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Diversifying news teams is difficult. Hiring the right people is only one part of the task; it also matters who you train, promote and how you pay your staff.

In a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, director of programmes, Open News, Sisi Wei talked about how her organisation connects journalists, developers and editors who are motivated to change the journalism industry and make it more inclusive.

Her interest in this topic crystalised when she worked at ProPublica, where she co-created a census asking all staff to self-identify to have a better picture of the racial and ethnical makeup of the organisation. She and her colleagues would then look at recent hiring decisions but they would also scrutinise the application process. Were there positions that attracted few or no black candidates? Or did many black or Asian candidates apply but none of them made it to the interview stage? Once they had the data, they could begin to examine and transform the hiring process.

The "pipeline problem" is an excuse that leaders commonly use to justify the lack of diversity in their teams, saying there are "simply not enough good candidates of colour". But then, other organisations seem to be doing a much better job of hiring or promoting talent. Examining your hiring, interviewing and promoting practices can reveal why some candidates may feel like they do not belong to your organisation.

Advancing inclusivity 

Fostering an inclusive and safe environment is easier said than done, but it pays off. It allows you to not only hire a wider range of great candidates but also have a newsroom that is more representative of the audiences it serves.

"You need to begin or continue the process of educating yourself" on causes and context of racism in the society, advised Wei. This way, you will be better equipped to understand what your staff is going through if you do not have that experience yourself.

Radical empathy

The pandemic and the civil rights movement in the US bought existing racial tensions into the spotlight. Wei shared stories of Asian people who faced abuse as some blamed them for the coronavirus. Many black people encountered mounting hostility, too.

Communication is the most important tool that contributes to your employees' wellbeing and that is often underestimated. Leaders have access to information that employees do not and simply letting your staff know that you care about issues like job insecurity during the pandemic, personal safety or racial justice can reassure them. However, although newsroom leaders often think about improvements or even take actions, not telling their employees results in teams feeling ignored and undervalued.

If your employees do experience some sort of harassment, you can encourage them to keep working or take some time off to deal with the issue and show them that the company is understanding.

"Practice radical empathy with your staff," says Wei. Put yourself in the shoes of a regular employee at your company by not just imagining you have got their job, but pretending you are this different person, with their characteristics, their life experience, their career path. Then think carefully how they may be feeling right now and what would be helpful for them.

"Trust that your perspective will be very different from theirs," continues Wei, adding that your seniority, wealth and access to information put you in a very different position than your average team member. However, understanding their situation will allow you to support them during the crisis to make sure they are at their best when doing their job.

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