This continues my series on professional networking.
One of the most offensive, discriminatory terms of the professional world is “the old boy network.”
I’ve blogged all week about the value of building and using a professional network to advance your career. But I need to acknowledge a sinister factor: The old boy network has long been a tool of racism and sexism, often unintentionally but still emphatically helping white men’s journalism careers to the detriment of women and journalists of color.
In Wednesday’s post, when I listed people whose connections have helped lead to jobs during my career, I certainly noticed that most were white men. To some extent that’s going to be true for most journalists, because white men are still disproportionately powerful, and the situation was more disproportionate in the 1970s, when my career started.
Some discrimination is intentional and inherently evil. But I think this aspect of discrimination is rooted in the fact that we all have natural affinities for people with shared experiences, and most people’s default settings will be to connect with people who share our own demographic experiences.
But diversity is important for the news business (beyond the fact that discrimination is wrong). If we are going to matter to diverse communities, we need diverse staffs and leaders. So journalists seeking to have successful careers, hire successful staffs and improve the news business need to make the effort to diversify our personal networks. And the truth is, as journalists we have extensive shared experiences on which we can build strong affinities, if we’re just honest enough to acknowledge those natural demographic affinities and let the professional experiences rule our default settings.
Effective networking that is diligent in preventing discrimination — except by such factors as experience, skills and work ethic — can be as effective in increasing diversity as the old boy network was in blocking it.
I’ve been aware of, and sometimes heavily involved in, efforts to diversify most organizations where I’ve worked. I encourage (and practice) efforts to diversify networks, and I know of women and people of color in leadership positions who have used their network connections to alert diverse candidates to opportunities and recommend them for jobs, somewhat offsetting the bias of the old-boy network (in which the word white was unspoken but very real).
With rare exceptions, I don’t think gender, race or other demographic factors should be the deciding factor in hiring decisions, either to hire or promote someone unqualified or to maintain the old-boy network. But demographic factors should play a role in seeking out a field of strong candidates for an opening. If your initial field, or short list, shares, or heavily shares, similar demographics to your own, there’s a good chance your own perspective and limited network affected the selection of that field or list. You should make the effort to find a more diverse field.
White males are a minority. If your short list is exclusively white males, it would take an extraordinary coincidence for that to truly be the best field of candidates for a job. Take the effort to expand your search.
Once you get a diverse field of candidates, you should choose the best candidate for the job, and diversity will generally be a small factor, if any, in making that decision. But, because they have had to overcome so much discrimination, strong candidates who aren’t white males often have strong work ethic and stellar accomplishments. The truth and/or perception driving their careers will be that they need to work twice as hard as a white male candidate to get the same chance at success. Give them a chance by making sure they get consideration, and they will be “best candidates” often enough to help diversify newsrooms and leadership ranks.
I was leading the recruitment of a top editor once and (beyond advertising) spread the word to a pretty diverse group of connections. For a variety of reasons, the women and minorities I contacted weren’t interested, and my initial field was all male, including a racial minority who had responded to the ad (or maybe heard from someone in our overlapping networks). I contacted some women editors in my network, asking them to recommend candidates, and eventually interviewed two strong female candidates. The three finalists included one of the women and the male minority candidate (who got the job).
Even if I’m just seeking opinions for a simple work matter, I notice that my first group of colleagues — my quick, unconscious cut — is usually mostly white males. When I notice that, I can quickly think of women and journalists of color whose input is every bit as valuable. And the collective input is more valuable because of that diversity. And each time I do that, just with a simple email asking a question or with an invitation to join a class by video, I strengthen the diversity of my own network.
Another important point in diversifying your network: When a woman or journalist of color gets a job, don’t think or say, even privately, that he or she was hired because of race, ethnicity or gender. The numbers prove the opposite: White men have been hired because of race and gender for far too long for far too many jobs. It sounds nice to say that you don’t see race or gender, but you do. So be sure to get a diverse field of candidates for each job you fill, and diversity will happen.
I have lost out on jobs I wanted in favor of female or minority candidates, and wondered if race or gender played a role in the decisions. But why didn’t I wonder that all the times I got the job? Or when I was beaten out by a white male? Don’t diminish the achievements of qualified people you hire or those hired to your organization. Whether you agreed with the hire or not, it’s time to move on.
If you are a woman and/or a member of a minority racial or ethnic group, I encourage networking both among white males who tend to have more power and among people who share your demographics. Groups such as the Journalism and Women Symposium, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, South Asian Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association and Association of LGBT Journalists have helped journalists in those segments develop valuable networks that have boosted careers and helped improve diversity.
White males should expand our horizons and networks by interacting with these organizations as well as others involved in diversity issues. Dori Maynard, the longtime leader of the Maynard Institute who died last year, helped me expand both my network and my outlook. On occasions when I was seeking to connect with some potential female candidates, or help a rising woman in journalism expand her network, Kat Rowlands, former president of JAWS, was always helpful.
Other posts in this series
Want to write a guest post?
You may have some experience in networking that would add to this series. If you’d like to write a guest post, please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.
Interested in a networking workshop?
The posts in this series can be developed into a workshop or series of workshops for you journalism organization or university. If you’re interested in discussing or scheduling a workshop, please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.
Other posts about diversity