During the latter part of 2020, PRX was faced with the reality that we were not creating the space for the staff of color that we thought we were. We heard from some stakeholders, including staff, that our written public statements weren’t quite right. More action and transparency were essential, but more importantly, we needed more intention.
So, what is this?
We want to share our journey to becoming a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. This is the first installment in a series of updates on what we are doing to improve and what we’ve learned from those actions. The intent is to offer our experiences to other organizations, especially ones within public media and podcasting so that they might learn from, iterate on, or experiment with what we’re doing to revise our systems.
We’ve wanted to bring someone whose sole focus is on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into PRX for a few years. After what happened last year on a national scale and within our organization, having that person became more critical. We are excited to announce that Dr. Byron Green will be joining PRX in April as the Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He brings 10+ years of experience building DEI programs and educational curriculums. We think this blend of academic and practical experience will have the most impact on staff and PRX’s mission. In establishing this new role, we decided that the hiring process itself was an opportunity to co-create a new way forward. In this blog post, we’re sharing the steps we took to hire for this position and how those steps will inform future hiring processes.
Piloting a new hiring process
During our hiring process, we typically run up against the tension of having a pool of candidates that represent a variety of identities and the speed with which we need someone to begin working. Something that stuck with us from our work with Project Inkblot is that our sense of urgency would be our biggest hurdle towards equity. Going through a hiring process that lasted several months was challenging and is not ideal (or necessary) for most positions. Still, the pilot effort was immensely beneficial for thinking deeply about this role’s particular needs and the type of person we wanted in it. It was also helpful to stress-test parts of the process for scalability in the future.
Our hiring process typically involves the Director of Human Resources, a hiring manager, who also writes the job description, and two to three additional staff members at the interviewing stage. Hiring for the Sr. Director of DEI was very different. Before even writing the job description, we formed a hiring committee of ten volunteers to get more people involved from the start. Led by our Director of HR, the committee designed a position that addressed staff concerns, broke down barriers often found in job descriptions like academic degrees and certain kinds of experience, and set up the person who would fill this role for success.
To know how staff felt, we asked them to fill out a survey to express their hopes and concerns about the role. We found two main themes from the responses. One theme was fear that PRX would rest the success of DEI work on the Sr. Director without shared accountability throughout the organization. The other theme we noticed was that people saw this position as a leader at the company but were curious about how the person filling it would be a collaborator. The committee also researched DEI job descriptions and talked with professionals doing similar work at other organizations to find out what did and did not work well. All of this information was considered while building the job description.
The idea of finding a “good fit” can lead to bias and contribute to a toxic environment. Objectivity is unrealistic; however, “fit” lends itself to a type of subjectivity that perpetuates disenfranchising ideas and systems. “Fit” is how organizations end up with all the same kinds of people. Instead, the committee designed a rubric — an idea that we’d like to continue to iterate for future hires — that anchored analysis on whether someone can identify and articulate a problem about DEI and offer solutions to fix it. We were also very upfront about salary to avoid wasting candidates’ time and ward off the power struggle at the end of a more traditional hiring process.
Once we posted the job description, a subset of the original hiring committee phone screened candidates using their rubric. We also invited potential candidates who wanted to learn more before applying to have conversations with the Director of HR, another practice that we want to continue moving forward.
In the final stages, we recruited four additional staff members to conduct first-round interviews, then another two staffers for the final round of interviews. The final hiring decision rested with our CEO Kerri Hoffman, who tapped people from the entire hiring process to help her make a well-informed choice.
What we’re taking away from this
We plan to scale parts of this pilot process so that hiring and onboarding at PRX are done from a more equitable vantage point. A few things stood out from the pilot as areas for improvement and practices to keep:
Create a balance of identities on the hiring committee
This pilot involved a total of 16 PRX staffers: ten of whom are people of color and one who manages employees as a part of their role. In another iteration, we will be more strategic about balancing race, seniority, and departments on the hiring committee in addition to inviting volunteers.
Facilitate as much discussion as possible
Having the chance to talk with people is a benefit that we noticed throughout the pilot.
- Learn from professionals who have a similar role at other organizations: Doing this for a brand new position allowed us to design for success and potentially avoid things that could stand in the way of that success.
- Invite dialogue with potential candidates: A hiring process is a moment to enrich our network with more and more types of people. By talking with people interested in working with us, we get feedback on how a job description is being received and make connections to tap for later opportunities.
- Start building relationships before day one: An advantage of including so many staff in the pilot is that the candidates met many people across the organization, allowing them to have familiar faces on their first day and giving them a better chance to evaluate us. This could be seen as cumbersome because it was such a big group, but it will pay off in building relationships.
Establish common language and values to evaluate candidates
For this pilot, we used a rubric to assess how well the candidates could perform the role. We want to continue exploring what this evaluation process can look like and how best to execute it.
Make this process more time-efficient
Designing and filling the role of Sr. Director of DEI took several months, which is an incredibly long time internally and for the candidates that went out for the position. We hope to streamline parts of the process to be easily accessible and replicable to different areas of PRX.
That is not to say that we want to do things as quickly as possible. There were moments, like writing the job description and creating the rubric, where we needed to take our time. And, the effort paid off — all of the final candidates noted that the job description was thorough and thoughtful.
Ultimately, we want to achieve a process that attracts applicants of varying identities and experiences, pushes hiring managers to think thoroughly about the job’s needs to talk less about “fit” and more about skills, and is articulate and transparent of expectations, desired outcomes, and compensation.
This pilot process was an essential step in our journey towards being a better organization. Please stick with us as we try new things and learn from them as the year goes on. We’ll be back this summer with another update. Until then, check out these resources that we found helpful while designing and hiring for this position: