hands holding different colored wheels and cogs

“I don’t see color when I look at people.” You have probably heard this many times. Perhaps you’ve even said this yourself. Taking a step back, this statement begs the question, “Why does a person feel the need to be colorblind to racial diversity?” If unacknowledged diversity feels noble or unbiased, should that be challenged? Does a company tout colorblindness because leaders haven’t considered that racial acknowledgement does not have to carry the implication of bias? These are difficult questions but leaving them unanswered can allow diversity barriers to loom within your organization.

The Problem with Colorblindness

Colorblindness is an approach to race relations that, on the surface, seems to reflect pro-diversity attitudes. But despite its intentions, national thought leaders on fighting discrimination and promoting diversity suggest that a colorblind racial ideology is problematic. Rather than boosting equity, colorblindness may minimize the goodness in diversity and promote a sameness that further strips or devalues the identity of historically marginalized races and ethnicities. Although a colorblind racial ideology is intended to avoid discrimination, the result can be cultural insensitivity and even avoidance of the lived realities of members of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

The Value of Color-Consciousness

Where is the place for seeing, honoring, and respecting racial diversity in business? The ideology of color-consciousness, also known as race consciousness, is the ability to be respectfully cognizant of race, racial structures, race-based trauma, and racial effects. Race consciousness steps away from the all-or-nothing polarity of prejudicial race responses (intentional racism) vs. racial non-responsiveness (unintentional racism).
Leaders with appropriate color-consciousness invite conversations about race and injustice to come from the background to the foreground of organizational thought. Race-conscious leaders actively support racial justice and racial equity as a central part of their work.

Missing the Mark

The potential harm when a leader or team member brings a colorblind racial ideology into their organization is notable. When one person engages with another person without acknowledging the realities of race and culture, an important dimension of the person’s story is dismissed and devalued. Advertising misses the mark. Community engagement misses the mark. Hiring and promotion miss the mark. Many areas miss the mark when our approach to employees, clients, and customers is homogenized rather than culturally informed.

remote worker on zoom call

Leadership Implications

Color-conscious leaders find no shame in another person’s ancestry, whether African, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, or another heritage. Colorblindness suggests that there is either something to be ignored, something we shouldn’t discuss, or a heritage that does not need to be recognized. When leaders avoid confronting historical racial issues and power differentials, they can easily blame the victim for the hardships they face. This may get rationalized with statements like, “Opportunities are available for everyone who works hard, regardless of race,” or “If other people have succeeded, anyone can!” Here, the fault is placed on the marginalized or racialized individuals whose intergenerational experience or access to resources may be very different.

How to Move from Colorblindness to Color-Consciousness in Your Organization

  1. Honor DIVERSITY by committing to “seeing” color without bias in racialized clients.
  2. Show your commitment to EQUITY by investing in organizational assessments, training, and culture coaching.
  3. Support INCLUSION by inviting appropriate, authentic race and culture conversations to come from the background to the foreground of your organizational culture.

That may sound like a lot. So, where do you start?

The CMOE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Essentials course is an engaging and reflective learning experience designed to level-set team members and leaders around the topic of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The course provides an opportunity to get people engaged in a conversation about this important topic and inspires people to make a difference. Participants learn how to overcome the obstacles to DEI, leverage differences and similarities, and treat others with respect. This course is ideal for organizations that want a

  • Comprehensive program that can be delivered to all levels of the organization (team members and leaders alike)
  • Set of simple first step to addressing DEI
  • Compliance-training solution that is relevant and current
  • Follow-up solution to listening sessions
  • Resource for new-employee orientation

Visit our store to access the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Essentials self-paced, digital course and begin your transformation into a thoughtfully and intentionally color-conscious organization.


LaVerne Hanes Collins, Ph.D.

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This post was submitted by a CMOE Guest Author. CMOE guest authors are carefully selected industry experts, researchers, writers, and editors with an extensive experience and a deep passion for leadership development, human capital performance, and other specialty areas. Each guest author is uniquely selected for the topic or skills areas that they are focused on. All posts are peer reviewed by CMOE.

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