A 5-Step Approach to Aligning Hiring and Diversity Goals

Fall 2018

By Jen Cort

Former head of Sidwell Friends School (DC) Earl Harrison once said, “The school begins a relationship with someone the moment he or she first considers whether to apply to work there. Applicants should be treated as invited guests to your home throughout the hiring process.” I recall using these words to inform our hiring searches when I was an administrator at Sandy Spring Friends School (MD) until 2014. But during that time, I faced challenges to meet my diversity hiring goals, a sentiment shared by many school administrators with whom I work now as a consultant. 

We talk about the growing body of research that shows the importance of diversity in the classroom. In “The Importance of Minority Teachers,” researchers Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng and Peter Halprin write: “A common explanation of why the demographic divide is so concerning is that minority students have more favorable perceptions of minority teachers. More favorable student perceptions of teachers in turn can translate into better academic outcomes such as motivation, interest, and grades.” In “The Effects of Teacher Match on Students’ Academic Perceptions and Attitudes,” by Anna Egalite and Brian Kisida, the authors state: “The most consistent benefits are among gender matches, and the largest benefits are demonstrated by the combination of gender and racial/ethnic matches. The effects of gender matches are largely consistent across elementary and middle school.”

Exploring this research led to my own research in January 2017 as I recalled challenges in hiring that other administrators have echoed and learned of challenges in the process from participants of East Ed’s Diversity Hiring Fair. That prompted me to send a survey to 200 U.S. public, private, and independent schools to gather insights from those who have applied to work in schools and those who have been in a hiring position. Statements via email for survey respondents to consider ranged from “While applying for and/or researching the position, I was able to easily find the following information about the school: anti-discrimination statement, commitment to professional development, affinity groups, and diversity related statistics” to “We found challenges to our hiring process to include geographic position, not enough employees of same social identifier, budget, lack of pipeline, resistance from current employees, lack of education of current employees, prioritization, lack of standardized hiring practices, priority, convincing applicants to be the first or only of their social identifier.” 

The survey received an immediate response, including 100 participants, but the most surprising part was the number of people who emailed privately to share feedback. Many were fearful of having their feedback possibly linked to their names. One participant told me: “A school full of people who don't look like you or identify like you is intimidating—please hire more diverse people so we can truly be inclusive.” 

A reading of the survey, with help from Carolyn Miller and David Hickson of Sandy Spring Friends School (MD), David Grant of Potomac School (VA), Fields Jackson, Racing Toward Diversity magazine, Harper Keenan of Stanford University, Randolph Carter of East Ed, and Rosetta Lee of Seattle Girls’ School (WA), revealed processes and experiences—good and bad—in hiring across the country. Many schools begin the process by creating a position announcement. Grouping the survey narrative and numerical feedback revealed a timeline, with five steps of hiring, two of which precede developing a position description. The phases, if followed, can ultimately lead to stronger diversity hiring practices.

Step 1: Articulating Vision and Identifying Goals

Michelle, a newly hired black math teacher and cross-country coach quickly felt she was becoming the unofficial diversity coordinator. One time, she was in a faculty meeting when all faculty members were invited to participate in the diversity book club discussions, and she was asked to help develop the questions for the discussion. “I would have preferred that the school tell me I would be one of the only teachers of color in a school where 46 percent are students of color, ask what that would mean to me, check in with me to see how I was doing, and offer resources. Except for coaching, I don’t feel I am doing anything well and will stick it out for a couple of years so my résumé doesn’t look like I can’t keep a job.” 

Perhaps Michelle’s story could have been avoided if the school had talked about its diversity goals during the interview process. The school might have clarified its values within the context of the mission, offering support to Michelle as she entered the community. Clearly defining her work in relation to diversity work at the school, if any, and creating a feedback loop for both Michelle and the administration, would have ensured a plan for accountability. 

One concrete strategy to support articulating the vision and identifying goals is collecting and using data. “The relationship between the data and the decision [to hire] can be strengthened when schools know the demographics of their student body, faculty, and staff,” Carter says. “When the data is disaggregated by ... demographics, faculty promotion by subgroup, and faculty attrition by subgroup, targeted interventions, hiring is better supported.”  

Step 2: Widening and Deepening the Candidate Pool

The timeline for developing relationships with possible candidates is year-round. By partnering with teams in marketing, admission, and social media, as well as participating in community events, this task is much more manageable. Schools can invite teachers to visit schools and offer internships. Bring the position information and hiring vision to student admission fairs, and expand your videos beyond the phenomenal education to include the community work environment. This sends a message about your commitment to equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice work; encourage admission fair attendees to see independent schools as an option, and help students see themselves in the school. It’s OK to talk about the importance of equity and inclusion in your hiring process—in fact, you should. (See “You’re Hiring!” below for more ways to draw new candidates.)

Step 3: Outreach and Advertising

Schools might consider placing ads with organizations specifically geared toward supporting diverse backgrounds, including student and faculty diversity conferences, professional development workshops, and advocacy groups. One survey participant said, “I was looking for an independent school that was actively looking for teachers of color since I was leaving an independent school that did not want them and did not support the few teachers of color that were working at the school.”

Imagine receiving an invitation that said “We would like you to join us and we will not discriminate against you.” Would you feel that the hosts were excited and welcoming of you? Many position announcements include a statement such as “Good School does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or a person's status as a qualified candidate with a disability in administration of its educational program, admission policies, financial aid program, staff hiring and other school-administered programs.” But it’s not enough to just include such standard language. 

What if we reframed job advertisements along the lines of: “Inclusive School celebrates  the diversity of our school and local communities including race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We welcome candidates representing the diversity of the world in our educational program, admission policies, financial aid program, staff hiring, and other school-administered programs.”  

Step 4: Recruiting and Interviewing

At every step in the process, a school makes a statement about its values. Responding to inquiries immediately and including a timeline for the process tells the job applicant their résumé was received, that you have a known timeline, and when they should expect a follow-up response. For example, my auto-reply for searches read, “Thank you for applying for our position. We are currently collecting résumés and will begin interviews within a month.”  

An ongoing focus for schools should be recognizing, responding to, and reducing bias. As with all areas of the school, continuing to call out bias also applies to the hiring process. During the interviewing process, focus on consistency. Provide the hiring team with a matrix for reading résumés, resources for examining bias and recognizing coded language such as “not a good fit.” Concrete systems can be helpful, including identifying the point of contact for each candidate and providing a script to be used for all phone interviews, in-person interviews, reference checks, finalist interviews, offering positions, and declining candidates. Ask questions relating to the position and the school’s mission. Ask how the candidate engages around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Allow time for questions and answers, followed by time for collecting feedback. 

Sometimes you’ll need to think outside the box. I worked with a school located just outside of a major city. The hiring team was highly interested in a candidate who, when asked during the interview process what would be challenging for her, shared her concern that the commute would be too difficult, especially when there were late-night events. After brainstorming, the head of school offered an additional stipend for Uber, and the candidate accepted the position. 

Step 5: Welcome and Retain

Welcoming is a three-year process. The first year for many new hires is acclimating to the school, the second is getting a sense of “do I see myself here?” and the third is either developing plans to stay or considering another job. 

One of the most common responses from survey participants was feeling frustrated because the diversity work of the school was explicitly or implicitly relegated to minorities. When a school primarily serving English-language-learning students closed, the local independent school welcomed many of its students. Math teacher Andrew, the one Latino teacher, found himself increasingly called upon to serve as the unofficial dean of the Latino students. When I met Andrew, he was looking at applying to other schools to relieve the stress. The school called him into parent conferences to help interpret and “explain cultural differences,” parents asked him to keep an eye on their children at school, and students expected him to understand their experiences. No one asked Andrew if this was a role he wanted to assume, especially considering a great deal more work was expected and there was no salary increase or workload adjustment. Andrew lived in the United States his entire life, and his parents pushed against the culture and language of their home country because they wanted him to “be  American.” As a result, Andrew did not feel confident or competent in this role as the Latino representative, and his teaching began to suffer. Other survey respondents shared similar experiences.  

“I can’t stress enough the importance of receiving mentorship and support from more experienced educators of color in the independent school world during the search and application process,” one survey participant said. Faculty who are the only one, or among a few people, with their social identifiers, need to know the resources, expectations, allies, and affinity groups (inside and between schools) that are available to them. Professional development funds are well served by using an equitablity model (everyone gets what they need) versus an equality model (everyone gets the same), by designating additional professional development funds for faculty and staff to be in affinity spaces and attend conferences.  

Thinking about hiring as an all-year, every-year process, parallels focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice every day and all year. While we may have an assembly to highlight math, we do not depend on an assembly to teach it. So, too, must we think about equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice moving from moments to movements. If we apply this framework to hiring, it moves from seasonal to systemic. As we have grown our percentage of students representing diversity, and in particular, of color, in our schools, we are called to provide an educational experience in which they see themselves reflected in our hiring, curriculum, posters and images, assemblies, and in every area of school life.
Jen Cort

Jen Cort, former middle school head and director of student support at Sandy Spring Friends School in Sandy Spring, Maryland, is a consultant to schools on advisory programs and incorporating equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice into school programming. She is also the host of the podcast Third Space.