JUNE 8, 2022

When It Feels Like Hazing

All organizations have blind spots. 

Some can be unwelcoming to People of Color without even knowing it. 

When new hires look around and don’t see people who look like them, they quickly realize that they have to fend for themselves. 

If you’re a White leader, you may not even be aware of this, because as a member of the “dominant culture,” you have a built-in, unspoken support system. 

When things get tough, you have people from your own culture to go to, ask for advice, and confide in. The unspoken norm is you can go to them.

It’s a privilege to be part of the “in-group.” 

I want you to be aware. 

Aware that as new hires, People of Color have to navigate all the onboarding policies and procedures, while learning about a new company, their job, and the people – just like you – but they also have to navigate the culture in ways you never had to think about.

To People of Color, this means things like having to code-switch or change their hair, voice, or wardrobe, to change who they are. It means feeling like a stranger in a strange land.

It also means wondering if they should risk speaking up if someone says something that they perceive as insensitive, offensive, or don’t agree with. It also means wondering if it’s safe to speak up if they simply have a difference of opinion.

Here’s an example. 

A young Black male graduated college and was hired by an education organization dominated by White females. As he tried to navigate what to him was a different culture, his 90-day review said that he “asks too many questions and needs to have his hand held.” 

His busy manager didn’t take the time to be supportive and told him, “Other people who came before you managed to figure it out!” 

Yes, other people “figured it out” because they had a visible and invisible support network.

To the young man, this felt like “hazing” – an action taken or situation created to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.

What Organizations Can Do 

If you’re a White leader, here are three things you can do to prevent people from feeling like they’re being hazed:

  1. Revisit your onboarding process beyond the first week. Partner with HR, supervising managers, and team members to make sure everyone understands the employee’s real needs and is committed to their success. (Remember equity, not equality, is our goal).
  2. For the first 90 days, managers should have regular check-ins with the new hire and an open-door policy. Employees should be able to go to the manager for additional coaching or training, especially during this time, to ensure they have what they need to be successful.
  3. Train managers to be managers. You can’t expect people to manage others without the tools and training. 

If you want help training conscientious and effective managers, check out our Leadership Academy, and if you want help building equitable onboarding processes, contact us