Sincerely, Leaders of Color: You can’t hire your way out of a diversity problem

What to do before you hire your BIPOC candidates.

A quote from the author, Marla Jones Newman, that says, "The culture of your company always determines success, regardless of how effective your strategy may be."

(Background photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

About this series: Sincerely, Leaders of Color is written for everyone in the journalism industry who cares about creating a more supportive environment for journalists of color to do their best work. Have a question for the team? Drop it here and watch for it in a future column. This column is proudly sponsored by the Executive Program and the Tow Knight Center at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, and our guest writers budget is sponsored by The American Press Institute.

Somewhere around 2020 this became the refrain: We need more BIPOC people in the newsroom!

We can’t find any!

There aren’t any!

But to anyone with a mind toward DEI, we know this is not true.

But what is true?

This: You cannot hire yourself out of your diversity problems. Even if you reach your numerical goal of BIPOC staffers, this will not solve the underlying issues in your workspace. BIPOC employees do not feel safe in the workplace.

Since I am new to the journalism world, to discuss this topic I will use the old newspaper trick and answer the 5 Ws. The 5 Ws are considered basic in information gathering. Also, these questions cannot be answered with yes or no. They must be answered with facts.

Who is responsible? Everyone

The work of diversity is not the sole province of your BIPOC employees. They are exhausted and somewhat resentful that all of the work falls on them. Therefore, this work needs to fall on the shoulders of everyone in the organization, including board members of non-profit organizations.

What is the solution? Creating safe work environments before you hire BIPOC employees.

When talking to BIPOC journalists, I often ask how they got their current job. The answer is usually something like this: “Someone called me and I went through the process.” The underlying truth here is also this: Someone guaranteed that it was safe for me to apply.

Due to the racial reckoning after George Floyd’s murder, newsrooms want to have more diverse workplaces. But to hire, you have to be able to explain how and why your workplace is where I want to work. Not just with a total compensation package, but what you are doing to make it an inclusive workplace. This is important to BIPOC candidates, but it is also true for millennials, women, the physically challenged, etc….

When does this change need to happen? Yesterday.

Time is of the essence. More and more BIPOC journalists are leaving the industry not only because of low pay, bad managers, and the like, but also because they are in work environments that do not allow them to bring their best self to work.

If I pitch a story to my editor and he calls it stupid, I am not pitiching another story. Ever. I am also quiet quitting while looking for another job.

Where in society’s fabric does this matter? Everywhere.

We start in the workplace, but if it is not who you are as a person, then should you work at an organization where this is part of their values and goals?

This work becomes ingrained in how you treat all people at all times. Thus the muscle memory is able to handle situations at work.

Why even do this? It is important.

There is a famous Peter Drucker quote that says that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This implies that the culture of your company always determines success, regardless of how effective your strategy may be.

So what is your culture? Is it inclusive? If not, why?

The big question… how?

I will now add “How.” How do we as leaders fix this problem?

  • □ Make a commitment that you want an inclusive environment from the top down.
  • □ Define what inclusion means. Is it part of your mission and/or value statement? If not, it should be.
    • □ Train employees and managers. You can utilize existing training, for example, crucial conversations but through the lens of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging (DEI&B). Use real-life examples when you are talking about safety in conversations.
  • □ Hold everyone accountable. Include DEI&B goals in performance reviews.

Think of it this way. We work with our head, heart, and hands. If you just hire diverse employees, you are only working with your hands. It is just performative if you are not working with the heart and head. Show you care. Work Smart. Do the prep work so you don’t have to do this again.

Marla Jones Newman
VP, People & Culture

This is a guest column, solicited by P. Kim Bui and Emma Carew Grovum and edited by Kim. We want to make sure to include voices from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. If you’re interested in guest writing, or have someone you’d love to hear from, let us know here.

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  • Marla Jones Newman

    Marla Jones Newman is the Vice President of People and Culture at Mother Jones. During her 20-year career in human resources, Marla has been working in the DEI&B world before the racial awakening, creating programs and initiatives that increased diversity hiring by creating and implementing training, providing manager coaching and supporting affinity groups in various industries to name a few.


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