Bridging The Gap

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Bridging The Gap was originally published on Power to Fly.

Have you ever been pushed aside, doubted, underestimated, or faced prejudice in your career? Hear from Jalon Hall on how she’s overcome adversity, including her top takeaways for fostering inclusion.

Jalon Hall’s story is one of fierce resilience. Born a Black Deaf woman, her life has been defined by breaking through a triple barrier of discrimination. She’s been misunderstood by colleagues, underestimated by leaders, and ultimately forced to navigate a world where assumptions dictate her potential.

Yet, through this isolation, Jalon has become a force for change in workplace accessibility — particularly, advocating for proper communication and accommodations in the workplace for fellow Black Deaf employees.

“I am committed to correcting misconceptions surrounding Deafness and navigating a landscape where opportunities are limited by the power of influence,” Jalon shares. “In this situation, the dynamics of power and influence have played a significant role, emphasizing the importance of recognizing privilege and fostering support for Black Deaf professionals. My ongoing experience has taught me how to identify people’s true colors, understanding that not everyone shares the same background. As long as I keep showing up and doing my part, those who belong in the room will show up as well.”

We sat down with Jalon, now an investigator and research analyst at Google, to hear her story and break down the transformative impact of synergy between Black Deaf employees and their hearing counterparts.

Biases that impact the Black Deaf community

Throughout her career, Jalon has experienced pervasive unconscious bias as a Black Deaf employee, which has hindered her professional growth.

She describes it as such:

“When I choose to communicate verbally, I face the expectation to conform to hearing norms, leading to the misconception that I am ‘not Deaf enough’ because I can speak. This has resulted in my reluctance to engage in verbal communication in certain settings, as many fail to recognize that being Deaf does not preclude the ability to speak.

“Furthermore, the expectation is persistent for me to conform to the communication and work styles of my hearing colleagues, which sometimes results in condescension on their part. In my current role, I have often sought validation from past mentors and past colleagues to affirm my competence, as I’ve faced undue scrutiny for not adhering to predetermined norms.

“Additionally, power-holders doubt my abilities due to assumptions about my capacity to accomplish tasks as a Black Deaf professional.”

Jalon calls out how workplaces that focus on equality over equity are missing the mark. Black Deaf professionals require different resources than their hearing professionals, and when a workplace fails to provide proper support, microaggressions and micromanagement perpetuate.

Continuing transformation at Google

When Jalon joined Google in October 2020, she encountered a workplace that was still developing as a safe space for all forms of diversity and intersectionality.

“There were certain things that were not working, such as accessibility needs. I was limited in what I was given to navigate in my role, which also allowed me the capability and space to bring awareness and introduce something new to Google.”

Jalon is now helping the organization to reach employees who may have been pushed to the margins previously. One way is through a Black Deaf employee resource group called BGN Deaf Alliance. The group empowers Black Deaf employees with opportunities for professional growth, nurtures a sense of belonging and community, and ensures equitable representation through proactive communication with all stakeholders.

Center to BGN Deaf Alliance’s success is their collaboration with hearing professionals.

“Engaging with my hearing allies who supported me before BGN Deaf Alliance was established has been a gratifying experience. Their open-hearted approach allowed me to share my expertise and even teach them words in sign language, such as ‘Black,’ ‘Google,’ and ‘Network.’ By sharing my experiences and encouraging them to envision scenarios where they could engage in conversations with Black Deaf individuals in everyday settings like restaurants or their hometowns, we aimed to break down communication barriers, remove opportunity barriers, and provide equity.”

Strategies for supporting Deaf colleagues

Alongside Google, Jalon is witnessing how collaboration between Black Deaf professionals and their hearing counterparts is not about one group prevailing over the other. Rather, proper support facilitates a mutually beneficial partnership.

“While hearing individuals possess the ability to hear, Black Deaf employees often excel in catching nuanced details and offer unique perspectives rooted in their experiences,” Jalon explains. “When one sense is not working, it forces the other sense to work harder, strengthening it. No amount of hearing should determine a Black Deaf professional’s ability to excel when they have four senses to their advantage. They bring perspectives and insights that a hearing person will never be able to bring to decision-making.”

To help you foster collaboration in your own workplace, Jalon shares a series of five strategies:

1. Understand your own privilege. “There are factors that are associated with layers of intersectionality that combine race and Deafness, contributing to the complexity of a Black Deaf individual’s experience. The importance of understanding privileges that are out of reach is to make it clear that certain races operate out of privilege, especially when accompanied by colorism, or when a person who is White with a disability operates in a higher privilege since only race is visible before invisible disabilities…

“In order to overcome this challenge, one must recognize not just the racial privilege, but also the power that non-Black disability privilege possesses. Understanding these multifactorial aspects will allow hearing professionals from either demographic to foster an inclusive and empathic workplace where they will be able to support and understand the unique challenges faced by Black Deaf professionals.”

2. Walk through this inclusion exercise. “Ask yourself, ‘What does inclusion look like for you?’ Next, inquire of each individual on your team, ‘What does inclusion look like for them?’ Finally, explore what inclusion looks like for the company. This approach allows you to identify patterns and ensures active inclusion of everyone, including those whose voices may have been traditionally unheard. Conducting this inclusion assessment is extremely important; it’s not just about focusing on the high percentage populations but also reaching the low percentage populations.”

3. Prioritize accessibility by offering diverse accommodations. “This includes accurate captions, carts, interpreters (allowing individuals to choose based on their communication preferences), and inclusive videophones with both Deaf professionals and hearing interpreters.”

4. Foster open communication. “Regularly checking in with colleagues about their needs, understanding specific requirements, offering appropriate support, addressing workload responsibilities, and empowering Black Deaf professionals by granting them equal opportunities for growth all promote a more inclusive work environment for both hearing professionals and Black Deaf professionals. Creating a safe space for dialogue among team members is essential, encouraging the acceptance of differing perspectives and providing a platform for constructive feedback.”

5. Maintain an open heart and mind. “This is key to understanding the unique experiences of Black Deaf colleagues, avoiding comparisons with privileged groups, and promoting an environment of equity and mutual respect.”

It starts with you

At the end of the day, Jalon believes that it’s up to a company’s people to drive a culture of inclusion. A strong mission statement can only go so far; it’s up to us to understand our privilege, unintentional biases, and power of influence.

“Not everyone lives in your hometown or comes from your background, so challenge yourself to go out and learn about other cultures. The goal is to allow the unheard to be heard, regardless of the organization’s size. Someone who doesn’t fall into your demographic can’t speak for your community, and while I’m just one person I can’t speak for the whole community, it starts with one person before others can come forth and highlight their needs,” says Jalon.

“Just as I’m advocating for the Black Deaf community, I encourage other underrepresented Deaf individuals to advocate for their communities, whether Latino, Asian, or Pakistani. These are the unheard communities, and until someone speaks up, spreads awareness to the unfamiliar, or takes action, the cycle of inaccessibility and injustice will continue to deprive the less fortunate, less privileged, and less educated of not only what they need but what they deserve: human rights.”If you’re interested in working alongside accessibility, diversity, and inclusion advocates like Jalon, check out career opportunities with Google here

Curated by uConnect