Diversity means nothing without power

by Carmen Van Kerckhove, originally published at CarmenVanKerckhove.com

I really enjoyed yesterday’s discussion panel, organized by Diversity Woman magazine. The panelists were spirited and passionate. We talked about everything from the role that women played in this election to the state of diversity in corporate America.

At one point, moderator Chiqui Cartagena asked me if I thought there was enough diversity in front of the cameras when it came to political pundits during this election season. I said that though there was a bit more diversity than in the past, ultimately, most of the faces we saw analyzing the news were still old white dudes.

But then my fellow panelist Paula Madison brought up an excellent point. She said that she was more concerned about diversity among the actual decision-makers who shape the news and hire the anchors, than with the diversity among those in front of the camera. She shared some of the abysmal statistics that demonstrated just how few people of color were in management positions in newsrooms and TV stations all around the country.

It reminded me of a friend of mine, who was one of many producers who worked on CNN’s recent series “Black in America.” She shared with me some of the difficulties she faced in trying to tell the authentic stories she wanted to tell, and how she was met with resistance every step of the way.

It also reminded me of my interview with Don Lemon on CNN about Jesse Jackson’s use of the n-word. Lemon asked me if I thought Jackson “got a pass” for using the word because he was black, and just kept pounding away at the rather remedial question. “Did he get a pass?? Did he get a pass??” It was pretty clear to me that this wasn’t a question that Lemon himself was interested in, but he probably felt pressured to ask it because that’s the way his managers were shaping the story.

Remember: Diversity means nothing without power. It’s all well and good to have people of color in the most publicly visible positions of your organization (news anchors, company spokespeople, etc.) but ultimately those people won’t be able to do the kind of work they want to do unless they are supported by management. And the less diverse the management is, the less in touch they’ll be with issues that concern people of color.