this emphasis so much about English skills? And there were multiple times in the job description.

So I felt like a person like me, with my mindset from the past, I would look at that and not even apply because it’s clearly saying I shouldn’t apply to this. And today I would still not apply because I know the signs, I know the language—my background’s in HR, so I know what to look for when I read the job description. Think twice if this is really where you wanna work, or if this job description really is something that you’re looking for. But I feel like for a lot of people, they see certain things and you know right there.

Sometimes even going through the interview process, right? Let’s say you applied even though you have all sorts of self-doubt within the inner critic and you just don’t feel confident, but you continue on. Let’s say you get to an interview and then they may ask questions… again, sometimes people don’t know better, but sometimes it’s just for a lack of training and preparation on how to deal with diverse candidates. They may ask questions that make you feel like you don’t have what it takes to do the job. Like “Why did you come here?” or something along those lines.

It’s important to have the proper training, and that to me starts with the way you’re going to phrase that job description. What kind of people are you trying to attract? And then work on your bias when it comes to like names that you can pronounce. Maybe the person works outside the country, maybe they speak different languages, maybe they had a gap, and all these different things. And then again, I don’t like to say give people a chance, but I wanna say try to follow that process in a way that doesn’t exclude people just because they don’t have similar backgrounds.

If I learned anything in my 15+ year career is that career paths, they’re not linear, especially with Gen Z, the new generation. I doubt they’re going to keep the same career path for 40+ years. You know what I mean? They’re going to try different things. Maybe what they study in college, they’re not going to work on that, and they’re gonna just always have their side gigs and things like that.

So I feel like sometimes you’re gonna have two candidates. They’re both qualified, but their backgrounds are different, and that doesn’t mean that they cannot perform the job. Follow that process in a way that give people ways to feel they can do the job, they can perform the job.

Larry Baker: Ana, you say a lot of those things in your statement that really relate to conversations that I try to have with leaders when they are struggling with this top talent and diverse hire. The first thing that I ask them to do is to be able to define what top talent behaviors look like, and the more that you can do that objectively, then it doesn’t matter what the candidate looks like that meets those behaviors that you define.

But it’s just like you said, we have to create these strategies to mitigate the bias that we’re going to have because you may say, “This person studied at a university outside of the country. I’m not familiar with that.” That’s a bias. People need to understand that. What you need to do is to say, “Does this individual need to demonstrate that they have obtained higher education? Okay, higher education obtained.” So again, you’re taking away the fact of your bias saying, “Well, this person’s probably going to be a diverse hire and they may not be the top talent.” No. Define what those top talent behaviors look like so that when you see it, it doesn’t matter what the candidate looks like because they have the behaviors.

So Ana, thank you so much for our time today and engaging us with this conversation around “you’re just a diversity hire.” What I’d like to do in some situations is give my guest an opportunity to tell us how we can get in contact with you, Ana, and maybe reach out to you via your Instagram or your Facebook or whatever social platforms you’re on. So I’m gonna give you a moment to just kinda give your own commercial about the services that you provide.

Ana Goehner: Sure. I have my website. It’s Ana Goehner, “a n a g o e h n e r.” I like to spell it because a lot of people don’t know how to write my last name especially. And I am very active on LinkedIn. You can find me there again under Ana Goehner. I started on Instagram and also on YouTube.

And my email is my first name, Reach out to me if you have any questions, and I would love to help further.

Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Ana. Thank you for your insight and, and your time on this conversation today. I really do feel like we have done a good job of breaking down that phrase “you are just a diversity hire.” So thank you so much and have a wonderful day.

Ana Goehner: Thank you. You too.

Larry Baker: Thank you all so much for joining us for another episode of Decoded. And to all of you who are listening, we want to know—what were your biggest takeaways from this conversation? What coded language do you want us to unpack next? Please share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn at Language and Culture Worldwide or LCW.

Until next time, I’m Larry Baker, and this has been Brave Conversations with LCW.


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