We’re Making a Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion (and So Can You)
By Michael Hoffman, CEO of See3
See3 has been working every day to embrace diversity and inclusion within our company, and that starts with having a serious conversation about race and racism.
Growing Up Jewish
Growing up Jewish in Baltimore, I always had the sense of being both an insider and outsider. I went to a private school with WASPS whose families owned sail boats and went golfing, and I always felt like I didn’t quite belong — financially or culturally. And, like many Jews, I am sharply and viscerally connected to Jewish history. When my father was young, Jews were exterminated by the millions. Everyday I hear about attacks on Jews around the world, and I carry a small undercurrent of collective vulnerability around with me.
But I also have been keenly aware, from a fairly young age, that I am the child of extreme privilege. I had the best education money could buy. My mom was a powerful (progressive) Maryland State Senator and my dad made a comfortable living through real estate and a hardware store. And I have been just as aware that while my Jewishness gives me a half a foot outside the dominant culture, I am white, with all the privilege that accrues in America.
Our Work to Do
I think about this now in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and moment we are in, which is about police brutality but is really about racial justice. And, I share these thoughts with trepidation because I see how well-meaning white progressives (like me) can be tone deaf and clueless when talking about racial inequities — and get called out for it. So why even go there?
I want to go there because I am the CEO of See3 Communications. We work on progressive causes every day and exist to help those wanting to change the world for the better. While we have some people of color on our U.S. team and among our freelancers, we are a really white company. Our staff does not reflect the diversity of America and, therefore, does not reflect the values that we espouse or try to live.
That’s a problem for me personally and it’s a problem for us as a company. But not just for us. If you have any influence in hiring people for any job, you have to think seriously about how your own closed networks reinforce structural racism and shut out others from opportunity. If you post your job openings to your Facebook page or LinkedIn profile, who is seeing that? When you ask your friends for recommendations of people to hire, you are likely to get people that look a lot like you and your friends. When you stay inside your own networks, you are just reinforcing the advantage for people in the privileged group and reinforcing the disadvantage for people that have less access.
We have to proactively make commitments to change this and diversity must become part of our central business strategy. That’s what we’ve decided to do at See3. America is an increasingly diverse country, and if you want to succeed at whatever it is you do, you have to be able to communicate from a place of deep understanding, knowledge and connection. And you need an authentically diverse team in order to do it well.
We know we’re not experts here. We admit that we still have a lot to learn and know we might mess up along the way. But we also know it’s our responsibility to do this, and we think it’s important to come forward as a small, progressive company who is doing this work.
At See3, we’ve said in meeting after meeting for the past three years that we need more racial diversity among our staff. It is clearly top of mind and clearly a value we share. And, yet, it hasn’t happened.
See3’s Director of Content Strategy, Bridgett Colling, attended and presented at the last Netroots conference for See3. She came back moved by what happened there and armed with information about what our role needs to be in promoting diversity. She wrote to the staff, “I think we need to hold ourselves accountable for not just saying we want to be a more diverse company, but really do something about it.”
Bridgett shared with the whole staff some strategies we have employed, and I’d like to share them with you:
- Make increasing diversity on our team a central part of See3’s business strategy. We need more people on staff who can help our clients understand and speak to diverse audiences based on their own lived experiences.
- Create a hiring process that reflects that business strategy. We should be more intentional about actively recruiting people of color — for internships, for freelance positions, for full-time staff. We should acknowledge that just by being a person of color, these candidates have a wealth of lived experiences that we are lacking on many of our teams. We will always hire the best person for the job, but we need to search for talented, qualified candidates who are people of color, whose names might not pop up as quickly within our majority-white networks that we usually look to first for referrals.
- We’ve got to make the time. We’re a busy company with a lot of stuff on all of our collective plates. But the best advice heard on diverse staffing was: “There’s time if it’s in your values” (hat tip to Jessica Byrd of Three Point Strategies). Being deliberate about recruiting a diverse team is something we’ve put off since things are always moving so fast. But as a team that celebrates “creating an impact for what we believe in,” then this is something that we’ve got to prioritize.
Taking this advice to heart, In the last couple of months at See3, we’ve done the following:
- We made a commitment that we should have candidates of color as finalists for our open positions. We will hire the best person for the job and we will never implement quotas, but if we don’t have qualified candidates of color, we aren’t looking hard enough.
- We started a company-wide study group working on racial justice. Our first readings were Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” and Dismantling Racism: A Resource Book for Social Change by Western States Center. These were powerful documents that generated deep and personal discussions among the staff. Both of these resources are available for free online, and would make great reading for any nonprofit or nonprofit service provider looking to start these conversations at their organization.
- We committed to talking about racial justice issues at least monthly as part of our regular staff meetings with a rotating leadership to make sure every employee is deeply engaged in these issues.
- We have set a goal to be transparent about this work in order to inspire and push those who consider themselves progressives to “walk the walk” of racial justice.
I have no doubt that we will become a more diverse company through this focused work. I also have know that diversity will benefit our company in countless ways, and that our internal conversations about race and racism have benefitted our team and led to important conversations within their own networks.
For my white colleagues, I hope you will take this as a challenge for your own work and do what you can to cultivate these conversations within your own organizations. You, your companies, and this great and flawed country of ours, will be much better for it.
Do you have ideas of how we can improve our internal racial justice work? Thoughts on where we can network to increase our access to diverse talent? Connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and Bridgett at email@example.com.