ALEX: I’m Alex Blumberg, this is StartUp, the show about what it’s really like to start a business. We are towards the end of our special Gimlet-themed mini season, and we started Gimlet a little over a year ago. In that time, we’ve grown from a company that consisted of me and my co-founder Matt, to a company of 27 full-time employees.
Of that 27, 14 are women, 13 are men. Of our current and near-future hosts, there are 5 men and 5 women. In off-air leadership roles - there are 3 men and 2 women.
Also. Of the 27 total, 24 are white. Only 3 of the 27 are non-white -- 2 Asian Americans and one African American. We have nobody on staff who identifies as Hispanic. By the way, just 'cause this is audio, and I don’t want to assume anything, I’m one of the white ones.
This is what we are going to be talking about today on the program. And just as an aside, I’m going to be using the terms white, and non-white a lot. I know that terminology is imprecise. Whiteness is a construct. We are actually gonna get into that a little even.
This year, if our projections are correct, we will double in size. I want the next 27 people we hire to be less white than the last 27. It's a priority for us.
And it’s a priority because, we are a media company, with a large audience, doing narrative journalism in a country where race and ethnicity permeate every facet of our culture and politics, from Donald Trump talking about immigrants, to Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift, to Freddie Gray and Trayvon martin and Michael Brown and Black lives matter. We have an obligation to do right by the stories we’ll be telling. To tell them not from just one perspective, but with all the nuance and complexity they deserve.
It’s also a priority because, the country, and the world, is getting less white. The US right now is almost 40% non-white. In a couple decades non-white will be the majority. Just from a business perspective, it’s idiotic not to have our staff and our hosts reflect the make-up of the listeners we’re trying to reach.
I’ve worked in lots of jobs in media, and every place I’ve worked has been pretty white. And at every place I’ve worked, there have been occasional conversations about diversity, about how the organization wants more of it. More than once, every person in those conversations was white. A bunch of white people having a conversation about how there’s too many white people. And it can make you start to wonder, what are we hoping to accomplish here?
I wanted to have a different conversation about diversity. A conversation that actually included non-white people here at Gimlet. And so, I asked all three non-white Gimlet employees, if they’d feel comfortable talking about diversity with me on the podcast. I made it clear this was optional, that they were more than welcome to say no. But they all said yes. So on this program I will be playing parts of all these conversations. And I want to stress, this is a tiny data set, these are three different people, with three very different experiences. And it seems ridiculous to say this, but it probably bears being said just the same, just as I don’t speak for all white people, they do not speak for all the people with whom they share a background. This episode is nothing more than what it is, 3 people of color bravely diving into a sometimes awkward conversation with their white ceo about race and diversity.
ALEX: So let’s start here have you noticed how white it is …
BRITTANY: Yeah I have. It’s evident.
ALEX: This is Brittany Luse, the host of Gimlet’s next show, which comes out in early January. It’s called Sampler. She and a guest co-host play clips from some of the best stuff out there in the podcasting world and do guest interviews.
In addition to that show that she’s doing for us, she hosts a podcast in her spare time, with her best friend Eric called , For Colored Nerds, conversations Black people have when White people aren’t in the room.
And I’m a fan of For Colored Nerds, that’s how Brittany and i met actually. I reached out to her and Eric after enjoying the show for a while. Several months later, when we were looking for a host for Sampler, I asked her if she’d be interested in applying. She had a non-radio day job she wasn’t into and so she said yes.
BRITTANY: in hindsight I realized how quick it was, cuz I think you reached out to us in March, 7 months ago you guys emailed us for the first time.
ALEX: When Brittany came to work here, she found herself at a new company, in a new field, with new colleagues, none of whom were black.What’s more most people at Gimlet come from careers in public radio, Brittany had been in marketing, the podcast was something she did in her spare time. So, in the beginning she said, she felt out of place because she didn’t share the same professional background as everyone around her. But 3 months into her tenure, that was starting to change.
BRITTANY: I can see the ways in which I”m different from other people on staff, and like it doesn’t just have to do with the fact that I.. like I’m just now working in radio for the first time. I didn't even want to talk about this but there’s one day, where like, I didn't get a Gimlet guide, which is like this like, you know I guess for people listening, it’s like this internal program that we have for new hires get matched up with people have been here for longer.
ALEX: Right, the person, that the other person can go to to ask questions about like what the hell is going on here, where the bathroom, whatever.
BRITTANY: Yeah yeah yeah and so I don’t know, I don’t, like I can't say necessarily that like, that like I was overlooked in any specific, you know, I can't say that for certain technically, it was started shortly after I was brought on, but like we don't have a large organization, do you know what I mean? So it’s not like, and also like I’m the only a black person so you can’t miss me. But like things like that or like you know, we were figuring out that the company ros or whatever..I wasn’t on it.
ALEX: You weren’t on the company ros, when did that happen?
BRITTANY: No. I think that’s been around a couple of weeks ago. And like you know if you weren’t on it you just had to write your name. So I wrote my name or whatever, but it was just like I asked for a Gimlet guide the same day that like I was left out of the company ros and I was just uh..Like those things are, I don’t know how to describe it, those things may have been oversights block, weirdly that I kind of assume for some reason that I would be like forgotten from it, but like I can’t necessarily verbalize to you specifically why, like I’m used to being overlooked, do you know what I mean? And like, it’s like weird because i feel almost nervously guilty talking to you about this, even though I know in my principles who I am is a person, this is something that I care a lot about, and I'm I literally have your full attention right now, and I can talk about it and I can ask for it but it still feels very scary.
ALEX: What’s the scary part?
BRITTANY: There is always a fear when talking to white people about race, especially white people that help you pay your bills, it’s like that you’ll turn them off, you’ll scare them, that you will offend them, that you will upset them, that’s like a very serious fear that I cannot help but have. Like it makes sense for me not to talk to my boss about this. Strangely enough I’m being encouraged today but..yeah.
ALEX: Well I think it’s like you know like the Gimlet Guide thing, I wanna be like oh that has nothing to do with race that's just an oversight, and all that sort of stuff right? And that may be true that’s probably true, but I also feel like the only reason I wanna do that is to make myself feel better, and that to acknowledge that I actually, whether there is something going on, whether there is some sort of weird, not weird like something clearly apparent throughout the world, scientifically backed-up, unconsciously biased, like that’s not like, it’s not weird at all. But it’s also the uncomfortable part of it, and this may be too big a reach, so let me, but this is..I feel like the uncomfortable part is that by bringing that up you are saying that maybe you guys are racist in some way, not…
BRITTANY: No I understand what you are saying, keep going, I’m sorry keep going.
ALEX: Not that they are saying that you are racist in that way but like either it was an oversight or um something else was going on right?
BRITTANY: Yeah well see the thing is like no matter how hard you try, unconscious bias exists, and social conditioning tells people that a young black woman does not have the job, does not work here, does not seem very public radio, does not seem podcasting, does not seem like should be your host, all of those assumptions like are very thick in the air, before any interaction happens, all of that exists, so like part of like actively working on this isn’t just bringing the people in but also like doing the work within the organization, doing the work within your networks, doing the work within yourself, to like always be trying to check for that.
ALEX: Always be trying to check for that. It’s a good piece of advice. And as the white person in the next year, I should say that when something happens like what happened with Brittany, I would imagine a lot of white people really want to NOT see it in racial terms. I know that every part of me didn’t want to see it that way. I wanted it to be an easily explained oversight. Because that’s the story that makes me feel better. But if you’re the person, like Brittany, that this is happening to over and over and over again, the story I tell make myself feel better can make you feel worse. I’m denying a reality that you know to be true. And the truth is, the science says, it’s not just an oversight, not every time anyway. Study after study shows, we all carry unconscious bias around with us. Probably the more we acknowledge the truth of that racist in our subconscious, the less inadvertently racist we can be in real life. Now if I hadn't been talking to Brittany for this podcast, I doubt she would have brought that up with me, but every person I talked to had had an experience like that, they were wondering is this something that happened because of my race? Or just because. And what you do in your own mind when faced with that moment, when faced with a potential case of unconscious bias, it’s tricky. Lisa Chow had a story about that. Lisa remember, is one of my co-hosts on StartUp, She’s back from her maternity leave and working on a new season, following a new company. She’s worked for over a decade in journalism, much of it in the same largely white public radio world that I inhabited, and she had to decide early on, what to do about unconscious bias:
LISA: I remember at one time at NPR, this was when I first work at NPR at Morning Edition, I was you know at the bottom at the totem pole as a booker, there were three bookers, um and I have been assigned to cover business, and business was kind of like the bottom of the totem pole segment and no one listened to it because Marketplace covered it up most of the time from the stations and there was another producer who was not white, and she pulled me aside, she’s like ok see those two other bookers? They are white. The senior editor who is managing all of you is white. They are getting assigned to these other segments that are kind of more important and you are kind of assigned to the business segment and so why do you think that is? You know and I remember saying like well everyone I’m the only person with any kind of business kind of background or knowledge, you know I had a applied math degree and I went to, you know I took courses in the Harvard business school, so I didn't think there was anything unusual about the fact that I was the one covering business, um, but she was like oh you are Asian and they are kind of ghettoizing you..and so it did sit with me for a little bit for maybe like a week, and I started thinking about it and I was like uh, I can’t think this way. Like this is toxic thinking. I kind of let my head go down that path and I was like that is a scary path.
ALEX: What’s scary about it?
LISA: I think the dangerous part is that I could see it creating resentment, frustration, anger, hatred and then..and then not feeling motivated, if that were the case, if the senior editor had specifically said ok but not intentional but whatever. Hidden bias, unconscious bias was like ok this Asian woman is gonna cover business and then these two women you know are gonna be doing kinda more high-profile segment A stuff. I mean I don’t know then you just kind of at a loss, and you know as an Asian woman I’m out of that club, like end of story, done. So I felt bad but I really did not want to be friends with her. I just felt like her thinking and her talking in those terms all the time, like in these racial terms all the time, I mean she really saw everything racially, was just gonna fuck with me.
One other place where that question "Is this because of my race?" would crop up, is when you’re hired:
SRUTHI: When the job offer was made I remember thinking is this because I’m good or is it because I’m a brown woman? Like is that one of the things that’s giving me a leg up?
ALEX: This is Reply All producer Sruthi Pinnamaneni, who’s Indian. She’s talking about when she was hired here at Gimlet.
SRUTHI: I think I’m a good producer for sure. But I imagine also when you are hiring someone, you do think, "Yeah this person is different than other people we have on staff." And that is a point in my favor, or several points. But I guess that’s the sorta, that gets to the core of the whole issue with the diversity question right? Because you want what’s best for your company you wanna hire the best people, at the same time, you have to think how the company looks.
ALEX: Yeah that is something that happens like...is that weird?
SRUTHI: It’s weird when you are the person who gets the extra points because uh it’s so...I feel mixed about it, you know. Being chosen for in any way your ethnic attributes is, I don’t know it feels weird.
ALEX: Now just to underline how complicated this can get - Sruthi’s was bothered by the idea of her race being a factor in the hiring process. But in my conversation with Brittany, it was clear she felt differently.
BRITTANY: Targeting to me speaking for myself, I think targeting is fine.
ALEX: I myself, I was still a little uncomfortable with it, and I talked to Brittany about my own discomfort over what Sruthi had mentioned, the awkwardness of targeting someone because of their skin color.
ALEX: Fundamentally it’s a weird thing to be..the whole reason it’s like this in America because of a long history of like you know…
BRITTANY: I’m familiar with it, we talk about it sometimes on the show.
ALEX: And the long history involved you know white people looking at other, non-white people, and judging them by the color of their skin, that’s like the fundamental problem to sort of like whole group speaking we are disenfranchising this, and not seen as fully human because their background, the color of their skin right? So that’s the fundamental problem.
BRITTANY: Yeah one of the major issues.
ALEX: Yeah to sort of make one small attempt to sort of fix that problem in your organization involves targeting people because of the colors of their skin in certain way you know what I mean?
BRITTANY: Yeah I think a great deal of people are feeling uncomfortable about that are probably white people though. Cuz I don’t feel uncomfortable with anybody targeting anything, that doesn’t..I mean there’s one thing, targeting is one thing, tokenism is another.
ALEX: Yes, yeah talk more about that distinction.
BRITTANY: Ok so targeting is like we are actively trying to make an organization less white, so we are gonna do these things, cuz we are actively trying, we are trying to go outside of our networks and go outside of what is traditional to find talented people who are not white. Uh targeting is fine for me. Tokenism is like you know we gotta have one,
ALEX: We got Brittany! We are gonna stop that.
BRITTANY: Yes exactly, can you guys stop that me, I had to continue explaining what Netflix and Chill means. And how it’s much older in the past 3 weeks. That would be tokenism and I don’t know how much I can take that. I worked..sometimes I worked in the past, I was not on the executive team, I was you know middle of the manager I wasn't on the executive team. And they were redoing the website and they were trying like to figure out who from the executive team can have a folio and website. And like I was simply suggesting that my photo be on the website, and I knew..I knew why, do you know what I’m saying like I knew why it’s because there weren’t enough people of color, no like black people on the executive team to make the website look diverse enough for somebody might wanna work there, and yeah so they just stuck me, there was no reason for me to be on that website, there was no reason for me to be on that website, but I was there, a lot of people get to..they hate tokenism, and then they stop.
ALEX: That’s a really good..you should coin that, that’s like totally yeah, that’s a medium post right there. Targeting vs. Tokenism, remember that to the market, that’s good.
ALEX: Clearly Sruthi’s experience as an Indian woman and Brittany’s experience as an African American are very different. Officially different. When colleges recruit minority students, they’ll often subdivide them into minorities, and underrepresented minorities, which is usually, black, hispanic, and native americans.
And of course, it’s a little insane to be lumping all non-white people into the same diversity bucket. Or to be lumping people into buckets at all. But most corporations and other large organizations that are trying to look more diverse, will make due with anyone who can possibly count as diversity. This comes up in our household, because my wife Nazanin has been the subject of some of these conversations at other places she’s worked. She’s been asked to be in public pictures for organizations she’s worked at. People have wondered aloud whether she counts as diversity. And we don’t even know ourselves where we come down on this question of whether or not we are an interracial marriage or not. On those official forms, where you have to check a box for race, sometimes Nazanin writes white, sometimes she writes other.
I cannot tell you on a day to day basis how Nazanin will answer to the question.
On the one hand, she’s not white, at least not the way I am, or the way the white people she grew up around in a very white subub of Minneapolis were white. She’s an immigrant. Her parents spoke a different language, made different food, thought the American practice of sleepovers was insane--that your kid would spend the night, unsupervised in some stranger’s house, who does that? Nazanin was the only one of her classmates that had to go to her own parent-teacher conferences in order to translate what her teachers were saying about her.
On the other hand, Iranians … Persians, many of them check the white box without thinking about it. And if we still have white boxes when our children are grown, i’m pretty sure that’s the one they’ll check too. And anyway, Nazanin’s experience growing up is vastly different than an African American’s or a Hispanic American's experience.
Here at Gimlet, we ended up, for the purposes of this story, NOT counting Nazanin as diversity. On the day we were tallying things up, when we asked her if she was white, she said yes.
And Sruthi Pinnamaneni and Lisa Chow, they feel a lot like Nazanin. As Asians, Sruthi and Lisa are officially, in a different ethnic category. But they each told me they felt their difference actually benefited them in the workplace. In other words, it was a point in their favor.
And yet, they did recognize that they bring a different perspective than the white people here at Gimlet. And that the different perspective is valuable. Here’s Sruthi.
SRUTHI: There was one time I can remember where it came up in a way where I thought oh… that’s why we need to have more hosts who are of color or women or felt as if, being white man was something that, how should I put it, I wanna say it negatively affected the story but I did feel as if it held the story back.
ALEX: Which is that?
SRUTHI: So it was a story that we did that involved...
ALEX:This was on Reply All.
SRUTHI: So it was a story that we did that involved um, this was on Reply All, it was a story that involved race, and the guys were interviewing a woman, who’s not white and there were moments where I wanted them to push back a little bit, I was thinking like this is the question that I would ask, and they did it, and so afterwards I said hey why didn't you say, why didn't you push back a little on this idea or that one, they were like are you kidding me? You know can you imagine like two white dudes interviewing a woman of color and saying and disagreeing with her really? And I can see that I was like oh right you’d be the assholes, and the internet would hate you, and only a person who, you know I could do that.
ALEX: Sruthi also echoed something that Lisa Chow told me. That the more diversity you have at an organization, the less uptight it has to be around the issue of race. If there’s just one or two people of color, there’s this weird dynamic. The people of color might just keep their heads down, speak super carefully, for fear that one of these white people is going to say something accidentally offensive. And there’s a whole bunch of white people speaking super carefully, for fear that the people of color are going to make them feel bad for saying something accidentally offensive. But Lisa told me that the one time she worked in a newsroom where the ratio was a little bit better. Having a few more people of color, it relaxed the conversation. Race didn’t have to be something you tiptoed carefully around.
LISA: You know there were a few producers and reporters who were you know people of color …and I don’t know it’s just like the banter between us. Not that it was fundamentally different, from the banter between me and someone who is white, there’s like maybe a little bit more freedom you can have in a sense that like I know here she’s not gonna take offense by things, I don’t know it’s like I don’t have to be as buttoned up on certain issues, like we would just make fun of each other, and trash talk each other, in a way that like a white person probably couldn't do that with their...I don’t know, do you know what I’m saying? Like it’s...
ALEX: The freedom to make ethnic jokes?
LISA: Isn’t that awful? That was a bad example just we can get rid of the jokes, it’s not just like we can make racist jokes, we can actually have like heated conversations in a way that..I don’t know it’s just like just a kind of a much more open dialogue where you can really challenge people on the assumptions they have, it’s like guilt-free kind of conversation. I mean we should be able to do that regardless of race, right? But I feel like in today’s culture we can’t.
ALEX: But the freedom to be more honest and open in the workplace - it can also lead to more conflict in the workplace. That’s another thing the research says. More diverse workplaces come up with more creative solutions to problems. Let’s find out a little bit more..
Coming up, how you can be a middle class white guy, and still be in the minority, at least in Brooklyn, New York, after these words from our sponsor.
Welcome back to StartUp. I spent a couple of days talking with Gimlet employees about diversity, and what their experience had been like. And I felt like the conversations were going pretty well - that we were covering a lot of ground. And then I got an email that made me realize - oh wait - this conversation is even bigger than I thought. It came from our Chief of Staff, Chris Giliberti.
CHRIS: I’m Chris Gilberti, I make the models and the powerpoint slides
ALEX: So we are doing this episode on workplace diversity. We had not talked to you initially and tell me how you felt about that.
CHRIS: So I was just was wondering what the scope of the conversation around diversity was because, yeah cuz I hadn’t been talking to you and up until very recently I was the only LGBT person on the staff, so I thought oh ok, like is that something coming my way or not.
ALEX: So, adding LGBT to the diversity equation, we have 2 openly gay men on staff. But there might be others who aren’t out. One thing that’s different about sexual orientation diversity vs. race. Race is something that’s often publicly apparent. Sexual orientation maybe isn’t.
CHRIS: If you’re a LGBT person on staff, but you’re not open or out, you might not like into every community. Because even nobody knows, you might just internally feel uncomfortable.
ALEX: Right. Do you feel like a media company like this in New York City at this point and time there are people who would be afraid to like, come out to their coworkers?
CHRIS: Oh yeah for sure. Because it’s such a personal thing. Not because like Alex Blumberg is gonna feel or is he gonna be homophobic, that wouldn’t be the fear. It’d be that when you do that yeah sure Alex is cool but if he tells somebody what if my parents find out, it’s like this whole like whole world of considerations, not necessarily like this place not being safe.
ALEX: Now, as Chris and I were talking, something happened. We were going deep, as you can do in conversations like this, into the definition of diversity. And at a certain point I said this:
ALEX: One of the things that I think about and I wonder what your thoughts are on this like..when diversity gets mentioned a lot, like one of the things, like one of the ways that doesn’t get brought up that I’m struggling and wrestling is too is like, I bet you were to survey the staff, and this includes anybody we would bring on, any people of color and the vast majority of the staff is sorta like politically liberal, cosmopolitan leaning, you know sort of like Brooklyn-based you know what I mean? Like we are not at all culturally diverse, if you wanna say, or sort of I don’t know, religiously diverse? Politically diverse? We don't have any Evangelicals on staff, I don’t think. Um maybe we do.
CHRIS: I don’t know. I don’t know but I think so.
ALEX: Uh you know that’s a huge part of the population, you know what I mean, I don’t think we have anyone who can can name one NASCAR driver. I don’t think we..You know what I mean?
ALEX: The conversation continued. Chris is on the business side, he and I were musing about the business implications of religious podcasts. There are a lot of them. Is that a business we’d ever want to get into? And if so, what would that mean? And at some point Chris said we probably want to do some real hard thinking on who our audience is and who they’re not. And if we decide, based on audience research that Evangelicals are not a group we want to focus on, maybe we discard them. Meaning, maybe we don’t put them in our strategic planning as a core audience that we wanna build.Then, we finished the conversation. And I asked my producer Eric, if there was anything I’d missed.
ALEX: Um, hey Eric is there anything you..is there anything else that we should say?
ALEX: Eric had been doing what a producer does, listening to the conversation the entire time outside of the booth through headphones. And he came in, and asked, if we could turn on a mic for him:
ERIC: I was sitting outside the studio listening, as is my job for these things. And you guys started talking about religious diversity in the workplace, which was fine and interesting, but you started talking about basically writing off populations essentially because we just have to decide like who are we gonna, what we value as a company and who are we gonna target as our audience member and what are we going to develop contents around and that..that worried me, a little bit when you guys started talking about that. You know Alex, you said you don’t think we have any Evangelicals on staff..I grew up going to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and I am still a practicing Christian, and I go to church every Sunday, I have like a life group that meets in the middle of the week and half of us are StartUp listeners, a lot of StartUp fans, ok so I can also name a couple NASCAR drivers...
ALEX: When I heard that pause I was gonna say Eric can name some NASCAR drivers...
ERIC: But I think I don’t know that you want to cater to people who have the same beliefs as Rush Limbaugh, you don’t wanna to cater to radical beliefs in any sense like that’s not what we are trying to do, but like the thing like 71 percent of Americans identifies as Christians and there’s a large variety of Christian out there.
ALEX: How many people in the office know that you go to church every Sunday do you think?
ERIC: Probably a handful.
ALEX: Do you ever feel strange telling people?
ERIC: No less than 3 times did I stand outside with my headphones on listening and think about knocking on the door and then, like, no no no I’ll sit back down. When you said we don’t have any Evangelicals on staff or anybody who could..I almost like walked around almost to the window here so you can see me. Thought about waving but like, no no no, not right, not right. There’s always a tinge of discomfort like there’s always a little bit of discomfort when it comes up.
ALEX: What is that discomfort, are you worried about like incurring judgement on somewhere or is that something that you are worried about?
ERIC: I guess there is a fear about not being taken seriously to some extent. Because you believe in something that like some very smart people discount as complete hokum, you know? That you are therefore associated with that. As a Christian for me there is a feeling of responsibility to be open about your faith and to not cower when it’s easier to coward. Because it’s much much easier to deny Christ, you know, it’s much more comfortable.
ALEX: There’s an argument that every conversation you have, you should act as if anyone can hear you. In radio, it’s actually sort of an occupational hazard. Anyone who has worked in the field for a while has been caught in front of an open mic, saying something behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t to their face. The funny thing: when you are caught doing that, sometimes it sometimes prompts a conversation that ends up being pretty productive.
CHRIS: See this is so interesting because this is you ask me whether I would ever be nervous or anxious that I would overhear something that I wouldn't like, or if you are not out in the workplace maybe someone would be making a homophobic joke. I think there is way less risk of that here in this particular environment than someone saying something that would be really offensive to Eric.
CHRIS: Do you agree with that that there is more of a chance of that happening here, or there..
ALEX: That it is harder for you to come out as a Christian than for you to come out as a gay person.
CHRIS: In this particular environment. Or I mean not that there should even be a comparison but like that there is a..
ERIC: Oh no, one of my jobs several years ago we were interviewing a candidate, and that was down in Virginia, and the candidate came down from the northeast and they asked is this a pretty conservative place and I’m like well actually this is a very liberal town in a very conservative state, and this person was like oh that’s good because I’m gay and I don’t wanna get hate-crimed. Which is not a thing I've ever thought. I didn’t think I was gonna come to Brooklyn and get hate-crimed because I’m a Christian. And in that way the struggle is not the same. It’s not the same and I recognize it is not the same. I feel weird bringing it up in that regard but..
CHRIS: You know as the gay person in the room and I’m saying like I think it’s important and I don’t know how you quantify the whole points like yes I’m more likely to get hate-crimed in the certain parts of the country than you are, right? That’s true. But like at the end of the day it’s all very individualized and I think that all of these things are really important and I think that’s why it’s always important to just go back to the core objectives of a diversity strategy. And if it’s to make people feel comfortable in the workplace, I don’t think that there’s any difference in the magnitude of the conversation about religious diversity or LGBT diversity.
ALEX: So Chris and Eric arrived at one part of our diversity strategy, we wanna make sure that Gimlet is a place where you feel comfortable sharing your beliefs. Be you Christian, Native American or transgender, or all of the above. But when it comes to other parts of the diversity strategy, saying that you have a comfortable home for people, isn’t gonna be enough. We are a largely white organization in a historically pretty white industry, if we just sit around and wait for people of color to apply for the jobs we post, we are gonna stay that way.
At the time of our conversation, Brittany, the host of our upcoming show Sampler, was hiring a producer for her show.
BRITTANY: There weren’t a ton of people of color in the pool that I had to choose from. I’m not saying that I went into this like I wanna hire, you know, a woman who’s exactly like me to work with, but there wasn’t a super diverse pool to choose from. There are probably other networks that people didn’t even make, like they didn’t even make it into the pool that I was able to choose from.
ALEX: Yeah for whom this is not even this job, not even come up on the radar.
BRITTANY: Yes exactly didn't even come up on the radar. Something I find um, this is a barrier for a lot of people of color as not knowing this type of thing as a decent..like a job. And my parents even were like when I first started they were like..so what exactly can you? And I’m like yeah. This is a real job,
ALEX: You are showing them the health insurance card.
BRITTANY: Yeah I’m gonna show it to them they are coming this month. But yeah they’re gonna want to see it
ALEX: Brittany in fact, would probably not have applied for the job she herself was now trying to hire for. In fact the way that Brittany came to work for Gimlet is probably instructive. After hearing her podcast, we reached out to her, met with her and Eric informally several times. We invited them to events that we hosted, and gradually over time we got to know each other. If Gimlet is to become less white, that has to become part of what we do on a regular basis. We have to add to our existing professional network, which is largely white people who we’ve worked with in our past careers. We have to create new professional networks, that include a more diverse group of people. And creating new professional networks, that is more than just saying on your job posting that you are looking for diverse candidates.
BRITTANY: It’s everything, it’s down to what you listen to in your leisure time, do you know what I’m saying? If you're always listening to What The Fuck and Paul Tompkins, and Radiolab, and Serial, like it’s that small. Yeah I know, it’s like a lot. Is your head hurt?
ALEX: No I mean it doesn’t hurt because I feel like..so I think that's clearly, one of the things we’re thinking about is sort of internships, like targeted internships, so just trying to sort of going and recruiting not just like putting the signal out there but actually trying to find...
BRITTANY: I’ll go.
ALEX: Would you? That’ll be amazing.
BRITTANY: Nothing would make me happier than to go to my alma mater or schools like it and be able to talk. Nothing will make me happier.
ALEX: Yeah. Look out Howard University, Brittany Luse is coming your way, to talk to you about podcasting.
ALEX: And of course, that’s part of it, a more diverse staff means that there are more professional networks to tap into, and the process of becoming less monochromatic as an organization can take on momentum. But obviously, becoming less white is not the responsibility of the people of color on our staff. It’s leadership’s responsibility. And for the first time in my long career, leadership--that’s me.
BRITTANY: When we talk about the phrase being “in the room” do you know what I mean?
ALEX: I don't know what that means.
BRITTANY: “In the room” means people who have the leaway to make...people who have the power to make decisions. So like you...
ALEX: Oh ok, I’m so in the room and I don't even know what that means..
BRITTANY: Exactly, so you are in the room right, so you are in the room with other white guys and you say hey we need to do something about this, like progressively but you also want like not just the office but the room itself. Should Gimlet grow to accommodate like a larger group of people, do you know what I’m saying? Let's say Gimlet grows and there’s like 500 hundred people there, if you have company of 500 people and you still have a board of directors of 12, and your board of directors is still 10 out of 12 white guys, then you still, it’s still not all the way. But yeah you have to get to the point where like people..you are in the room you have to look at another white guy and say like hey we need to talk about this, this is too white, we need to like..it takes like conscience decision making. It has to be active, it has to be direct, it has to be corrective, it has to be something that you don’t pat yourself on the back for. Because it just has to be the way that you operate, you have to do everything that you can to make it a really vital part of your practices as like a business person. Which is, I don't even know if that's a phrase people use, but I’m using it now.
ALEX: We still have a lot to figure out about our practice as business people, and we haven’t fully decided the scope of what we should be looking for in diversifying the staff. But we’re taking steps to figure that out. Just this week we hired a professional... A director of people operations, who we’re specifically asking to build out new more diverse talent networks. We will almost certainly be launching an official training program. Something like a Gimlet Academy. We hope that’ll come sometime in the new year. It’s a long process. But I know when we get to the size that Brittany imagined us being--500 employees, 12 member of board--people inside that room, they won’t all look like me.
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