Black diversity official lost job offer after reporting racial prejudice



Joseph B. Hill was four days away from his new role as vice president, responsible for equity, diversity and inclusion at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, when he received an email that said changed the trajectory of his career.

The two-sentence memo from Memorial Hermann’s vice president of human resources, Lori Knowles, which was obtained by NBC News, read: “We regret to inform you that we are canceling the job posting dated the 21st. July 2021.… We appreciate your interest in the position and wish you every success for the future.

“It was a shock to say the least,” Hill said. “I was devastated.”

He said he was even more stunned when his attorney, Mark Oberti of Houston, learned over the phone two weeks later the reasons Memorial Hermann invalidated his offer: that Hill “was not a good candidate.” although he had more than a dozen interviews. more than six weeks before he was offered the job. Hill said Oberti was also told by the firm’s attorney that he was uncomfortable with Hill asking to hire staff to build his team; that Hill wanted a larger relocation budget; that he leased and charged the company for a luxury car; and that “I am too sensitive to race issues”.

“The reasons they listed were just as shocking as the offer’s cancellation,” Hill said.

He felt this because, he said, much of what Memorial Hermann indicated was “false and absurd,” but also because “they didn’t even contact me to discuss their selves. – saying problems “.

Memorial Hermann executives declined to comment but released a statement that said, among other things: We are recruiting a Chief EDI Officer. Through a lawyer, the hospital system also said that “no one acting on Memorial Hermann’s behalf has ever criticized Mr. Hill for being ‘too sensitive to race issues’.”

Hill’s case highlights concerns expressed by some senior Black DEI agents about employers’ overall commitment to internal change. After the social justice movement following the murder of George Floyd, many business leaders announced their intention to address the imbalance of diversity in the workforce by hiring DCI staff.

However, the commitment to do so was not kept at the managerial level, according to a report examining diversity in 2,868 U.S. workplaces. The report says the percentage of black directors at DCI has barely increased: from 11.3% in 2020 and 11.5% for 2021.

More worrying for specialists in the diversity space is that the efforts are not sincere and that hiring practices are “misguided”, they say.

Chris Metzler.Evenlyn Montes

Chris Metzler, former associate dean for human resources and diversity studies at Georgetown University, created DEI certification programs at Cornell University and Georgetown, which many professionals in the discipline consider to be the gold standard. Despite all efforts to make organizations diverse and comfortable for all employees, Metzler called much of it “dishonesty.”

“Many organizations are not interested in real change,” said Metzler, president and CEO of FHW and Associates, a global consulting firm. “They see diversity as a numbers game. Many executives ask me privately, “How many blacks do I have?

“So what they basically want to do is bring in people who look like them, but not necessarily people who think differently from them. They want them to look different, but just say, ‘Yeah, agree “to the issues that need to be resolved.”

Kevin Clayton, vice president of diversity, inclusion and community engagement for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has worked in the DCI arena for over 30 years. Clayton said he appreciated, after Floyd’s murder, that businesses recognized the need to “look inside their homes.”

“But companies started taking people out of other jobs – marketing, sales, or operations – and because they were a person of color it was like, ‘Hey, you’re the D&I officer’,” he said. Clayton said. “So they put people in these positions with no DCI experience and call them diversity officers. And they don’t give them any resources. And it’s almost like, ‘OK. We have one. Let’s check this box. ‘”

Kevin Clayton.James adams

Hill was not a tick candidate. He has been responsible for diversity for over 20 years, including at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. He expected Houston to be his next stop after running his DCI consulting firm, JBrady5, for the past two years. The fact that the opportunity has been seized, the DCI specialists said, points to many problems.

“This is a case study of an organization needing what Joseph Hill would have provided them, but not accepting it,” said Fred Hobby, when asked about Hill. Hobby is a retired DCI professional who served for a decade as President of the Institute for Diversity and Health at the American Hospital Association. Hobby has known Hill for many years; Hill shared his story with Hobby.

Fred Hobby.Courtesy of Fred Hobby

Hill said her problems started when she visited to find a new home in August. The real estate agent hired by the company, a white man, shared “unconscious racial biases” with Hill, he said, as pointing to a black-owned clothing store, saying: “One of those stores out there owned by a rapper; I don’t know these guys.

Hill said he felt offended when the officer identified a public golf course as “a place where you would play”, implying that Hill could not play at a private club.

Another day, when Hill arrived to begin a house search in a Porsche SUV, Hill recalled the agent saying, “That’s a nice rental car you have over there.” Hill did not respond. Rather, he shared the “micro-aggressions” – slights that communicate negative attitudes towards marginalized people – with Knowles, vice president of human resources at Memorial Hermann.

“I felt compelled to do it because he pointedly represented the company I worked for,” Hill said. “It was the epitome of the job I was hired to do.”

He voiced his concerns to Knowles and summarized them in a subsequent email, obtained by NBC News, writing: “The experience crystallizes why the role of leader of action reorientation and inclusion is important. for Memorial Hermann. Today, many companies are faced with unintentional or intentional micro-attacks that alienate employees. Memorial Hermann has the opportunity to truly leverage equity, diversity and inclusion to engage the workforce, improve the brand, and increase positive patient outcomes. “

Hill said he didn’t think about it after receiving an email Aug. 26 from Knowles saying she was “sorry that the experience… Was not what we strive to provide during the integration experience.

Hill returned to Atlanta excited to move to Houston for his new job. Then the fateful email arrived.

He said he was disappointed Memorial Hermann did not attempt to voice his concerns before canceling the offer. If there had been a conversation he said they would have learned, for example, that the Porsche SUV recognized by the real estate agent and which the company cited as the reason for canceling the offer was Hill’s car. – not a rental. Further, “any comments or questions I have submitted have been made in good faith, with the best intentions for Memorial Hermann,” said Hill.

He said he had not complained about the relocation budget and that his investigation into the potential hiring of staff was “not prohibited” but a common request among executives starting at a new company.

As for Hill being “too sensitive to race issues,” Metzler said, referring to points Hill made about the agent’s micro-attacks: “When your new head of diversity tells you he it is about problems and your answer is that it is ‘too sensitive to problems’ … how far can you go? His job is to come and report these problems.

“Plus, for a job like this, he spent a lot of time in this research and interview process. By offering him the job, you determined that he was a good fit. They are dishonest. It’s just ridiculous, but these are the things companies keep doing.

Hill is exploring legal options. “Because he’s taller than me,” he said. “It’s about doing the right thing, and the right thing in this case is also to hope that other companies take this DCI position seriously to make substantive changes and not just as a vacancy for the company. love of appearances. It does not solve the longstanding problems of a lack of diversity or of creating a safe and comfortable workspace for all employees.

Memorial Hermann’s statement also said, “Sometimes during the hiring or onboarding process circumstances may change which can result in the cancellation of a job offer. Out of respect for all involved, Memorial Hermann’s practice is not to publicly discuss personnel matters.

“Memorial Hermann remains committed to its EDI journey, notably by hiring an EDI director. With this person at the helm, Memorial Hermann will continue to be the premier employer and healthcare provider of choice for all and make real changes that will improve the health of our communities.

Metzler wrote an article criticizing DCI corporate initiatives in 2013. He also wrote the article “10 Reasons Why Diversity Efforts Fail”.

“That was eight years ago, and very little has changed,” he said, “even with all these companies that said last year, ‘We’re 100% in diversity” . And one of the main reasons that hasn’t changed is cases like this, where an experienced diversity manager gives you exceptional information to help your organization, and all of a sudden, he doesn’t. is “more suitable”. Until the commitment is real to make changes, nothing will change. And at the moment, the commitment is not genuine.

Hill’s case underscores the urgency for businesses to take inclusion efforts seriously, Hobby said.

“Those who recruit forgot that DCI officers are hired to be a conscience, a guide, a mentor for the organization, to help it move from a less inclusive organization to an inclusive one,” Hobby said. . “Now they’ve engaged in more of the facades as a means of socially following the Joneses, more than focusing on providing, in the cases of hospitals, better health care to minority patients and better health. working environment for minority employees. “

CLARIFICATION (November 2, 2021, 3:10 p.m. ET): This article has been updated to clarify attribution of Hill’s account of why the job posting was revoked, which was described to NBC News by Hill. It also now includes a statement provided by a hospital lawyer after the article was originally published.

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