Friday, February 12, 2010

Diversity XXIV: The Checklist pt.2

Glad to see that there's some positive responses to the idea of the checklist.

99 Seats said probably the most important thing about it, which is that it's a complicated checklist and would take some thought to figure out what would be useful. And the reason for that complication is exactly what RVCBard said in my comments section:
I wish it were that simple, but the things I'd put on that checklist are cognitive, which presents a whole 'nother layer of problems - mostly the fact that people can justify anything.
It's true that any thing you'd put on the checklist that has to do with correcting your attitude or behaving differently would be completely useless. And the whole checklist, even if it is actionable in every part, will be pointless if the person is using it in bad faith (as a bit of window dressing; forced to as part of a legal settlement, for instance).

Isaac chimes in:
Guy's checklist idea wouldn't correct the structural inequalities that would make it harder for people from certain backgrounds to be qualified for various jobs-- just as blind orchestra auditions doesn't change that the fact that learning to master a musical instrument is expensive-- but it's an interesting thought experiment.
Yeah, thought experiment is perfect. The thing that was getting to me about implicit bias was that even if we remade America from top to bottom, and really ensured that every person of every background was on an even keel economically, educationally, etc., then there's the possibility that still people will not have equal opportunities, because of implicit bias. Clearly, however, we're not at that near-utopian end point.

On the other hand, this isn't purely an esoteric thought experiment. This is from the perspective of someone who runs a small arts organization and wants to say, "Well, okay, I'm not exactly in a position to level the entire economic playing field, but I am in a position to create better hiring practices. What can I do on that front?"

So anyways, I think one checklist question that came to me as I was falling asleep last night is that if you are hiring, you are going to be limited in your choice by the applicants. And your applicant pool is going to be limited by who comes across your want ad and notices.

So one point on the checklist should be reaching out to minority champion organizations with your hiring position. In other words, when you think to yourself, "I need a playwright," don't just put your playwright ads in the usual places -- Craigslist, Backstage, etc. It's not that those places necessarily have anything wrong with them (I have no idea of the demographic readership of Craigslist or Backstage, actually). But you need to also make sure you reach out specifically to groups like the one that RVCBard is forming for playwrights of color. For young actors, I remember that there's a group at NYU for both artists of color (The Collective) and female artists (The WOMB -- which I didn't know about until I looked up where to link to for The Collective).

I haven't figured out exactly how to word this checklist question, but the thrust of it is, start by making sure that you're getting a diverse range of applicants: make sure your want ad is in the hands of champion groups. And if you're looking at your applicant pool and it still doesn't look like a reflection of the diversity in the community, keep pushing for more applicants.

Just one tiny step, perhaps. Small in the face of the widespread structural challenges that face us. But on the level of individuals, it could make a huge difference to someone who could get an opportunity.


isaac butler said...

Hey Guy,

AN interesting point about implicit bias (which i'd like to write about more since my whole day job revolves around it):

When implicit bias was first being tested, the conventional wisdom was that, due to structural inequality, implicit bias was immutable.

But in the past few years, many researchers (most prominently Nilanjana Dasgupta) have actually tested that theory, and what they've found is, in fact, implicit bias is not fixed and can be overcome. I (co-)write a little bit about it in this article.

Basically, there are short term and long term interventions, and they all have mixed success. Two of the best interventions are promoting counter-stereotypic portrayals in media and what's called "intergroup contact" which is a kind fo structured diversity. If you want to read up on "intergroup contact", look for work done by a research team called Tropp and Pettigrew. for counterstereotypic media portrayals, Dasgupta is your woman.

isaac butler said...

One other point (sorry to multi-post):

it's worth saying that what you're talking about doing here-- creating tailor-made strategies for encouraging diversity in a particular workplace or field-- has another name. That name is Affirmative Action. But when you call it that, people freak out and assume you mean "quotas" which no one has been fighting for for a long time.

CultureFuture said...

Hey Isaac,

Never worry about multi-posting, especially in realms that are far more your expertise than mine. I can't comment on the first part because I haven't had a chance to sit down and really read it yet, but I look forward to it.

As to the second point, my understanding of Affirmative Action was similar in spirit but slightly different. As I understand it, Affirmative Action generally means taking into account diversity (e.g. race/gender/sexuality) in the hiring process. But the ways Affirmative Action get implemented can mean a variety of different things. What I proposed may be one method of affirmative action, but it's different from the point system that some schools use in admissions (adding points for being a minority) or a quota system.

I guess the reason I didn't drop that word is that I find that the phrase clouds up thinking, because it can be applied to a lot of different methods. In fact, you could say that any approach to try and maximize diversity is "affirmative action."