Dealing with sensitive racial issues at work

This didn’t seem to fit any existing topic, and I thought it would be interesting to talk about various problems that come up at work. The particular item at hand is racial, but I’m sure there are lots of difficult-to-deal-with situations in other contexts, like gender or age.

Anyway, here’s the item that prompted this. I heard about this through the grapevine, so consider this mostly accurate:

A 3rd-hand friend owns/manages an agency that hires out doulas - women who provide mid-wife type services to pregnant women. This owner has periodically received inquiries from potential clients who wanted their doula to be a particular (shared) race. The owner does not happen to employ any doulas of that race, so ends up turning these potential clients away. Recently, the owner attempted to hire a doula of that race in order to satisfy that demand, and apparently the interview went south. This is where the story gets hazy, but it seems like it came out that the owner was interviewing this doula solely because of her race, and the potential doula took to a Facebook group to drag the owner/manager for being racist.

I feel pretty confident that the owner/manager likely behaved badly in the interview, but I want to put that aside. My question is what the owner should have done in the face of those client requests. Potential options:

  1. Tell potential clients that she has faith in all of her doulas and that she doesn’t assign doulas based on race, nor would she feel comfortable doing so. If that’s not ok with the potential client, tough luck.

  2. Tell the potential clients that she doesn’t happen to have any doulas of that race on staff, but she would be happy to refer them to another agency. (This might involve some kind of alliance with another agency, I guess.)

  3. Do what she did - attempt to diversify her group of doulas. The problem here (in addition to the potential for seeming uber-racist in the hiring process), is that there are often doula switches resulting from uncertainty about delivery dates - a doula might plan for a July birth but be out of town for an early delivery. In that context, a single doula of a particular race probably wouldn’t suffice.

I think this is complicated. Ultimately, I believe the owner should have taken the first approach. (I analogized it to me going to a massage parlor and demanding a white masseuse - I think they should kick me out rather than cater to me.) What gives me pause is that in this scenario, the potential clients are black and looking for a black doula. I know that black people already experience disparate medical treatment, and I know that there can be real benefits for minorities who share a background with their doctor. So it doesn’t seem completely terrible to me that a pregnant black woman would want a doula of her own race.

Curious what people here think, and to hear about other sensitive issues that come up in the workplace.


As a health care provider in a small group, I personally can’t imagine doing anything other than #1.

IANAL, but I would imagine trying to hire an employee with race being the predominant reason for their hiring is inviting all kinds of legal troubles.

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Not sure how things work in the US, but in Canada you can add something like this to your job posting

We are committed to fulfilling our mission of embracing equity and diversity. We seek to be proactive in attracting excellent staff who are members of designated groups, as identified by federal and provincial legislation, as well as our Employment Equity Policy. These groups include women, Indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, racialized persons/visible minorities, and persons of minority sexual orientation or gender identity (LGBTT2SQ persons).

Of course, if you’re looking to hire only white people you’re SOL

I think in this case, trying to get employees of certain races or ethnic backgrounds is attempting to be inclusive, not exclusive. Specifically, having a doula for your birth is probably very personal for many women/couples, and I don’t think it’s wrong for an Irish or Lebanese (or black) woman to request an Irish or Lebanese (or black) doula because that would make them more comfortable during the birth.

That leads to the question of how badly the owner bungled her part of the interview.

A duola is a pretty personal thing and I would expect there to be some interview/meeting. The client should be doing their own discriminating covertly. We had duolas, but they just individuals and not from some duola supply company.

We had one but she wasn’t very nice to me. She oozed “I’m going to protect you from this Neanderthal” from her pores.

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Ours were good. I barely even remember the second. I think she was a friend of a friend or something. I’m not even 100% there was one the second time. Long time ago - sadly much harder to remember the second time around - and she definitely wasn’t there for the birth, we were only in the hospital like 40 mintues until birth. The first was nice though and I got plenty of inclusion and pats on the head.

In my POV the right thing is one. But let us live in the real world: in any job interview gender, race and sexual orientation play a role. No normal employer will ever admit that. But they do. I also think that it is racist to feel that white client shouldn’t demand for white doula, but for black client it is OK.

As someone having been often enough on a discriminated against side, I can say that it is zero helpful to demand equality and complain that the given employer is discriminating or so.

A story from my younger age as I had a lot of delusions:
I had a performance evaluation in my job, where we had written down the criteria for the next year and also the connected to these criteria promotion. Next I year I fulfilled everything but my boss promoted a male colleague instead of me. As I walked into my boss’s office with a question, what did I do wrong and what should I do better, he didn’t even try to give any arguments for why i didn’t get the promotion. His response was literally: “You did everything right. Things are just so.”
I went to HR because I had the stuff in writing. HR was the only female manager in the company. As I started to tell the story, she basically finished it for me. That means that it was not the first situation there around. She strongly discouraged me from escalating it further and basically told that they will support the boss. I understood the situation. Clearly in 6 month I wasn’t working there any more. But things are what they are. And I learned to deal with it.

I would go with one but try to convey that the clients preference will be kept in consideration.

I am really curious how they screwed up the interview so much. There was no real need to even go into the whys of it. Just interview them normally and if they qualify hire them. I really don’t get how it became racist, but because of that, that person shouid not try threading any needles and just stick to basic 1.

I wish the interview was secretly taped and leaked because I am super curious.

Yeah, this story was communicated to me by a friend of a friend of the owner (as told by the owner), so I’m also very curious about the actual conversation. I expect that the owner handled it extremely poorly. My median expectation of the conversation is that it went something like this, “I’m trying to expand the number of minority doulas because we get a lot of potential clients who are asking for someone of the same race.” I believe the phrase “baby daddy” was used, if that gives you an indication of how bad the conversation might have been.

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Almost no one would want a man as a doula so it doesn’t seem outrageous to want someone with a shared racial background. I’m not sure about this one.

Although the continuity in the plumbing and experience of female doulas is quite a bit more significant than skin color.

I vote #1, people should be nudged to get past the racial.

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Conflating gender issues with racial issues is pretty moronic.

No u.

The point is that both reduce to shared culture and experience. It’s pretty obviously not only about the “plumbing” given that a trans woman would be accepted as a doula in most cases.


(sucks teeth) that’s a bad one.

I think there is a case for accommodating it with minorities but not whites, but I’m not the one to make it, so I’ll let this guy:

What does “baby daddy” mean and why is it so bad?
Google delivers something along the lines:
“the biological father of a woman’s child, not married to the child’s mother and usually not in a relationship with her:”
Is it that? Why is it bad?

It’s a stereotype that black men knock up women and abandon them.

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