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How to Recognize - and Dismantle - White Supremacy Culture in Hiring



In Dismantling Racism: a Workbook for Social Change Groups, Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun name a baker’s dozen of characteristics of white supremacy culture in nonprofit organizations. The list touches upon fundamental elements of work culture such as how we communicate, why we make certain decisions, and what we consider the norm. By not looking critically and building awareness of these characteristics at play, white supremacy culture becomes even more ingrained.


If awareness is the first step in making change, I hope this post highlights a few ways that white supremacy culture shows up in recruiting and hiring at nonprofits….and a few things we can do to take action towards doing things differently.


“We need this hire yesterday!”


When nonprofits feel pressure to fill open positions ASAP, this sense of urgency can result in rushed scoping of roles and hiring processes that do not include a diversity of stakeholders. Aggressive timelines also impact the diversity of the candidate pool. Building a diverse pool takes time, especially in fields where people of color are less represented (e.g. fundraising/development.) If we rush the process and exclude the perspectives and interests of multiple stakeholders, we end up with homogeneous candidate pools that do not reflect the diversity that exists (or that we are intentionally trying to build) within our organizations.


“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”


For veteran hiring managers, there is often defensiveness and resistance to trying new things, especially when ideas come from stakeholders with less positional power (e.g. non-managers.) We assume that we know all the answers and that others, especially those with less positional power, are seen as “being difficult” for raising new ideas and approaches. Similarly, shielding those with less power because “they don’t really need to be involved,” can backfire. If people don’t feel seen and heard when making important hires, there may be less buy-in once the new hire is on board.


“As long as we make a good hire, the process doesn’t matter.”


Years ago, I was involved in a C-level search that had a great, inclusive process mapped out. The process went out the window when a strong candidate was identified and rushed to the finish line (See above.) As a result, the stakeholders who were on deck to interview candidates felt disrespected and disheartened. Staff became distrustful of leadership in making this hire as, what seemed like, behind closed doors.


I admit that I am often fatigued when I perceive a process is “taking too long.” And then I notice I’m generally not the one impacted by a less inclusive and intentional process. If you’re like me, I challenge you to develop the mindset that it’s not only about getting results…it’s about how we get the results.


“Talking about white supremacy culture in hiring makes me really uncomfortable.”


I hear you. As a cisgender, middle class, white woman, it’s an ongoing process to stay present when thinking about white supremacy culture, especially as it shows up in my work. It’s natural (and expected!) to feel discomfort and even place blame on others (e.g. the people in your organization who are vocal about challenging white supremacy culture) to deal with your feelings. It goes back to growth and learning…we are all on the path to becoming more critically conscious. You are not expected to get there overnight. I hope you join me reflecting, analyzing, making mistakes, and committing to working with raised consciousness towards an inclusive and multicultural nonprofit sector.


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