If you’re scratching your head right about now, here’s how it ends a recent job ad for a program administrator. Brookings tacks this puzzling statement on the end of all of its advertisements:
We strongly encourage qualified women and minorities to apply. (Only applicants meeting minimum qualifications for the position will be considered. No phone calls please.) EOE M/F/H/V
I had a nice fuzzy feeling about telling my friends to go work at Brookings until I saw this statement. Now, I would assume that anyone applying to a job at Brookings would think themselves to be qualified. So, as a woman of color, I was taken aback by the language that makes it sound as if women and minorities are not usually qualified. Therefore, Brookings felt the need to reiterate that if you are woman or a minority, you had better have your stuff together.
It raised the question in my mind: so then it must be OK for unqualified white men to apply? If the intent was to discourage unqualified applicants from submitting their résumés, I get that.
But Brookings could have simply said, “We strongly encourage qualified professionals to apply” or something like that. The fact that this statement preceded what is usually a warm invitation for diverse candidates was what rubbed me the wrong way. I would never apply to work for an organization that appears to doubt my qualifications as a woman and a person of color.
It rubbed me so wrong that I felt compelled to call Brookings and ask why in the world they used that particular language.
Zarina Durrani, its director of human resources, responded that Brookings has “had this wording for quite a while now and no one has ever questioned it.”
But she said that she could see how someone might take it the wrong way. After a lengthy conversation, it was clear that Brookings’s legal counsel had a lot to do with the wording of its job descriptions, to the point where the organization would have to consult with its legal team to change the wording to something more amenable to potential applicants.
That has not yet happened. And I wonder if the group ever stops to consider whether the language it is using is actually what’s preventing it from attracting the diverse work force it apparently desires.
While I hold Brookings up as an example of what not to do, it’s clear that it is not the only nonprofit organization that struggles with finding diverse talent, in particular people of color.
Indeed, a 2007 Johns Hopkins University study showed that more than half of nonprofit groups report having a hard time recruiting candidates of color. But that’s mainly because only about a third of the organizations implemented strategies specifically designed to attract people of color.
So, therein lies the problem. If nonprofit groups want a more diverse work force, we definitely have to do something a little extra to attract new leaders.
But in implementing those efforts, we really have to make sure we avoid offending the very people we want to engage.