Would you Accept a Job on the Basis that you were Filling a Company’s POC Quota?

“You would be a great addition to the team,” says the interviewer as you wrap up your interview for a  job you’ve been pining for since you graduated. With a large smile on your face and a skip in your step,  you leave the conference room, completely oblivious to the general office environment around you  until, you hear a little whisper, “she’s the new ‘diversity’ hire.”  

What does it mean to be a part of a company’s affirmative action plan? Affirmative action refers to a  set of policies and practices within a government or organisation seeking to increase the representation  of particular groups based on their gender, race, sexuality, creed or nationality in areas in which they  are underrepresented such as education and employment. Ideally, this sounds glorious, when you  consider lack of inclusivity and explicit discrimination of minorities groups in history. In today’s world,  support for affirmative action has sought to achieve goals such as bridging inequalities in employment  and pay, increasing access to education, promoting diversity, and redressing apparent past wrongs,  harms, or hindrances.  

But here’s the catch… is there genuine sincerity in “affirmative action”, and how does this leave POC  feeling about entering the working world? A couple weeks back, my close friend and digital creator,  @thebrowngirlrecommends, posed a question to her followers after listening to ‘the receipts podcast’:  “Would you, as a POC, accept a job that you got purely for the colour of your skin i.e. to increase  ‘diversity’ in the company?” I was immediately taken aback by this question. My response at the time  was that, I did not actually have an answer nor any opinion, for that matter. This is when I took it upon  myself to find out how students and soon to be graduates, felt about the, rather metaphysical question, 

and topic in general. 

The first group of people I addressed, was the University of Leeds ArcSoc (@uolArcSoc on Instagram  and Twitter) – as a member of a rather diverse committee of level 3 architecture students, I thought they  would be the perfect people to gather opinions from.  

Our committee consists of five POC out of six members, and from these five, three are female. The  responses and discussion to the posed question varied largely. ArcSoc president and Malaysian local,  Vinesh Ravindran’s first response was that “The job would feel a bit cheapened, if I got it purely  because of my skin colour, as I’d like to think I got it based on my engineering skills. However, if it  helps to get my foot in the door, I wouldn’t particularly mind.” Let’s unpack, what Vinesh has said, is  that it’s almost ‘insulting’ knowing that you got a job based purely on your racial demarcation instead  of your actual potential as an applicant– however, he mentions that “if it helps to get my foot in the  door, I wouldn’t mind,” this is the reality of every graduate or anyone looking for a job. The  “desperation” (for lack of better words) often leads us to do, and agree to things we wouldn’t normally  agree to – and in this case, maybe a loss of pride? I’m playing devils advocate here, it’s up to you to  make the final consensus about the ‘big question’.  

ArcSoc industry secretary, DJ, and all round ‘wonder woman’, Tanya Sanadze, posed a further question,  “Are they doing it because they are actively trying to make positive changes in the industry?” Her  question goes back to affirmative action, and addresses the grey area of how would you know if you  were given a job based on an organisations affirmative action plan? After a little discussion, Tanya  added, that “Would accepting the role have the added pressure of feeling like you need to prove your  worth and that you deserve to be there?” in agreement, Vinesh responded, “This is a big one, what if  I’m the sole representative of melanin at the company, would I need to prove them right for hiring me?  And, if I am a bad employee, will they use me as a reason not to hire other POCs?” These points play  on the decades of internalized mental degradation of POC and minority groups of people, and the  constant need to prove your worth for not being, an able white male? 

Being a South African, female POC, I’ve spent many years grappling with discrimination and how it is  addressed. However, there is always the differing opinion. In South Africa, because of apartheid a quota  system was put in place post democracy. This is called BEE – black economic empowerment and  attempts to advance economic transformation and enhance the economic participation of Black people  (African, Mixed-Raced, and Indian people who are South African citizens) in the South  African economy. The problem with BEE is that in its efforts to increase employment of POC in  business and in general (university acceptances included), the focus falls on meeting quotas rather than  considering skills, which in turn means that someone who is a POC is more likely to get a job purely to  fill the quota, which begs the question again, is affirmative action completely sincere and genuine?  

This is why there are a large group of people who have an aversion to affirmative action – hiring  someone for the sake of it. But, in theory, if we look at it, affirmative action wouldn’t even be necessary  if we rectified the racist structures in society.  

To “answer” the question – in my opinion – it’s bittersweet really. You would have to compromise your  sense of self at the end of the day to secure your wellbeing. If I were to accept said job, do I contribute  towards glorifying a performative strategy? Will I be respected and dignified within the workplace or  will my value only be recognized when it pertains solely towards the embodiment of the token? We  also look at it from the perspective that people would go out of their way to make it known that you  have no place in the company other than for fill that specific role or quota. This comes with the stigma  of ” you didn’t work hard to get here like the rest of us,” supervenes. The unfortunate reality is that it  leaves the ultimatum of negotiating our morals verses our well-being. This in itself is an unfair ask, and  basic violation of human dignity.  

I leave it up to you, to formulate your own response to the question. There is no right or wrong response,  it’s purely based on personal preference, these are just some points to consider whether you’re a person  of colour or not. 

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