Hiring Rooted in Community
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
As I think about the ways I show up in my work, I recognize that I both have a limited and privileged view AND also that my perspective and work can be used in service of creating more inclusive teams where everyone can belong and be powerful. With experience in a diverse, community-based team and in nonprofit executive search, I have seen the ways hiring practices can sometimes help and sometimes hurt that goal. As organizations dive more deeply into their own diversity, equity and inclusion practices, examining your hiring process and assumptions are critical.
There are many great reasons to hire an executive search consultant or external recruiter to support your hiring process for a new Director or VP or some other leader. These include having someone to help you recognize and examine bias, create confidential spaces for candidates, add capacity to assess candidates or manage committees and logistics, or just have an experienced thought-partner and advisor for support. But one challenge is that organizations often invest tens of thousands of dollars for that external recruiter to deepen or build relationships with people - particularly people of color in pursuit of developing a more diverse team. But to do that as more than a tokenizing effort, isn't it important and beneficial for the organization to know and hear from in their work anyway? But when you hire a recruiting, they build the relationships and walk away with those connections when the search is done. Rarely have I seen those relationships or contacts transferred at the end of the process. The new connections are often community members or “stakeholders” or competitors and are often separated by one-or-two degrees from the leadership of organizations but often have the most insight into what’s needed for the work because sometimes they are directly impacted by the decisions and services the organization provides. They are also deeply committed to the work that needs to be done. An investment in that relationship and person will last far beyond the search and the hire.
So I propose a new model: take the opportunity of a search to build the relationships yourself, and if you need advice and capacity support to do that well, partner with your external consultant to identify who in your community and networks you need to build or deepen relationships with as it relates to the position and its body of work. Build those relationships together and involve the team in reaching out. Talk about the search and position, but also listen to community members’ insights on the organization and its work. Ask who they suggest to lead that body of work and what needs to be done, and then how you can support them and your work together. Particularly if your team is mostly white and the community you serve mostly isn’t, consider looking at the search process as one step in building the relationships and team on your journey towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.
The journey doesn’t end there: this means you’ll likely be hearing different perspectives that challenge what exists and being ready to welcome and cede power to those voices is hard, but if you’re reading this, that’s likely the work you are working towards anyway. Hopefully this is one more tool to help you on that journey!