By now, you've probably heard about Rachel Dolezal, former head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. Turns out, it looks like she's not black. Which would seem to be an issue.
But when you dig deeper, it's almost impossible for people who deal with talent issues not to turn to the an important concept we've dealt with for years:
For most of us, Self ID is a product of being an affirmative action company. Managed by the OFFCP, the Self-ID process is generally done at some point in the application process and allows candidates and future employees alike to tell us who they are across a wide variety of protected classes.
You're Asian, I'm white. He's disabled. She's a military vet.
Here's the tricky part as it relates to the recent headlines related to Dolezal. In the normal workplace, we don't have the ability to challenge someone's self ID, especially as it relates to race. The concept of how someone identifies related to race is just that - a self concept of identity. We don't give them guidance that you have to be 1/2 white to ID as a caucasian. And that's where it gets tricky.
Consider these quotes from Dolezal on GMA (from the New York Times):
"When she moved into her uncle’s basement in the largely white town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2004, Rachel A. Dolezal was still blond and pale-skinned and identified herself as a white woman — one who had left a black husband and had a biracial child.
But within a few years, her already deep commitment to black causes and culture intensified. Co-workers and relatives began hearing from her or others that her background was mixed-race — and even that she had called herself black.
So when Ms. Dolezal (pronounced DOLE-uh-zhal) went on national television on Tuesday for the first time since she became the subject of a raging debate about racial identity and fabrication, it was no surprise that while she cannot claim a hint of black ancestry, she refused to concede that she had misled anyone. “I identify as black,” she said with a smile.
“I do take exception to that because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black, or answering a question of, ‘Are you black or white?’ ” she said. Over the course of the day, she also described herself as “transracial” and said: “Well, I definitely am not white. Nothing about being white describes who I am.”
And that my friends, is the big turd sandwich that presents itself to the HR world when it comes to the Self-ID process.
We've all had mixed race individuals in job groups that were underutilized under Affirmative Action that we knew ID'd themselves as white.
Why can't they ID themselves as Native American? We'd be fully utilized! - Many of us have said that.
But it didn't matter - it's called self-ID for a reason. It's not show friends, it's show business. It's their identity, not ours.
Now comes Rachel Dolezal, outside the employment realm, with the claim that her experiences, motherhood and other factors make her black. I'm a white guy, so this clearly is not my issue to commentate on.
But Self-ID in the workplace? That's in my wheelhouse. And the whole Dolezal/NAACP issue just underscores the difficulty of Self-ID.
Think about transgender and other emerging groups that will ultimately be protected. The concept of Self-ID - and the fact that it's just that, SELF ID - means your job as a HR pro is going to get a lot more interesting in the next 15 years.