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Advancing Racial Equity & Disability Access through Inclusive Hiring in the Arts

Catherine Cheng-Anderson, Director of People and Culture

photo of a person walking along a building that has a brightly-colored geometric mural painted on it
Mural in Lynn.

The conversation around racial equity and access in the arts is more essential than ever. As we work towards building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive creative landscape, it’s important that recruitment and hiring processes are at the forefront of our efforts. Historically, groups such as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), Native and Indigenous, deaf, and disabled individuals have faced under-representation and exclusion from creative opportunities. Embracing inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, involving actively recruiting individuals from various backgrounds across all areas, can help dismantle systemic barriers and promote equitable access to creative opportunities. Also, by employing underrepresented individuals in key roles, creative and cultural organizations are more likely to have diverse perspectives represented, leading to more innovative programming that resonates with broader audiences.

In Mass Cultural Council’s pursuit of a more inclusive and dynamic creative sector, this blog post will examine key strategies to promote access and racial equity through diverse recruitment and hiring practices. By adopting these strategies, we can break down longstanding barriers and cultivate a thriving creative and cultural ecosystem that celebrates and empowers all.

Part 1: Rethinking Job Descriptions & Opportunities

To create a more equitable and inclusive arts community, it’s essential to rethink job descriptions to eliminate biases and obstacles that may hinder or exclude qualified candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. This includes candidates who have obtained relevant experience through non-traditional means, informal learning, or possess transferable skills not explicitly mentioned in the job description. Provided are actionable steps to help you identify qualifications that will attract a diverse pool of candidates to pursue opportunities within your organization.

Focus on core competencies.

  • Identify the essential job functions that are required for each role. This will help create more accurate job descriptions that reflect the needs of the position.
  • Prioritize transferable skills such as identifying skills and qualities that are applicable across various roles, such as problem-solving, communication, and adaptability.
  • Consider candidates’ potential for growth, learning, and development within the organization.
  • Consider the value of diverse perspectives and experiences that can enrich the organization’s culture and output.
  • Avoid using jargon, acronyms, or gendered language in job descriptions.

Emphasize necessary skills and experiences.

  • Focus on the essential skill sets, and experiences required for the position, rather than insisting on a particular degree or certification. Be open to candidates with diverse educational backgrounds.
  • Recognize that alternative pathways to acquiring expertise, such as internships, volunteer work, or self-directed learning, can be just as valuable as traditional education, especially given the high costs of higher education and the improvements in virtual and informal learning paths.

Highlight how candidates can demonstrate their expertise in key areas.

  • Encourage and offer multiple ways for candidates to demonstrate their qualifications and accomplishments such as portfolios, work samples, or case studies, in addition to or in place of traditional resumes and cover letters.
  • As part of the recruitment process, it may be useful for applicants to take part in an assessment designed to evaluate their proficiency in key areas, providing objective evidence of their expertise.
  • Instead of simply listing job duties, focus on the outcomes the employee is expected to achieve. This will help potential candidates understand the impact they can make in the role and attract those who are driven by results.

Part 2: Addressing Unconscious Bias

Unconscious biases are pervasive and deeply rooted thought patterns that can influence our decisions without us even realizing it. These biases can shape our perceptions of others and lead us to make decisions that are not based on objective facts or qualifications. In the context of recruitment and hiring processes, unconscious biases can result in qualified candidates being overlooked or excluded from consideration. Tackling unconscious biases during the hiring process is crucial for fostering a more equitable and inclusive arts organization. Provided are actionable steps to identifying and addressing bias in your recruitment practices.

Raise awareness and develop strategies to mitigate unconscious bias.

  • Offer workshops, seminars, and online courses to raise awareness of unconscious bias and its impact on hiring.
  • Establish clear criteria for evaluating candidates to ensure decisions are based on objective factors rather than biased judgments.
  • Intentionally involve BIPOC, Native and Indigenous, deaf, disabled individuals, and other groups with under-represented perspectives on hiring panels.
  • Encourage hiring panel to recognize, manage and have open dialogue and discussions about unconscious biases and diversity in the hiring process. A diverse hiring committee is more likely to challenge and counteract unconscious biases.

Standardize the recruitment and hiring process using inclusive and equitable practices.

  • Provide training and support for hiring managers to help them identify, recruit, and fairly evaluate diverse candidates.
  • Commit to interviewing an equitable percentage of candidates from under-represented communities for each job posting.
  • Deploy interview structures and evaluation criteria that can be adapted by each team to create consistency.
  • Include an open-ended questions and situational exercises that allow candidates to illustrate their skills and expertise in real-world scenarios. For example, asking a candidate to share examples of how they have addressed challenges or solved problems in their previous roles, emphasizing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Use inclusive, welcoming language in job descriptions and interviews.
  • Establish a system of checks and balances to hold hiring panels accountable for their decisions. This can include requiring written justifications for hiring decisions, process enhancements that require specific approvals, and conducting regular reviews of hiring practices.

Engage in intentional recruitment efforts.

  • Partner with and post job openings with community organizations, and educational institutions, serving BIPOC, Native and Indigenous, deaf, and disabled communities.
  • Leverage professional networks to promote job opportunities among diverse candidates.
  • Regularly assess your recruitment efforts by tracking diversity metrics, such as the number of applicants from underrepresented groups, the diversity of interviewees, and the demographic makeup of new hires. Use data to identify areas where improvement is needed and adjust goals and strategies accordingly.

Part 3: Create a Welcoming & Supportive Candidate Experience

A welcoming and supportive interview environment further helps candidates feel at ease, enabling them to confidently express their qualifications and potential contributions to the organization. Provided are actionable steps for arts organizations to perpetuate a positive experience for BIPOC, Native and Indigenous, deaf, and disabled candidates.

Proactively provide accommodations during the application and interview steps.

  • Develop and implement a clear policy outlining the organization’s commitment to and process for providing accessibility accommodations during the recruitment and interview process. Always list a staff person a candidate can reach out to with questions.
  • Offer an accessible application process, such as providing alternative formats for submitting applications, and include a statement on job descriptions inviting applicants to request accommodations.
  • Be ready to provide sign language interpreters, large print materials, or assistive listening devices if requested. This may include identifying vendors and work processes for common accommodations.
  • Ensure that interview locations are physically accessible and offer alternative formats for in person interviews, such as video calls or written responses.

Cultivate an inviting and inclusive interview environment.

  • When finalizing interviews with candidates supply candidates with the interview questions beforehand, enabling them to feel more at ease during the interview process.
  • Train the interview panel to avoid asking biased follow up questions that may unfairly advantage or disadvantage candidates based on their background or experiences.
  • Train interview panel to maintain a structured interview process that is designed to elicit information from candidates about their qualifications, skills, and experiences, while also providing opportunities for them to share their unique perspectives and experiences.
  • Show genuine interest in the candidate by actively listening to their responses and encourage interviewers to be empathetic and patient, allowing for extra time if needed and avoiding assumptions about candidates’ abilities or experiences.
  • Clearly communicate the hiring timeline, next steps, and what the candidate can expect throughout the process.

Seek input from employees and new hires.

  • Engage with BIPOC, Native and Indigenous, deaf, and disabled staff members to identify areas for improvement in the recruitment and hiring process.
  • Implement changes based on feedback to create a more inclusive candidate experience and continue to solicit feedback and make improvements over time.

Part 4: Prominently Display Your Organization’s DEIA Commitment

Prominently displaying your organization’s DEIA commitment reinforcing its values and attracting diverse talent. Provided are actionable steps your organization can take to effectively amplify its DEIA commitment across various channels and platforms, emphasizing its dedication to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment.

  • Website: Highlight your DEIA statement, mission, and values on your organization’s website. Consider developing a dedicated DEIA section that details your initiatives, objectives, and progress. Make sure this information is easily accessible from the homepage and other pertinent parts of the site.
  • Recruitment and hiring materials: Lead your job postings and job description with your statement asserting your commitment to DEIA. During the interview, emphasize the organization’s dedication to cultivating an inclusive work environment and the specific actions taken to advance diversity and equity in their work area.
  • New Employee Onboarding: Embed DEIA priorities into employee orientations and training resources. Highlight the significance of DEIA values for all staff members and make certain that employees know that advancing DEIA is a job requirement, and will be evaluated for.
  • Social media: Utilize your organization’s social media channels to disseminate DEIA-related content, including news, events, initiatives, and achievements. Integrate DEIA messaging into your social media approach and ensure consistent communication across all platforms.
  • Internal communications: Showcase DEIA initiatives and updates in internal newsletters, employee intranet, and other communication mediums. Foster dialogue and feedback from employees on DEIA-related topics and applaud the organization’s accomplishments and milestones.
  • Physical spaces: Exhibit your DEIA commitment in your workspaces, meeting rooms, and other shared areas using posters, signage, or artwork reflecting your organization’s values and objectives.
  • Reports and publications: Feature DEIA progress and updates in your organization’s annual reports, brochures, and other publications, demonstrating your commitment to external stakeholders and highlighting the organization’s DEIA promotion efforts.
  • Media and public relations: Capitalize on media opportunities and public relations initiatives to publicize your organization’s DEIA projects, successes, and stories, raising awareness and advocating your commitment to a wider audience.
  • Leadership visibility: Ensure that organizational leaders actively and visibly support DEIA initiatives through everyday management, speaking engagements, and participation in DEIA-focused events and activities.

Part 5: Building Comprehensive Diversity & Inclusion Programs

Creating a truly inclusive and equitable arts and culture organization goes beyond just the recruitment and hiring process. It necessitates continual investment in diversity and inclusion initiatives that offer resources to all employees, regardless of their background, throughout their careers. By implementing diversity and inclusion programs, organizations can cultivate a workplace environment that enhances retention of diverse talent, encourages a favorable work culture, and creates culturally significant programming that resonates with a broader audience. Provided are additional steps that arts organizations should consider when engaging and retaining employees:

Take action to increase employee growth and retention.

  • Offer training programs, workshops, or conferences that help employees build new skills, expand their networks, and gain exposure to new ideas and perspectives.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to take on leadership roles within the organization, such as serving on committees or taking on special projects. This can help to promote greater representation and diversity in decision-making and ensure that underrepresented voices are heard and valued.
  • Encourage employees to participate in cross-functional training or job rotation opportunities, enabling them to learn about different roles and responsibilities within the organization. This can foster a deeper understanding of the organization’s operations and enhance collaboration across departments.

Provide staff with interpersonal and professional development opportunities.

  • Prepare training on awareness and understanding of different cultures and perspectives and provide strategies for working effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
  • Conduct workshops addressing microaggressions in the workplace, helping employees recognize and respond to subtle discriminatory actions or comments. This will contribute to creating a safer and more respectful working environment for all.
  • Organize workshops on allyship, teaching employees how to support and advocate for their colleagues from underrepresented or marginalized groups. This encourages a culture of solidarity and understanding within the organization.

Organize affinity groups for your workforce.

  • Affinity groups foster an understanding and appreciation for different cultures, experiences, and perspectives, and contribute to building a more inclusive and culturally aware work environment.
  • Organization may offer workshops, seminars, or training opportunities that cater to the specific needs and interests of their members, promoting personal and professional growth.
  • Affinity groups can engage in community outreach efforts or volunteer activities that align with their members’ values and interests, promoting a positive image for the organization and strengthening community connections.

The road to creating a more equitable and inclusive arts community can be challenging, but it is a journey that is well worth taking. By prioritizing inclusion and equity, arts organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and create a more vibrant and thriving creative economy that benefits everyone.

While there is still much work to be done, the progress made in recent years offers a sense of hope and motivation within the creative sector. An increasing number of arts organizations acknowledge the value of diversity and inclusion, taking tangible steps to advance equity and accessibility. As we persist in reevaluating conventional or traditional practices, confronting our biases, and investing in all-encompassing diversity and inclusion initiatives, we can forge a more equitable, diverse, and culturally vibrant arts community—one that embraces and honors the distinct viewpoints and experiences of all.

Together, we can build a brighter future for the arts – one that is truly inclusive, equitable, and reflective of the diverse communities we serve.

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