Racial Equity in the Search Process
Equitable hiring practices require deliberateness and intention throughout the entire process. Search facilitators have tremendous power during a search - rather than being gatekeepers, we try to use this power to welcome in candidates. Understanding that, as a firm and individually, our own anti-racist journeys will always be works in progress, we are committed to self- and group-reflection and examination of our biases in order to promote racial equity in the search process.
In 2020, we saw a global pandemic that disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, especially Black communities, and the continued brutal violence against Black lives. These events, and the resulting uprising and change, have shown us again the amount of work that is still left to do - within ourselves, within our team, and with the organizations we partner with - to reach a more equitable future.
We don’t pretend to have the answers. We partner with organizations and leaders at a vulnerable time that will have a lasting impact on the organization’s trajectory. In that role, we recognize that we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to raise these questions and try to impact change through both the hiring process and the ultimate hire. Below are some resources we have found helpful when thinking about racial equity in leadership searches, some big questions we are grappling with, and some of the ways we are taking action.
What we are learning about racial equity in nonprofit hiring and funding
Throughout our work in this sector, we have been seeking out resources to help us understand BIPOC nonprofit leadership, from statistics around numbers of leaders, to how those nonprofits are funded, to first-person accounts of being BIPOC leaders, especially in primarily white nonprofit organizations. What we have seen, and continue to learn, is that leaders face different challenges depending on their background, and this is particularly true of BIPOC leaders. Yet, most research and other resources lump all leaders of color into one category, not separating out data points or suggested solutions by race. For example, in looking for statistics specifically around nonprofits led by Black leaders, we found much of the data is out of date, and there were few calls-to-action that took into account the specific ways in which Black leaders have been silenced. Addressing the varying inequities leaders of color face will require differentiated approaches; research and advocacy that fail to recognize the distinct ways marginalized communities are oppressed will certainly fall short.
Below are some resources - by no means comprehensive either of what’s available or of what there is to say - that we have found useful. We hope that as these conversations continue at a global scale, more research will be conducted that will help drive solutions to inequitable nonprofit leadership.
Anti-Blackness in the nonprofit sector:
Nonprofit Quarterly: Black Women in Nonprofits Matter
A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities: The Case for Funding Black-Led Social Change
Experience of BIPOC nonprofit leaders:
Chronicle of Philanthropy: The Challenges of Being a Woman Leader of Color
Educators for Excellence: Nonprofits need women of color in leadership and to disrupt the structural barriers to their advancement
Chronicle of Philanthropy: Leaders of Color Speak Out
Statistics around BIPOC leadership and funding:
Bridgespan and Echoing Green: Racial Equity In Philanthropy, Closing the Funding Gap
Center for Effective Philanthropy: Reflecting on Leadership Diversity in Today’s Nonprofit Sector
How bias enters the search process:
Harvard Business Review: How to Reduce Personal Bias when Hiring
Stanford Social Innovation Review: The Bias of Professionalism’ Standards
Questions we are grappling with
The Clover team regularly comes together to discuss in more depth how we can do better in facilitating and supporting anti-racist searches. Here are some of the challenging questions we have been discussing:
Recognizing that searches conducted by humans will never be free of bias and faulty assumptions, what new strategies can we use, beyond what we have already been doing, to best mitigate that reality, especially in the early phases of the search before we have met the candidates?
How do we balance our role as neutral search facilitators and our commitment to advocating for BIPOC candidates when we are working with search committees?
What should we be requiring of the organizations and the search committees we are partnering with when it comes to racial equity and inclusion?
How can we support BIPOC candidates’ success in organizations which we are not certain understand how to fully support a BIPOC leader, if those leaders are still interested in those jobs?
Our Commitment to Action
Based on these conversations, the Clover team is committing to some new actions in our search processes, as well as continuing to focus on the strategies we have already been using to promote racial equity. As part of our practice already, we take care to create job announcements that speak to a breadth of life experience and skills beyond traditional fields or credentials so that the door is open widely for potential candidates, we take time and care to actively seek out and build genuine relationships with networks of BIPOC professionals, we always have a minimum of two team members carefully screen each resume and attend early stage interviews, and we craft interview scenarios and questions intended to assess a candidate’s comfort and commitment to using an equity lens.
While we think those practices are sound, we know there is always more work to do. We are working to evaluate the assumptions we make in our search process with a racial-equity lens and make necessary adjustments. This is ongoing work we are doing through regular staff conversations, our personal learning, and a racial equity workplan designed to hold us accountable. Below are some actionable items we plan to implement in future searches:
Begin the racial equity conversation early with clients, including reviewing their most recent equity audits, providing support and resources where needed to clients, and integrating racial equity expectations into our proposals and contracts.
Work more intentionally with clients to bring together a Search Committee that is representative of the organization’s staff and community. Without diverse voices to assess candidates and make hiring decisions, we fall short of our equity goals.
Invest more time at the beginning of the search to address bias and equity with the Search Committee, including dedicating a meeting to discussing racial equity and bias in the search process. Identify with them areas where bias may come in to play, and work together to be held accountable.
Evaluate the language we use when describing leadership traits, both in the announcement and when discussing candidates with the Search Committee. The common language around leadership can be deeply coded and steeped in whiteness.