Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making A List, Checking It Twice

So, a couple of days ago, Guy Yedwab threw down the gauntlet at CultureFuture:
So I call upon you, internet: say I'm the head of an organization who wants to ensure diversity in hiring practices. What would you have me put on my checklist?
I've been thinking about it for a couple of days now. Part of what I've been thinking about has to do with RVCBard's comment on Guy's post:
I wish it were that simple, but the things I'd put on that checklist are cognitive, which presents a whole 'nother layer of problems - mostly the fact that people can justify anything.
In the end, what needs to change are hearts and minds. Can some checklist of things really change that? I don't know. But what it can do is have an actual impact. Compare this, from 2002:

Rest assured, even if Cochran's misguided initiative ends up in court, it won't end up advancing the cause of minority hiring in the NFL. Any plan built around the notion that you can sue a private institution in an attempt to force it to adopt your notion of better judgment is deeply flawed. Even those whom Cochran's efforts are designed to help are skeptical.

Said one black NFL coordinator on Wednesday: "The NFL is not a public entity that can be forced to have equal representation. That's just not realistic. This just shows you that Johnnie Cochran has no idea of what he's talking about in this case.

With this, from 2009:

Of course, hiring practices in the NFL did get a big push forward by the establishment of the Rooney Rule in 2003, a rule that mandates that NFL teams interview minority candidates for head coaching positions or face stiff fines. However the process began, the fact is that today six of the NFL’s 32 head coaches are African-American, nearly 19 percent.

On the college front, two years ago the BCA was exploring possible litigation as a means of creating diversity in the college game, which seemed at times incapable of change. The percentage of coaches of color in the Football Bowl Subdivision hovered around 5 percent. Keith now gladly reports a significant step forward. Thirteen of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches are African-American, seven of whom were hired in past few months.

(Emphasis added)

So...well, there's an effect, isn't there? And it's a positive step. Baby steps, but positive steps. It's funny, when folks mention lotteries and lawsuit-thought-experiments, they get laughed at as though those are just the most ridiculous things in the world. Except they actually work. Go figure.

So, to the question at hand: a checklist. As I thought about this all weekend, I thought about RVCBard's comment and about how hard it is to change a mind, really. But behavior is easier, isn't it? How does someone act when they want to increase diversity? What steps do they go through? I started there, thinking about what I've gone through when I was working at a majority white institution and needed a minority actor. You ask for help.

Okay, you run an arts organization and have decided that increasing diversity is important. I would say the first step is ask yourself how important is it? Basically, what else are you willing to sacrifice? On paper experience? Other kinds of diversity (we'll talk more about that in a second)? You can't have everything you value all the time, so you have to know what you're willing to overlook.

Second, you've got to know how you're doing already. I would recommend getting demographics for both your audience and the neighborhood your theatre is located in, or feel most connected to. Pair that up with your staff. (For the purposes of this thought experiment, I'm only dealing with staff diversity.) Where do you match up? Where do you not? If your theatre is located in a majority black or Latin or Asian neighborhood, but your audience is majority white and your staff is majority white...you probably have some work to do. You actually might be doing better than you think, but you should take into account what roles people are playing. If your minority staff members are all working on minority outreach, with limited purviews and exposure to the bulk of your audience, you're not really doing diversity. My personal ideal, in terms of a theatre, is a theatre where you can not tell, walking down the street, who is on their way to the theatre, where there is no clear line, when milling around the lobby between the staff, the audience, the people who just happen to be walking by and the artists working there. But if you don't have a baseline for where you are, lumps and all, how do you know where to do the work.

As I said before, make sure you're not just looking to minority staff members to work on minority projects. If you've built a little ghetto, where your minority staff members are doing outreach to minority communities to see work by minorities, you're doing diversity wrong. I know your intentions are good, but you can do better.

So when you're hiring for any job, ask culturally specific theatres for recommendations. If you're looking for qualified minority staff members, yeah, look at places where they've worked, can gain experience, cut their teeth. I don't mean to promote a brain drain, but you have to start somewhere. Connect with a culturally specific theatre and simply ask them to forward your job listing. That's a good start. But it's better to ask for recommendations and involve them in your job search. If you don't have any connection to a culturally specific theatre that feels comfortable enough to make that kind of request...well, that's a pretty good sign you might need some diversity, don't you think?

To steal the Rooney Rule from the NFL, interview at least one minority for all positions. Your job search isn't done until you've done that. Not just accepted an application, but held an actual interview. Even if you don't wind up hiring the person, giving them the opportunity to make their case is invaluable, for both of you. You make a new connection and so do they. And you never know where those things lead.

Finally, keep a short list of minority candidates handy and pass it along. Make recommendations to other theatres, when jobs open up, recommend minority candidates that weren't right for your organization. Diversity starts at home, but it ends on the road. If you talk up the good candidates you saw, other people will take another look. Part of the problem, when dealing with a segregated theatre system, is that a lack of exposure translates into insecurity. A minority candidate is an unknown quantity and unknown quantities are scary in our field. The right word of recommendation can do wonders.

So, in handy dandy list form:

- Decide how important it is.

- See where you can improve.

- Make sure you're utilizing the staff you have correctly.

- Make connections with culturally specific organizations.

- Interview at least one minority candidate for all positions.

- Talk up minority candidates to other organizations.

To underscore the first point, though: this only matters if diversity is important to you and your organization. It may not be. I have my thoughts on that, but, hey, it's your organization. If diversifying your staff isn't something you consider important or worth making sacrifices for, that's your lookout. There will always be nice, easy, white candidates available to you. Well, maybe not always. But that's your call.

Okay, Guy. You have your checklist. Anything to add?


Tony Adams said...

Yeah, I agree. For me the two single biggest things are making connections as equals and not being afraid to ask for help.

(of course after deciding an org actually wants diversity.)

And using the Rodney Rule as an example also kinda intersects with quality. For years the prevailing heads said there just weren't qualified candidates. Three of the last four superbowls are pretty telling that that's not the case.

99 said...

The asking for help is a general issue with theatre, especially here in New York. Though it is changing. The landscape has gotten a bit more chummy, which is a good and a bad thing, but it's a step away from the fiefdom model we've been mired in.