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4 TED talks on diversity (and what they mean for HR)

4 TED talks on diversity (and what they mean for HR)

Education is the first step in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. And there’s no better way to learn, than hearing from those pushing the agenda forward. These are our 4 favorite TED talks on the topic of racial diversity.

Why it’s essential to learn about race

In both the US and the UK, Black History Month has created a dedicated platform for discussing, challenging, and changing the way Black stories are told in schools and wider society.

There’s no doubt that these movements become particularly poignant as the Black Lives Matter movement soars in energy and reach. After the unjust killing of several Black Americans — including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — the world is being reminded of the unforgivable inequalities many communities face.

And that having one month in each year simply doesn’t cut it for meaningful representation.

Understanding racial representation at work

While it’s important to discuss societal shortcomings, there’s one place we should all be looking to create change: in our own organizations. 

Promoting racial diversity in the workplace brings many benefits, including:

  • Granting everyone accesses to the same opportunities for success
  • Acting as a signpost for other minority groups — showing them that they too can achieve similar things
  • Supporting the moral position of equality and fairness in society
  • Encouraging increased financial performance for the business (as much as 35% above the industry mean, according to McKinsey) .

But acknowledging the myriad of benefits is one thing. And acting upon them is another.

With the systemic inequalities faced by black and minority individuals, it’s important that these communities are bolstered in as many ways as possible.

And it’s hiring managers and HR officers that have the opportunity to open doors to new talent. To maximize this opportunity, these workers need to: 

  • Be fully aware of the importance of workplace diversity 
  • Truly understand the cultural biases within their organizations
  • And be trained on ways to reset the balance. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of experts out there, speaking from personal experience about some of the ways that diversity and inclusion (D&I) can be embraced by every organization. And the TED network is a great place to find them…

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Diversity and inclusion, as explained by TED


Janet Stovall: How to get serious about diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Janet Stovall approaches corporate racism head-on, and shares some of her tried and true methods to help dismantle it. She champions the position that caring about D&I is just the first step in the right direction . The next (and most vital) move is in being “single-minded” about fighting for change — in whatever way your job title or position will allow.

Her three-part action plan — “Real problems, real numbers, real consequences” — lays out the roadmap to empower us all to do our part. 

🗯 “Imagine a place where the lessons we learn about diversity at work actually transform the things we do, think, and say outside of work […] That is what happens if we stop praying for change to happen and actually start moving our feet to make it. That is the power of single-mindedness.”

Janet Stovall


Vernā Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly towards them

As a Harvard-trained lawyer turned activist, Vernā Myers’s TED talk is a no-holds-barred look at how our unconscious biases can affect how we treat and approach the people we consider as “others”.

Drawing a direct comparison between the “humiliations”, “beatings”, and “burnings” of Black lives between 1915 and 1970 — as “six million black folks” fled the South of America for the comparative safety of the North — and Micheal Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Missouri, she says “Here it is again […] What are we going to do about it?” 

Her talk encourages us to challenge the “national psyche” and “collective history” of prejudice and racism, with clear calls to action:

  • Get out of denial, by accepting we all have defaults and biases
  • Move “towards” people we see as others
  • Have the courage to speak up against things we know are wrong — even when it’s hard.

The message for HR managers and recruiters? Creating change in your teams won’t be easy, but it’s a great place to start.


Clint Smith: The danger of silence

The insightful poet and educator, Clint Smith blends art and activism in his work. His bite-sized, but hard-hitting, TED talk highlights the power (and importance) of speaking up against injustice. 

He highlights the implicit strength of words, along with the towering weight of silence, as “residue of fear”. In doing so, Smith reminds us that we all have a duty to speak up, whether on the playground or in the boardroom. And to say out loud when we see something that isn’t right.

At work, this may show itself as obvious and apparent discrimination against certain demographics — discounting a woman for a promotion, because she’s expressed interest in starting a family, for example. Or it could be more hidden under the surface, in the things that aren’t said and done, as Clint Smith explains. How aware are you of what is and isn’t being said in your workplace?


Jedidah Isler: The untapped genius that could change science for the better

What can we learn about prejudice, and challenging the status quo, from astrophysics? Quite a lot, if you ask Jedidah Isler. 

“I’ve lived the entirety of my life in the in-between, in the liminal space between dreams and reality, race and gender, poverty and plenty, science and society”, Isler explains. As a young black girl, she dreamt of becoming an astrophysicist, but more than a few obstacles stood in her way (gender, finance, opportunity). Nevertheless, Isler pushed through, becoming the first black woman to earn a PhD in astrophysics from Yale; paving the way for other minority students to do the same.

Bringing us to the here and now, Isler reaffirms the value of diversity in the workplace — no matter how homogenous a space has historically been.

“Stars are born at the messy intersection of gas and dust, instigated by gravity’s irrevocable pull”, Isler informs the audience. Her message? That fusing previously separated elements together can create something truly amazing. And that’s certainly true when it comes to D&I in the workplace.

Watch this TED talk for a healthy dose of HR inspiration, when the hard work involved in Diversity and Inclusion initiatives risks dragging you down.

🗯 “Fusing previously separated elements together can create something truly amazing.

Jedidah Isler

From listening, to taking action

These TED talks on diversity are packed full of inspiring and incentivizing ideas for HR managers, recruiters, and employees alike. But you need to take what you’ve learned today, and educate other people, too.

Admit to what needs changing, then change it. 

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