Last week, Emily Bell wrote a column in The Guardian examining the diversity (or lack thereof) in the hiring at high-profile digital startups like Vox, FiveThirtyEight and the First Look verticals. She noted that in setting off on their own to build new visions of what the industry could be, the likes of Ezra Klein and Nate Silver were just repackaging a lot of the same problems that have plagued our industry for years in terms of adequate newsroom representation of women and journalists of color.
“Remaking journalism in its own image, only with better hair and tighter clothes, is not a revolution, or even an evolution, ” Bell wrote. “It is a repackaging of the status quo with a very nice clubhouse attached. A revolution calls for a regime change of more significant depth.”
Predictably, there was backlash. In the comments on her story, many many men responded with some variety of the following:
“I only hire for capability, not diversity.”
“If you are good enough, you’ll get hired. Stop asking for special favors.”
Something something something “war on white men.”
In a piece a few days later in New York Magazine, Nate Silver remarked that it is difficult to hire women.
About 85 percent of our applications come in from men. That worries us. At the same time, we’re hiring the best candidate for the position. But that’s one of the reasons why we take a long time and put a lot of effort into our hiring process, to make sure that we’re looking widely for the best possible candidates.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with white males (some of my best friends are white men!), but there is something wrong with the statement “we only hire the best candidates” because I can bet that some of the best candidates didn’t even get a chance to apply for most jobs out there, especially at these new media startups.
Hiring managers don’t (usually) intentionally hire people like themselves. It happens because hiring so rarely happens the way many people think it does. Most people assume it works like so:
1. Job is posted
2. Job seeker sees job post on Twitter, on a jobs site, in an email from a friend, etc..
3. Job seeker applies with a résumé and cover letter to the designated means of collecting these materials.
4. Hiring manager or an HR representative combs through résumés to weed out the disqualified. They set aside really good cover letters to note people to interview.
6. Best applicant gets the job.
That isn’t what actually happens – at least, not in our industry (nor many others). From my experience as a person who has hired and who has been hired, this is a bit more like how it happens:
1. Job is created or opened.
2. Hiring manager informs his/her networks about said job, asking for recommendations of qualified candidates.
3. Qualified, recommended candidates surface. Many of them were not even actively looking for a new job, but the opportunity is too good to pass up.
4. Phone calls, coffees and interviews with recommended candidates commence.
5. Job is posted to basic jobs site (because HR requires it).
6. Résumés coming in via that job site are ignored or, at best, are skimmed.
7. A recommended candidate from step #3 is hired.
Simply put, if you aren’t plugged in to the first few degrees of the hiring manager’s network, good luck.
Shani O. Hilton, who wrote the best and most useful followup to Bell’s post, also noted the problem of the network.
The network — on both ends of the equation — is the problem. The journos of color and women aren’t networking with white dudes doing the hiring because it isn’t in their DNA. Call it the Twice as Hard Half as Good Paradox: Many of us are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don’t do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement.
I would also argue that one’s geography and background can also be a problem in seeking work because of the importance of the network. You don’t see a lot of journalists from the heartland getting hired on the coasts – even if they offer to pay to move themselves.
I went through this myself as a youngish journalist working in Cincinnati, OH. I applied to dozens of jobs at news organizations on the coasts, high profile places with alleged job openings for web producers and social media editors. I more than met the requirements for the jobs, but I never even got as much as a phone call or email. I’d follow up via research to see if I could find who had been hired – it was almost universally someone already from the area, usually with some connection to the publication. It could be that I wasn’t a very good candidate (likely), but it could also be that I just wasn’t in the right networks (also likely).
It wasn’t until I applied for a job where I had a connection I had made via social media that I got that call back – and ultimately got the job (at TBD back in 2010, via Steve Buttry). Since then, I have not acquired a job the traditional way – which inevitably makes me worry I actually wasn’t the best person for the job, I was just the easiest to find.
While Hilton offers some great advice for both job seekers and hiring managers to get past the networking problem, I offer one simple tip: Actually post your open jobs. Earth-shattering, I know.
Post your jobs early on and spread them to your social networks, your real-life networks and email lists for organizations like ONA, NABJ, AAJA, NAHJ, JAWS and many more journalism organizations. Treat the process earnestly. You never know who might be quietly looking for work that you know…and more importantly, you never know who you don’t know that might be perfect for your job and they just need to hear about it.
I pride myself and my current organization (Thunderdome) for hiring beyond our own networks. Many of our employees came our way through career fairs and online applications – including a few non-journalists who happened to bring different experiences into our newsroom. We’d never have found one another if we hadn’t posted our jobs.
So post the job. When you say you are an equal opportunity employer, actually mean it. If qualified women and journalists of color don’t know about your job, they can’t apply. That isn’t an equal opportunity.
More: Benet Wilson and Tracie Powell at NABJ offer advice for building a more inclusive network.