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Due to the fact that I have several disabilities (autism, hearing impairment, Learning disability, stroke survivor with long term effects), I have been asked to join a diversity team, focusing on disabilities. A diversity team focuses on DEI, which stands for "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion", and moving forward to achieve these goals. The strategy is to identify reaching diversity goals, bringing in and empowering employees, and finding ways to mitigate any obstacles.

I am very competent, and am an exemplary employee despite the disabilities. I grew up in a time where we simply just didn't talk about it. So, I am struggling with this, as it seems strange to me.

What would be the benefits of joining a diversity team, and what are the possible pitfalls could I face for joining this team?

PS, maybe an old dog can learn new tricks after all.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Nov 12 '21 at 12:35
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    Does the team have any real power ? Can you actually do anything or is it just a team to make the company image look good (or comply with a law) ? This has potential to be very frustrating for you. Make sure you know where the team stands in terms of authority and that you're comfortable with that.
    – StephenG
    Nov 14 '21 at 0:49
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    @StephenG The company really listens, and acts. This is not an American company. I 've been with the company for five years now, so I've watched and observed their actions. They say what they mean, and mean what they say. I've been burned by an employer before, so I tend to err on the side of cynicism. The company seems very sincere about this. Nov 14 '21 at 13:36
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    It isn't clear what the diversity team is. What does it do and what is its role? What will be your job role? What will you do? What are some common job tasks? Where is the team in the org chart? Who does it report to? What (formal) power does it have? Can you add some context to the question? (But without "Edit:", "Update:", or similar - the question should appear as if it was written right now). Nov 15 '21 at 0:04
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Over the last three decades I have been on all kinds of committees and advisory boards and whatnot, for employers, clients, and just companies I have a relationship with. There are basically just two advantages and two disadvantages:

  • You might actually make the world a better place. You have background and experience to suggest small changes (eg power door openers even on doors reached by stairs, changing words in job ads) that will enable many people to contribute to the company who couldn't before. You can show that disabled people aren't victims and don't need pity or help, but to be seen as valuable contributors.
  • You will meet and become known to people across the company and see the decision making process in action. You have an opportunity to learn a lot about your company and industry.

but

  • The time it takes is often not considered working time. As a woman doing a PhD in Engineering, I found that all the engineering committees wanted me (we need more women!) and all the university-wide women's committees wanted me (we need more engineers!). Make sure whoever reviews you knows some of your work time is going to this initiative, which is important to the company.
  • People who don't know much about lives different from their own, and who are unaware that they are "playing on easy mode" may grumble and whine that such a committee even exists, or that you should get any benefit whatsoever from providing your hard-won expertise to it.

There is an important thing to watch out for: you may find this committee is a paper exercise that will never change anything. If it doesn't have budget or authority (even the ear of power will work), it's just a venting session amongst yourselves. Be prepared to leave if you discover that your group is not in fact going to make the world a better place no matter how much uncompensated time you put into it.

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Diversity teams are rapidly becoming a common response by companies that are realizing that their culture is affected negatively by not being intentional about cultivating the simplest of processes to be inclusive in some manner to all individuals.

Diversity teams are not about making sure that everyone gets their way, they're about making sure that as a culture every person has a voice in the conversation. Decisions are frequently made by the people present in the conversation, and those decisions are typically a function of their own personal experience.

I can't speak to how a diversity team will be implemented at your company, and the fact that they're taking it seriously should be taken as a sign of progress. While you've adjusted to the challenges in your life, and you don't consider them to be such a big deal, there are a lot of people who have NOT adjusted to similar challenges. This puts you in a unique position to inform the discussions and decisions being made by adding your experience to the mix.

It's not about you making decisions for people or telling people how they're wrong, it's about adding your understanding to the conversation. Many decisions that end up being short-sighted are really just a lack of experience and consideration. By adding a different perspective intentionally, you'll be able to influence how people who don't face those challenges address the various situations presented to them.

The problems/dangers that I see in membership to a diversity team is that it is too easy for you to become a banner bearer for a particular subsection of a diversity initiative. You can very easily be labeled "the disabled vote" or something similarly pejorative. The point of a diversity team is to refute those attitudes, so I would hope responsible membership in such a team would eventually remove that from an organization.

I would encourage anyone offered an opportunity to join a diversity team, regardless of reason, to take advantage of that. Step up and be heard. Once you're in the team, if it doesn't match your expectations or act according to the values you think it should, gracefully step aside then.

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    I agree with this answer but one thing to consider is the work hours required and the impact it will have. If you dedicate some time to this group will your other task suffer from it? Will the group be compensated somehow if they do this on top of their responsibilities or not? (Less work to work on this group or more pay, or WFH more frequently or ...)
    – llrs
    Nov 12 '21 at 9:55
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    Seconding @llrs — a big drawback with “diversity teams” is that they can become an extra under-valued work+time commitment, falling disproportionately on the very people they’re supposed to be helping. Done thoughtfully they don’t necessarily become this — but it’s a very legitimate reservation that some people may have about joining such teams.
    – PLL
    Nov 12 '21 at 10:06
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    @llrs: The thing you're missing is that these are entirely on a volunteer basis. The idea here is that this is not something company is compensating anyone on for a number of reasons. The first of those reasons is so as not to influence the discussions. Everyone participating is presumably doing so out of a sense of moral responsibility and any actions or behaviors are expected not to interfere with existing duties. It is entirely extra-curricular. Nov 12 '21 at 14:50
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    @PLL My instinct says this would be at most a sparsely-attended monthly meeting and a Slack channel which quickly drops to no traffic (and one message 8 months from now: "do you guys still exist? We're 90% through a decision when we remembered we have a diversity team that maybe should be consulted") Nov 12 '21 at 14:58
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    @JoelEtherton I am familiar with these kind of activities on open source which are done for free as you say, but this is a company requesting work from employees even if they can volunteer to join or not this work should be compensated. Even if they want it to do so outside normal work hours it will have a cost for the OP: going back home later, spending less time with friends and family... anyone taking these kind of "volunteer" duties must balance that too.
    – llrs
    Nov 12 '21 at 15:06
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From your comments you have the experience, the will, and the maturity to focus on practical solutions and applications. So regardless of the teams goals someone like you is a huge asset. Theory is great but does not approach actual solutions coming from experience.

The pros and cons of joining a volunteer team are mostly the same except in terms of solutions.

Networking - (it's an extra chance to impress or upset people). It's not unknown for volunteers especially idealists to butt heads and leave a sour taste all around.

Time - it can take over both the designated time and if you get deeply involved a lot of extra time mulling through issues.

Emotional involvement - this can go both ways. You can end up extremely happy to have achieved something or very frustrated.

The overriding factor and the definite pro to it all is that unless you're in the team you cannot substantially influence the outcomes. So if it matters to you then joining is the best way to make an actual difference.

If the outcomes do not matter to you very much, then it's just socialising over a topic. But with more potential for conflict than the local book club.

The last thing to look at is what actual influence will the group have. We have plenty of teams in my country on different things, I usually avoid them all unless I'm paid to sit around, because having led some I know that in fact they're just for the sake of looks. The actual outcomes are whatever was decided beforehand. Mileage on this may vary. But the surest way I have seen to make sure it's an actual team that can effect change is if the decision makers are part of it which is rare.

So for instance I have influenced major changes to company protocols in one meeting with a finance controller. The fact that they created a team to discuss the issue made zero difference except possibly making them feel like they contributed.

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    I guess it is also useful as virtue signaling. If you ever want to switch job and you want the new job to be a place where diversity teams are seen as a necessary and good thing, having participation in one on your CV would be beneficial. Nov 12 '21 at 8:34
  • @StianYttervik I plan to retire where I am. Nov 12 '21 at 12:48
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This depends a lot on the company and the actual business of the work getting done. As you've noted in the comments, "Diversity and Inclusion" initiatives very commonly and often devolve into people who don't know their asses from a hole in the ground white-knighting on behalf of people who really don't need "allies", and/or into bureaucratic nonsense of people who do actually know things but do not have authority suggesting things to people who know nothing but have authority and being shrugged off because the people who have authority think they also have wisdom but don't in fact know anything. Which is all to say, it's very possible, as in many other examples (many of which you've noted in the comments that you've seen in other posts/questions here), that this is all a farce and you're being included as "the token disabled guy" just to waste your time.

Of course, it could also be the case that your company is actually serious, and will seriously consider the suggestions and recommendations of this team and actually make efforts to do what this team suggests. Another pitfall that might happen is, for example, this team talks about some pie-in-the-sky multi-billion-dollar solution to some problem, and when you go to the execs for funding, they're like "oh, here's a tenner, do what you can" (I'm exaggerating, but you get the point). From the perspective of the DEI team, you have to make sure that you're actually being realistic with what you suggest to management, and don't waste your time with fancy pie-in-the-sky ideas that will never get funded. Not that you have control over what the DEI team says or does, but this is something to be aware of, and if it seems like the general vibe of the team is in this direction, you may want to excuse yourself. Conversely, you also want to make sure management is serious; if you propose a reasonable solution with reasonable budget and management declines it out of hand, then you may also take that as an indication that management put this team together as a farce and it's a waste of your time, and you can excuse yourself for that reason as well.

Since you're on this site and active and have a high rep, I'm presuming you're a pretty smart guy. Which means you're going to put forward real, actionable, good solutions for people with your disability. That said, be careful that you don't get shouted down; if your reasonable voice gets shouted down by unreasonable voices (those "white knights" or "pie-in-the-sky ideas" mentioned above), you may also find this effort to be futile and excuse yourself.

The above has mostly focused on the pitfalls of such an endeavour, mostly because that's where the problems lie. Of course, it's entirely possible that your company is the company that actually does these sorts of things the right way and you can actually make a positive impact. I'm not trying to say that DEI teams are bad and you shouldn't do it; what I am saying is to be careful and make sure that your time isn't being wasted on efforts that management really couldn't care less about, and also to make sure that the company's money isn't being wasted on efforts that don't actually matter but make a bunch of white knights "feel good". Basically, you should go in, try it out, see what this team has to say, and if you feel like it's good then go for it, and if you feel like it's a waste of your time then politely decline.

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  • The OP can also consider having his time wasted if it moves his career forward. The whole thing can very easily be a waste of time but because the OP did he is now branded as a team player. Something which could lead to benefit at a later time
    – Neil Meyer
    Nov 14 '21 at 13:17
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Tricky. Some diversity teams are wonderful opportunities to create meaningful change and personal growths, many are just token debate clubs and there are some outright train wrecks out there as well

What would be the benefits of joining a diversity team, and what are the possible pitfalls could I face for joining this team?

That depends entirely on the setup and the team. However, you can evaluate this like you would any other project or career opportunity. Things to research:

  1. Why does the company want a diversity team? Are they truly interested in learning and change, are they just doing it to look "cool and modern" or are they trying to corral the misfits?
  2. Does the team have a mission, vision or charter? What's the goal? How do they define success and what are the success metrics? It's okay if management says "that's the first thing we want the team to figure out". This type of "defining" work can be a lot of fun but you need the right people and enough leeway for it.
  3. Team leadership: Is there a single person in charge and is this their full time job? Does that person have credibility in the C-suite? Is there a C-suite sponsor and do you trust/respect that sponsor?
  4. Team Structure Who else is on the team? Do you like/respect these other people and feel excited about working with them? What is their motivation to join?
  5. Team authority: What decision authority does the team has? Is there a place at the table for hiring, promotion and/or re-org decisions? What's the budget? Where is it coming from and who decides how to spend it ?
  6. Work accommodation: How much time are you expected to spend on this? How will this affect your day time job? Will be there extra pay or some formal reduction in other duties?
  7. Conflict management: How will conflicts inside the team and between the team and the org be managed? If this all goes sideways: what is your exit strategy?

I would not be shy about asking this: A good team and/or leadership will embrace these questions and happily engage since these issues are vital for any type of success.

Red flags to look out for

  1. Overly political or zealous team members. This requires a lot of listening, diplomacy and organizational awareness, not a crusade.
  2. Obvious disinterest and lack of commitment from the leadership. This means they just want a check box checked but are not interested in change or results.
  3. Disorganized team: no agreed upon leadership and decision making model
  4. Lack of buy in from you direct manager: You still have a day time job. Your manager might say "sure, we make time for this", but it rarely works out this way since no one gives your manager any slack either. Not necessarily a show stopper but you need to be aware that this will result in extra work for you.

This can be a great opportunity: If you can check of half of the boxes above and there are no obvious red flags, I would go for it. Good luck!

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No, unless:

  • you are very good at communication with people, including people of different race or culture than yourself.

  • you have multiple friendships with people of other races, sexual orientations, etc, and can talk about issues of race and gender comfortably without offending anyone.

  • you are calm, not easily offended, and will not become angry if someone angrily attacks you personally.

Talking about diversity issues with DEI people is a minefield where the wrong words, even words that were ok last year, can be disastrous. You could lose your job.

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    Someone with bad hearing will understand the problems of others with bad hearing, bad eyesight, possibly mobility issues. There’s no reason at all why this person should have friendships with people of other races or sexual orientations for this role. I bet they have others better suited for that. Diverse is more diverse than you seem to think.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 14 '21 at 17:12
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I also have one of the conditions you mention. I personally decided not too long ago that I'm not going to mention it to anyone I work with. Because really what business is it of any colleagues of mine? I want to be employed on the basis of my skills and the fact that together with an employer we can make real good money.

I want to employed based on some sort of quality that a potential employers may see that makes them think I'm a person they can work with. This may be something tangible or not but I want to be judged solely on the quality of my work and the economic results of my work, not some quality the genetic lottery has given me by pure happenstance.

I'm not a performaning monkey that my employer can take out of the closet whenever he feels the need to prove to some leftist how enlightened he is. I do a job as web developer that brings a certain income into the business and for that I expected to rewarded accordingly. That is as far as our working relationship has to go.

I don't want to hear about anyone's fishing holiday to Cancun. I'm not buying into a lifestyle or a work experience. You put me in front of a computer with internet and copious amounts of strong black coffee and let me do a job for you that can potentially make the company loads of money.

My personal experiences or emotional problem is not something I would ever let my work suffer for. So as long as it does not effect my work stay out of my business. This just seems like a gross violation of workplace boundaries. If any employer would ever discuss any disability of mine then that would spell the end of it for me. That is a massive show of disrespect.

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