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Have you heard of the phrase “time theft”? If so, you may associate it with poor performance and work practices by employees at a company, like, for example, the employees who clock in early but only work part of the time. Or employees who extend their lunch break without telling a manager. The traditional definition of time theft is related to the modern “quiet quitting” movement in that it puts the focus of bad behavior on employees who “steal” time from businesses.
But, have you thought about the myriad of ways employers steal time from employees — particularly those who are working towards diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace? Are there ways employers and others take time and energy away from employees working towards a more just and equitable workplace? In this article, we’ll flip the idea of time theft on its head and discuss six ways employees, who spend time working on DEI issues, are often uncompensated, overlooked and undervalued by businesses.
1. It’s time theft when employees are asked to participate in DEI councils and working groups without compensation.
I’m a huge advocate for DEI councils and employee resource groups (ERGs). They are great places for like-minded people to put their heads together and strategize on ways to tackle DEI issues in the workplace. However, when those councils and groups take hours away from workers every week, employees should be compensated for those hours.
DEI councils and ERGs are not “extracurricular” activities that employees do for fun while away from their desks. It’s hard, business-oriented labor that drives progress. It’s time theft for employees to do the brainstorming, planning and execution work that’s beneficial to a business’s DEI plans while not getting fairly paid or recognized for it.
Participation in councils and groups without proper compensation is stealing time from employees that could otherwise be used for their personal needs or to invest in other professional development opportunities.
Related: Stop Expecting Marginalized Groups to Lead Diversity Efforts. It’s Time For Allies to Step Up and Put in the Work
2. It’s time theft when employees are constantly working to get buy-in on DEI initiatives outside of working hours.
The amount of labor employees spend on getting buy-in on DEI initiatives within an organization can be massive. Related to being on DEI councils and ERGs, it takes time and energy to attend events before and after work to get more people on board with a DEI strategy or find cross-departmental support. Time theft comes into play when employees are constantly having to sell, resell, reframe and reinvigorate their colleagues and leadership about an initiative that’s beneficial to the business.
Employees who are passionate about DEI and have a fire to get buy-in on their initiatives spend so much time doing so that it eats into their bandwidth to accomplish other parts of their job. They need reliable support from other employees and leadership so that the burden doesn’t get saddled on the shoulders of a few.
Time spent getting buy-in on DEI initiatives should be recognized and compensated. It should be acknowledged by leadership as an act that supports the company’s development. All employees, not just those personally impacted by DEI, should put in the effort to get buy-in for DEI projects.
Related: 7 Ways Leaders Can Level Up Their DEI Workplace Strategy
3. It’s time theft when leadership experiences analysis paralysis and keeps employees strung along without taking action.
After participating on an unpaid DEI council, then having to run around getting people to sign onto an initiative with clear benefits for the business, some employees may get their hopes up by coming to leadership with a grand master plan. Leadership may ideologically appreciate the initiative, but it may take time to figure out how to implement it. Leaders may string along employees and tell them they’re working on it, but the result may be months of inaction and analysis paralysis.
Businesses shouldn’t rush to implement DEI plans without the financial and logistical pieces figured out. However, many leaders get held up by having a lack of data and stall progress because they’re looking for more information before taking action. I believe in data but sometimes waiting for the perfect amount of information, even after a DEI council or ERG has provided plenty, can be a crutch that steals time from employees who have worked hard for an initiative and are waiting for action.
If leadership is hearing the same messages calling for action on racial, gender, sexual orientation or disability issues in the workplace, stalling on the action while others wait for results is time theft.
Related: Hybrid Work Could Affect Your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Goals. Here’s How to Prepare for That.
4. It’s time theft when employees from marginalized identities are constantly being asked to educate colleagues.
Consistently tapping employees with marginalized identities to lead discussions or be spokespersons for entire groups is a theft of time and energy.
When colleagues are attempting to be better allies, it requires them to put in personal work to become educated about the issues. Instead of doing the work on their own, they often rely on those impacted to educate them. It can feel exhausting and triggering for some employees to be educators while they’re experiencing their own challenges in the workplace. Using an employee’s time to answer questions that can be a part of one’s self-education is an inappropriate and problematic request.
Employees and colleagues who are not occupying marginalized identities need to educate themselves and reduce the amount of time they spend asking those impacted to support them in their learning. It’s burdensome, exhausting and harmful to those who need to protect their peace and boundaries at work.
5. It’s time theft when employers ask marginalized folks to share their “lived experiences” but gaslight those individuals when it’s time for action.
It can be incredibly frustrating for employees with marginalized identities to share their experiences and not be heard or taken seriously. Leadership may ask certain groups to share their lived experiences with the hope of finding an opportunity to create a DEI initiative that supports them. While that’s a good intention, when those individuals speak up and others discredit or gaslight them about their experiences, it can feel dismissive and like a waste of time.
When employers request information from marginalized folks, it needs to be serious and focused on solutions. When folks share their experiences with trauma, discrimination and social inequities at work, it’s important to believe their stories. When leadership asks for this information and then pulls employees with marginalized identities into conference rooms to discuss it, discrediting, doubting or denying their experiences is disrespectful and time theft.
Related: Here’s How to Have the Most Powerful DEI Conversations
6. It’s time theft when leadership encourages marginalized folks to work harder for advancement opportunities and then overlooks them for promotions.
Many marginalized groups are familiar with the phrase, “you have to work twice as hard to get half of what others have.” This can be absolutely true in the workplace. Many marginalized folks who are on the promotion track can be told by their managers, “if you work harder” or “if you take on this project” you may be better positioned for a promotion. Perhaps the employee jumps through all the hoops and completes their work with flying colors, but when it’s promotion time, they’re overlooked while someone who’s “in” with leadership gets the nod.
As much as DEI practitioners try to even the playing field, we know that promotions and advancements are still bottled necked by those who are tight with leadership or represent the stereotypical recipient of promotions.
Too often, people who are a part of underrepresented groups are not considered for opportunities despite their hard work, above-average performance or consistency. It’s time theft to convince employees with marginalized identities to pour more time and energy into their work only to be left without recognition or reward. Women and people of color are often the first to volunteer to work harder but too often the last to get promoted.
Time theft is a real issue for marginalized folks and those who are passionate about the work of DEI. Creating a more inclusive, diverse and equitable workplace can be seen as a “voluntary” or “extracurricular” activity that doesn’t need compensation. However, organizations need to reframe this work as business-critical and essential for growth and longevity.
Everyone should be involved in advocating for DEI and promoting its presence in the workplace. This shouldn’t sit on the shoulders of a few employees who occupy marginalized identities. If DEI were more integral in an organization’s work, there would be more of a push for self-education, fair compensation and equal opportunity for advancement.
Time theft occurs when groups, who are marginalized, overlooked and underappreciated have to carry the weight of educating, getting buy-in, leading and still surviving inequality in the workplace. It’s not fair for the burden to be carried by them alone without financial compensation or action taken by the leadership. It’s time to invest in DEI, to make it an integral part of a business’s values and to honor and give back the time and energy employees have spent by implementing their plans and taking action.
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