Was My Black Colleague Right to Skip Our Firm’s Recruitment Event?


I lead a department within a medium-size company, where we’ve had a lot of discussions about making our hiring practices more inclusive. Although we do well on the gender front, we are about 85 percent white. Our motives for pursuing more diversity are somewhat altruistic — we pay very well, so hiring minorities makes a small contribution to evening out the wealth gap — but also business-related, as our client base is becoming increasingly diverse, and a more diverse work force might help us to better meet their needs.

We work in a niche industry, and our company has little name recognition outside it; very few minorities apply for open positions. When we hire, we encourage current employees to reach out to their social, professional and alumni networks and spread the word. The trouble is that our mostly white employees have mostly white networks. So we’ve begun to recruit at colleges and universities that historically have more minorities, and also via minority-focused organizations and networks. I’m attending several recruitment events via these organizations and will speak with potential candidates and collect résumés. I usually am allowed to bring one or two other people. When I asked one of the Black women who work for me to come along, she declined. She complained that I’d be parading her around as proof that we have minorities at the company (which felt insulting to her) and that it was dishonest to imply to potential candidates that we have more Black employees than we do.

Should I ask other minority colleagues to join me? I don’t mean to misrepresent our company, yet showing a more diverse group of people at these events could help us increase diversity. When I was graduating from college as a female engineer 25 years ago, many employers were represented only by men, and it was hard for me to see where a young woman fit in. The companies that sent female representatives instantly felt more welcoming to me. I was not surprised to learn that most of the companies were majority male. And though I didn’t make job decisions based simply on who was sent to recruit new hires, first impressions do count, and I’m sure they influenced my decisions about where to apply. Name Withheld

Your own experience as a job candidate is telling. Seeing a female engineer at the recruitment event didn’t mislead you about the makeup of the company. It did suggest that the company was making an effort — that there was thought given to the concerns a female prospect might have had about being a woman in a male-dominated profession. That’s why I don’t accept the imputation of dishonesty. In the course of conversation with a potential candidate of color, you and your colleague could say that you have fewer minority employees than you’d like and that the company wants to do something about that. You don’t want to give people the impression that their contribution to racial diversity is all you care about, of course. Yet many Black job prospects will find it helpful to have someone of their racial identity who’s able to discuss what it’s like at the workplace.

Maybe she felt that the onus of diversifying the work force shouldn’t be borne especially by Black employees.

Does that make your Black colleague, with her resistance to your diversity-promoting efforts, part of the problem? Let’s see what else might be going on here. Maybe she felt that the onus of diversifying the work force shouldn’t be borne especially by Black employees. Maybe she has already been asked, as a member of an underrepresented group, to do a bunch of things that place extra burdens on her. Or maybe she would like to have been consulted on ways of diversifying the work force rather than being pulled into an initiative that she had no part in designing.

I can’t say whether any of this is right. But these sorts of thoughts arise from the fact that in a racially divided society, workplace conversations about how to reduce disparities can be sensitive. How do I know? I’ve often been the only nonwhite person in a philosophy department, and that has meant being asked to participate in activities aimed at helping diversify a rather white profession. So such thoughts have occasionally crossed my mind. But like you, I think that the goal here is a worthwhile one, and I share your instinct that your recruiting efforts might be helped by making Black employees visible. Despite this one rebuff, you should keep trying.

Recently my husband and I booked a vacation with a high-end resort company to celebrate our wedding anniversary. As a Covid precaution, I purchased travel insurance from an outfit that partners with the resort. Two days before our trip, my father ruptured a quadriceps tendon and needed surgery. I was ready to cancel the trip, but my mother insisted that we take advantage of the vacation time and enlisted my brother to help take care of our father. At the airport, we learned that the resort had misspelled my first name on the ticket, and when you’re flying internationally, the name on the ticket has to match the name on the passport exactly. Neither the resort nor the airline was able to fix the error, and the vacation was laid to rest. Flying another day would be impossible due to Covid requirements. Then the resort, although responsible for the spelling error, informed us that our vacation was “nonrefundable” and suggested filing a claim with the insurance company. Because the insurance policy did not cover name misspellings but did cover medical emergencies, I filed the insurance claim using my father’s injury as the reason for the cancellation. I also filed a complaint with the credit-card company.

The credit-card company found in our favor, and a full refund was issued. Thereafter I called the trip-insurance company several times to report that the money had been refunded. Nonetheless, I just heard from them that they are going to issue the $5,000 refund (which essentially amounts to a second refund). Do I rip up the check? Should I cash the check and refund the credit-card company? Do I cash the check and donate the money to charity? Or do I laugh my head off on the way to the bank? Although my family is financially comfortable, we’re about to put three kids through college, and the additional funds would come in handy. Name Withheld, Connecticut

It’s worth underlining that when you filed the insurance claim, you gave a false explanation of why your vacation was canceled. That was an ethical lapse. And defrauding insurance companies raises the cost of insurance for everyone. The F.B.I. estimates that there’s more than $40 billion in non-health insurance fraud each year, and that it costs the average family somewhere from $400 to $700 annually in the form of increased premiums. We all should do our share to control the costs of insurance. You didn’t. In this respect, you’ve let down everyone who uses travel insurance of this kind.

At this point, though, those harms have both happened. You’ve apparently told the credit-card folks about discovering the misspelled name on the ticket at the airport, while telling the insurance company that, owing to a family medical situation, you weren’t able to go to the airport. I’m guessing that you will be disinclined to let the insurance company know that you deceived it. And the bank that issued your credit card will almost certainly have collected a chargeback from the resort, so it is not in need of reimbursement. (I suppose you could prompt a chargeback reversal, but in that case the money would go to the resort.)

Simply putting the money into your kids’ college fund account, meanwhile, would amount to failing to acknowledge to yourself — in the forum of your own conscience — that you did something wrong. But not cashing the check is a bad idea, too. Corporations are generally required to turn over uncashed checks to the state as unclaimed property. The trip-insurance company will have wasted time and resources trying to deal with the situation, and most likely someone in the State Treasurer’s office will have had to receive and file the report. You’ll have made things worse. Unless you’re willing to come clean with the insurer, then, I recommend cashing the check and giving the money to a good cause.


Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to [email protected]; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)

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