The Inequity and Racism of the Hiring and Job Search Process in Global Development
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.
- Find a good position that you believe you are a good fit for. (There are a whole host of mental gymnastics that BIPoC people go through in determining wether they are a good fit for the role. It’s exhausting).
- If you are a BIPoC — read through the requirements section(which have been shown to be inequitable and aimed at privileged individuals who have access to further education), and make a judgement that you do not meet all the requirements so the job isn’t for you — even though you know you would own and excel in the role.
- If you are BIPoC and have made it through the requirements, you move down to the salary section to find no salary range posted which forces you to go through an anxiety riddled process questioning wether you would be able to negotiate a salary, what it would be, and if you could back up your desired salary range and prove your worth even though the global development sector has demonstrated repeatedly in a myriad of ways that BIPoC people are consistently undervalued and underpaid and so questioning your worth is an ever day matter of existence for you as a person of color.
- If you make it to the interview process, you have calls with other BIPoC colleagues who remind you of your greatness as they all know how triggering, traumatising and violent the interview process is for BIPoC people in global development. You guard yourself as you enter the interview Zoom room, smile, remind yourself of your worth only to be asked the first question by a white interviewer, “What makes you a good fit for this role and our team?” (More later on why this question needs to be discarded immediately).
- Post interview — you wait. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes a month or more. Sometimes you advance to the next round. Sometimes you are told, “We decided not to go for this position due to budget reasons (true story),” or “We would like you to take a test before advancing to future rounds (true story).”
- You take the test, (in my case it has been around developing a strategy for programs or communications around a specific issue/project) only to wonder why you are doing work for a company that is not even paying you. You wonder if someone might use the strategy you develop even if you don’t get hired. You wonder how you can protect your intellectual property.
- You submit the test, go through multiple interviews, go through interview processes that are neither transparent or equitable. You wait, for months for news of the next steps or results. You hear: We’ve gone with an internal candidate (after going through a 6 month informational interview + formal interview process and working closely with the ED to help develop the role), or we don’t believe you are a good fit for our organisational culture (read — we maintain and uphold white supremacy culture and are unwilling to change even though we released a #BlackLivesMatter statement this year), or we need someone who would bring a good balance to the team and you are super committed to issues that are not central to our program (note the issue here that I was ‘committed’ to was racial equity in their organisation).
- You acknowledge your fatigue and the emotional drain and because the anxiety of finding a job outweighs your mental, psychological and emotional health — you start the whole cycle over again.
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.
- TRAIN YOUR STAFF to do job interviews. Instruct them on (or if you have zero knowledge on racial equity and white supremacy culture power dynamics — pay a BIPoC consultant to train your whole staff on racial equity) power dynamics in the hiring process and how they can be navigated in the interview. Ensure they show up prepared for the interview and have them read the application materials the job seeker has sent in!! And please come up with more creative questions — do not ask us why we are a good fit for your white supremacist organisational culture. We are not a good fit — we are the needed one.
- Make your interview process transparent. This means knowing from the onset how many interview rounds you will hold, who will be part of the interview process, who the final decision maker/s will be for the job hire. You shouldn’t need more than 2 interview rounds to make an assessment on a candidate.
- Abolish testing and submission of writing samples. It’s stealing someone’s intellectual property. Stop it.
- If you are torn between two candidates LET THEM KNOW. People deserve to know the decision making process.
- If you are posting a job description (JD) only to hire internally — TAKE THE JD DOWN IMMEDIATELY. This level of fuckery needs to be done away with. It’s harmful to people who spend hours preparing for interviews, submitting their applications, waiting only for you to tell them, “sorry we decided to go with an internal candidate.”
- And above all: If you say you are on an organisational journey towards anti racism yet still do all of the above — take down your #BlackLivesMatter statement now for all our sakes.
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.
- Listen and Take Notes to the Decolonising Development Webinar by PopWorks Africa.
- NonProfit AF (If you don’t follow Vu — I highly recommend. Not only has NonProfit AF been speaking the truth on the deep and systemic inequities of the NonProfit sector, the weekly newsletter is a reaffirming weekly reminder for BIPoC folks that we are not imagining the impacts of white supremacy that this sector has on us).
- The Racial Equity Index — Global Development Sector, We See Through Your ‘Evolution’.
- Show The Salary’s work in holding the charity sector accountable: https://showthesalary.com