You Have to Pick a Side

Andrew Wolk
Jul 13, 2020

As part of my continuing journey of allyship, I am reading Ibram X. Kendi’s book How To Be An Antiracist. While Kendi’s premise is so simple, what he asks us to do is, admittedly, difficult—because a “racist” is defined as “supporting a racist policy through actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” That means an antiracist is “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”

Three words keep coming up for me on my journey: silence, complacency, avoidance.

That’s why the second part of my conversation on the Finding Common Purpose podcast with David Delmar Senties, “You’re Either with Me or Against Me,” is so relevant. As David puts it, there is no neutrality when it comes to systemic racism in the workplace. You have to pick a side.

As a reminder, David leads Resilient Coders, a coding bootcamp for young people of color that, like other training programs across the country, helps high school graduates access well-paying jobs in the (still) white-dominated tech industry. I wrote about David as part of a series of blogs exploring the part of the Pathway to Lifelong Success from high school, to post-secondary education, to a good paying job. In this episode, David provides insights for companies with the best hiring intentions and challenges them to push beyond PR-driven “diversity initiatives.” Instead, he advocates that they must fundamentally question practices that prevent so many people of color from getting a foot in the door—such as requiring a college degree for jobs.

A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) questions the underlying assumption that workers without four-year degrees are “low-skilled.” The researchers found 60 percent of the active U.S. workforce are “STARs”—skilled through alternative routes—with only a high-school diploma, no four-year degree. They found 16 million STARs with the skills for high-wage work, which they defined as more than twice the national median earnings. But 11 million of them, almost 70 percent, are employed in low- or middle-wage work—a “market failure” that means U.S. companies are systematically overlooking talent. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed (which you can read online if you have a subscription), the same researchers made a number of recommendations, including: “Hire for skills and work experience, not degrees. Rather than using the degree requirement as a default, employers should examine the skills that their jobs require and then use skill requirements for job postings, screenings and assessments.”

In the podcast, David shares stories of working with employers that provide first-hand evidence of how this can be done and what highly trained high school graduates can do.

This episode continues my conversation with David that began in Taking the Protests to the Office. You should listen. Employers ought to, as well.