Uma Mishra-Newbery

Dec 4, 2020

8 min read

The Inequity and Racism of the Hiring and Job Search Process in Global Development

Image Description: Screenshot of a Tweet by user @umajmishra, “Processing what went down last week in a months long (nearly 6 months) of a job seeking process for one role. Back to the drawing board in looking for a new role, bu thinking I should document what went down b/c we don’t talk about the S*** job seekers have to go through. (Poll reads: 77.8% you should write about it, 22.2% Wait until you land a job).

In May 2020 (what seems like three years ago — because, 2020) I resigned as Executive Director of Women’s March Global.

I have spent a lot of time job searching not only since May of this year but nearly all of last year as well. I knew that my time as paid Executive Director (ED) was coming to an end due to funding struggles so I started looking for new roles around March 2019. Here’s what the job search and interview process has looked like thus far:

  • Search for positions — this includes looking at staff and senior staff, noting the level of whiteness and what their lack of visible commitment or minimal commitment to anti racism and racial equity is.

This quote was from my post in May 2020:

I have said many times in different venues that I have never felt the colour of my skin more in the women rights space than when in a conversation with a funder — whether it be a foundation or an individual donor.

My experience has shown my colleague’s thoughts to be true. The funding space is inherently built on white supremacy and funders are only just beginning the radical conversations needed to challenge and change these harmful structures and the way in which they reify and work within them.

The second part of the quote is true for the entire global development sector — it is built on neocolonialist white supremacy and most every single person I have encountered in a position of power in this sector is dedicated to ensuring the upholding and reifying white supremacy.

Nowhere is this control of power and whiteness more felt than in the hiring process. My most recent , “We’ve decided to hire internally,” decision came after working for 6 MONTHS through an information interview process followed by a formal interview process which I was told was, “a formality” given that they really loved me as a candidate and knew I would be amazing in helping lead the organisation forward (it was for a senior director position). I waited sometimes for weeks between interviews to be told that I would be moved to the next round. It was unclear when I entered the formal interview process what that even entailed and how many interview rounds the process would encompass.

I worked closely at the beginning of the process with the ED to help them realise that this role was sorely needed at the organisation not only because the directorship for a global movement based in the US was all white (is anyone surprised?), but that no one on the director level had global movement building knowledge or experience. I had multiple conversations (all unpaid — because why would we even consider paying BIPoC people for their organising brilliance) with the ED and gave my advice freely (naive decision on my part) on how the organisation could move forward, where the opportunities were, and why this addition to directorship needed to happen urgently. Throughout the process I received no indication that there were other preferred candidates (note: I knew they were interviewing other candidates in the interview process).

After my final interview for this role (which was with the direct reports to this role) I emailed the staff for their candidness in the interview,

(I asked a question which I find to be a gold mine in interviews: What is your greatest challenge in finding success in your role — in this interview it was like a gate had been let open and the staff shared the unrealistic expectations being placed on them by senior management and the white supremacy rush culture being experienced by all on team)

— I cced the ED in and waited. A week and half later I got the news straight from the ED: We went with a surprise hire, an internal candidate, someone who is from another project which is being sunseted (the project is being shut down). The ED was apologetic, “Uma I would love nothing more than the opportunity to work with you,” and tearful, “there is always an open spot on our advisory board for you.” I tried to hold it together for as long as possible and when I felt myself crumbling on the inside I quickly said, “Thanks for letting me know and I look forward to working alongside you in the future,” and I hung up.

I closed my computer, dropped my head into my hands and could not hold back the tears. I sobbed for 30 mins straight. 6 months of anxiety, of waiting, of working with the ED to bring this position to life. 6 months of advocating for myself, for showing up, providing free advice, being a sounding board — all crumbled because they decided to hire internally. As a consolation they offered me an advisory role — a way to continue them having access to my knowledge as a global movement builder and leader, for free.

Here’s the thing — my story is not unique. It happens every day to some of the most amazing Black women I know in this sector. It happens to the brilliant BIPoC organisers I am blessed to call friends and sisters in this sector. And while we know our brilliance, our worth, our excellence — the global development sector remains hellbent on ensuring that the gates to positions that they NEED our excellence for, remain firmly shut.

So they hire internally, white, fresh out of university Masters of International Development/Relations/Policy with MINIMAL years of experience in the sector or as organisers or having any knowledge on white supremacy culture, neocolonialism, lived experience or racial equity.

If you are in a position of power within global development and you have made it this far in this post consider doing the following:

  • Look through your job descriptions — remove education requirements, center experience. Remove the phrase, “must be a good fit with organisational culture.” SHOW YOUR SALARY.

Until I find my next role (looking for Deputy Director, Senior Director, or ED roles in Women’s Rights, Human Rights and Global Movements), I’ll continue working towards holding the global development sector accountable with my beloved colleagues at The Racial Equity Index.

We’ve just released our Global Mapping Survey that took over 720 volunteer hours to actualise. We are a BIPoC collective working everyday to dismantle toxic racism and white supremacy in global development. Take our Survey.

READ/LISTEN/FOLLOW:

  • Listen and Take Notes to the Decolonising Development Webinar by PopWorks Africa.