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Committing to Racial Equity in Hiring

In Awake to Woke to Work, a project of the fantastic organization ProInspire, the authors describe the evolution of organizational woke-ness. It’s no surprise that hiring tends to be seen as a quick fix in an organization’s racial equity work, e.g. “we’ll hire more people of color!” While increased representation of race backgrounds is important, it’s not enough. And it’s not even the right place to start.  

Let’s start with culture. We know that most work cultures – nonprofit or otherwise -- are centered around white norms and values. Even when organizational leaders recognize the prevalence of white dominant culture, they are often uncertain how to act. While not its intent, this uncertainty can result in little analysis of the dominant culture, and in turn, little meaningful action.

So…what does it take for an organization to examine its culture and move towards equity-centered operations, particularly in hiring? Let’s take a page from Demos, a national research, policy, and advocacy organization. In its hiring process, Demos employs tactics to address implicit and explicit bias, plus the types of unspoken organizational norms mentioned above. By operating with heightened awareness, all staff are expected to follow a specific set of practices to ensure equity in hiring.

In recruitment, Demos commits to taking its time to build racially diverse pools. All staff are expected to activate their networks, and for staff with less diverse networks, they are encouraged to forge new connections. If searches are taking longer than expected, they hire temps and consultants, as opposed to rush to the finish line with the available pool. They require that 50% of candidate for first-round interviews are comprised of candidates of color.

Finally, Demos has a standardized interview process that includes questions to get at candidates’ racial equity competency. While level of competency may vary by job, all hires are expected to bring an understanding of and commitment to, in their words, “a democracy and economy firmly rooted in racial justice.”

Hopefully this example shows that moving towards racial equity in the hiring process starts with some pretty doable steps. It takes slowing down the hiring process, creating a culture of recruitment, training staff in recognizing biases, and sticking to specific standards for all interviews. And before that, it starts with self-reflection about the roles we each play in un-learning cultural norms, committing to racial equity, and translating our intentions into action.

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