Joseph B. Hill had four days from taking up the new position of Vice President, Chief Officer for Capital, Diversity and Integration at the Hermann Health System Memorial in Houston when he received an email that changed the course of his career.
A two-sentence note from Memorial Hermann Vice President of Human Resources Lori Knowles, obtained by NBC News, read: “We are sorry to inform you that we are withdrawing our job offer dated July 21, 2021. … We appreciate your interest in the position and I wish you much success in the future. ”
“It was a shock to say the least,” Hill said. “I was desperate.”
He was further stunned when his attorney, Mark Oberti of Houston, was told by phone two weeks later why Memorial Hermann had canceled his offer: that Hill was “not fit,” even though he had conducted more than a dozen interviews in the six weeks before offered him a job. The company’s attorney also told Oberti that he was embarrassed that Hill had asked about hiring staff to form his team; that Hill wanted a bigger budget to relocate; that he rented and charged the company for a luxury car; and that he was generally “too sensitive to racial issues.”
“The reasons they cited were just as shocking as the cancellation of the offer,” Hill said.
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He felt this way because, as he said, much of what Memorial Hermann stated was “false and nonsensical,” but also because “they didn’t even get in touch with me to discuss their so-called issues.” .
Management at Memorial Hermann declined to comment, but issued a statement that read in part: “We continue to make great strides in strengthening equity, diversity and inclusion in our system, but we know there is always more that can be done – so we are hiring an EDI CEO . ”
Hill’s case focuses on the concerns expressed by some experienced Black DEI officials about employers ’overall commitment to internal change. Following the movement for social justice following the assassination of George Floyd, a number of business leaders announced plans to address the imbalance of diversity in the workforce by hiring DEI staff.
However, the promise to do so is unfulfilled at the director level, says a report studying diversity in 2,868 U.S. jobs. The report states that the percentage of black DEI directors has barely increased: from 11.3 percent in 2020 and 11.5 percent in 2021.
It is more worrying for professionals in the diversity space that the efforts are not sincere and that recruitment practices are “wrong”, they say.
Chris Metzler, a former vice dean for human resources and diversity studies at Georgetown University, has created DEI certification programs at Cornell and Georgetown University that many experts in the discipline consider the gold standard. For all efforts to make organizations diverse and comfortable for all employees, Metzler called much of this “dishonest”.
“Many organizations are not interested in real change,” said Metzler, president and CEO of the global consulting firm FHW and Associates. “Diversity is seen as a game of numbers. Many executives ask me privately, ‘How many black people do I need to have?’
“So what they basically want to do is attract people who look different from them, not necessarily people who think differently from them. They want to look different, but they just say, ‘Yeah, okay’ for the issues that need to be addressed.
Kevin Clayton, vice president of diversity, inclusion and community engagement for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has worked in the DEI arena for more than 30 years. Clayton said he appreciates after Floyd’s murder that companies have recognized the need to “look into their houses.”
“But companies started diverting individuals from other jobs – marketing, sales or business – and because they were colored, it was like,‘ Hey, you’re a D&I officer, ’” Clayton said. “That’s why they put people with no experience in the DEI in these positions and appoint them officers for diversity. And they don’t give them any funds. And it’s almost like, ‘Okay. We have one. Let’s check this box. “
Hill was not the chosen candidate. For more than 20 years, he has been executive director for diversity, 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 consulting firm DEI JBrady5 for the past two years. The fact that the opportunity has been pulled, DEI experts say, speaks to a number of issues.
“This is a case study of an organization that needs what Joseph Hill would provide them with, but doesn’t accept it,” Fred Hobby answered a question about Hill. Hobby is a retired DEI expert who served as president of the Institute for Diversity and Health at the American Hospital Association for a decade. Hobby has known Hill for many years; Hill shared his story with The Hobby.
Hill said his problems began during his visit to find a new home in August. The real estate agent the company contracted is a white man who shared “unconscious racial biases” with Hill, he said, noting a black-owned clothing store, saying, “One of those stores there is owned by a rapper; I don’t know these guys. ”
Hill said he felt belittled when the agent labeled the public golf course as “somewhere to play,” implying that Hill could not play at a private club.
The other day, Hill arrived to start looking for a home with a Porsche SUV, Hill remembered the agent saying, “You have a nice car to rent there.” Hill did not respond. Instead, he shared “microaggressions” —mild ones that convey a negative attitude toward marginalized people — with Knowles, Hermann Memorial’s vice president of human resources.
“I felt obligated to do that because he represented the company I supposedly worked for,” Hill said. “It was the embodiment of the work I was hired for.”
He presented his concerns to Knowles and summarized them in a later email obtained by NBC News, writing, “The experience is clear why the role of leader, equity diversion and integration officer is important to Memorial Hermann. Today, many companies are full of micro-aggressions that are unintentional or intentional, alienating employees. Memorial Hermann has the opportunity to truly leverage equity, diversity, and inclusion to attract the workforce, improve the brand, and increase positive patient outcomes.
Hill said he didn’t think about it after receiving an email from Knowles on Aug. 26 saying she was “sorry it’s an experience. . . it was not what we strive to provide during the boarding experience. “
Hill returned to Atlanta, excited to move to Houston because of his new job. Then came a fateful email.
He said he was disappointed that Memorial Hermann did not try to communicate his concerns before canceling the offer. If there was a conversation, he said they would find out, for example, that the Porsche SUV, which was acknowledged by the real estate agent and cited by the company as the reason for canceling the offer, was Hill’s car – not a rental. In addition, “every comment or question I presented was made in good faith, with the best of intentions for Memorial Hermann,” Hill said.
He said he had not complained about the relocation budget and his inquiry into possible staff recruitment “was not out of bounds” but is a frequent issue among executives starting a new business.
Regarding Hill’s “hypersensitivity to racial issues,” Metzler said, referring to points made by Hill regarding the agent’s microaggression: “When your future diversity manager tells you these are issues, and your the answer is that he is ‘hypersensitive to racial problems’ … how low can you go down? His job is to come and point out these problems.
“He also spent a lot of time on such work in this process of searching and interviewing. When you offered him a job, you found him suitable. They are dishonest. It’s just ridiculous – but these are the things that companies continue to do. “
Hill is exploring legal options. “Because this one is bigger than me,” he said. “It’s about doing the right thing, and there’s also hope in this case that other companies are taking this DEI position seriously to make significant changes and not just as a place to fill because of looks. This does not help with the long-standing problems of lack of diversity or creating a safe and comfortable workspace for all employees.
A statement from Memorial Hermann also said: “Sometimes, during the recruitment or inclusion process, circumstances may change that may lead to the cancellation of a job offer. Out of respect for all the individuals involved, it is the practice of the Hermann Memorial not to discuss personnel matters publicly.
“Memorial Hermann remains committed to his EDI journey, including hiring the EDI CEO. With this individual to lead, Memorial Hermann will continue to be the leading employer and chosen healthcare provider for all people and will bring about real change that will improve the health of our communities.
Metzler wrote an article criticizing DEI’s initiatives in 2013. It is the same wrote article “10 Reasons Why Diversity Efforts Fail”.
“That was eight years ago and very little has changed,” he said, “even if all of these companies said last year, ‘We’re 100 percent in diversity.’ And one of the key reasons this hasn’t changed is instances like this where an experienced diversity officer gives you exceptional information to help your organization and suddenly “is no longer appropriate.” Until the commitment to change is real , nothing will change. And now this commitment is not genuine. “
Hill’s case highlights that companies need to take integration efforts seriously, Hobby said.
“Those who hire have forgotten that DEI officials are hired to be conscientious, to be a guide, to mentor an organization, to help it transition from a not-too-inclusive organization to an inclusive organization,” Hobby said. . “They are now more concerned with window decoration as a way of socially monitoring the Joneses, rather than focusing on providing, in the case of hospitals, better quality healthcare for minority patients and a better working environment for minority employees. ”