DEI in Newsrooms: It’s time to shift diversity from a metric system to a values system

 Larry Graham is the founder and executive director of The Diversity Pledge Institute.

Newsrooms must “establish diversity as a value system” rather than a quota system in order to truly foster a diverse and equitable workplace.

That’s what Larry Graham, founder and executive director of The Diversity Pledge Institute, says will help newsrooms better achieve their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

Graham launched The Diversity Pledge Institute in 2021 to improve retention rates associated with DEI by matching vetted, diverse candidates to newsrooms and providing support to journalists through mentorship and resources.

We asked Graham for advice that newsrooms can use right now to create and maintain an inclusive newsroom culture.   

What are your top three tips for building a newsroom culture where journalists of color want to stay?

GrahamData deep dives. Newsrooms are relying more and more on analytics to reach marginalized communities. We write case studies on converting paying subscribers into active members of our online community to reduce churn. Yet when creating more inclusive newsrooms, we rely on dirty data and hearsay. Sure, those company-wide diversity demographic audits identify who’s in the building (so to speak). 

They don’t address critical issues like what it feels like to be “the only” or “the one” in the newsroom or what diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility tactics are falling flat and which ones are succeeding. You can’t make progress if you haven’t identified the internal barriers forcing people to leave in the first place.

Establish diversity as a value system. Most newsrooms track the number of journalists of color being hired, whereas retention remains a mystery, an afterthought, or not mentioned at all. 

However, if your organization truly prioritizes inclusivity, you must care less about who you hire and more about who stays. That shifts diversity from a metric system to a values system. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re hiring 11 journalists of color if you’re losing 21.

Transparency and trustMartin Reynolds says, “Diversity is trust,” and nobody wants to stay in an environment where they can’t trust their boss. That means sharing what you can and trusting your staff to understand when you say you “can’t share that information right now.” 

It also means sharing the information you can, such as your goals for creating an inclusive workplace, what you’re doing to reach those goals, and acknowledging and repairing the missteps along the way. 

What advice can you give to new managers to create an inclusive environment for all staffers?

Graham: Being a new manager takes a lot of work. You’re often in a position where you receive plenty of negative criticism and very little positive feedback. Most people don’t like their boss, and managers are expected to do more with practically nothing. It’s essential to recognize the challenges they face ahead of any suggestions of fostering more inclusive work environments.

Management is rough enough as is, and leadership is even more challenging. That means getting to know your staff as real people instead of employees. You must have candid conversations instead of just going through the motions and feigning interest.

You can’t create an inclusive environment when you haven’t discussed what inclusion means to the individuals on your team. 

What’s your approach to building partnerships?

Graham: A friend of mine, Douglas K. Smith, stressed the concept of partnership in Table Stakes, and I’m a firm believer in that. He wrote, “organizations can’t afford to do everything alone. Partnership and collaboration opens up doors in technology, revenue, and other areas that would otherwise not be possible.”

The Diversity Pledge Institute is proof of that. Instead of competitors, we’ve made allies. In less than 18 months, we’ve partnered with URL Media, the Ida B. Wells Society, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State UniversityNews Revenue Hub, the Journalism Education Association, and so many more. 

It’s like Avengers (how I usually pitch it to folks). Sure, your organization is great and my nonprofit is young and growing rapidly. On our own, we’re like an Iron Man and Captain America standalone movie. But when we join forces and create a team of organizations that can have a real impact when it comes to diversifying journalism, then we’re creating something that hasn’t been seen before.

And that’s a movie worth watching.


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