Ask the Mentor: How do I find and hire more diverse writers?

An editor wants to approach new talent in a way that's respectful, not tokenistic. Media Mentor Esther Coleman-Hawkins enlists some experts to help.
Ask the Mentor: How do I find and hire more diverse writers? Look harder and get on with it! Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash.

Esther Coleman-Hawkins

Tuesday 14 July, 2020

The Question

E asks: 'I'm a white online magazine editor wanting to be a better ally and publish more writing, reviews and opinions by those who are Black, Indigenous, First Nations and People of Colour. I want this to be more than a tokenistic box-checking diversity initiative, and yet feel embarrassed that I know few such writers. How do I approach new talent in a way that's respectful and not seen as jumping on a bandwagon?'

The Answer

First up it’s great that you’ve recognised that lacking diversity is one (of the many) problems that white people can, and must, fix.

I spoke to Maritza Schafer, Principal of Wisebridge. They work internationally on increasing inclusion. She says:

'Jump on the bandwagon!! People of colour have been struggling for centuries to make space for themselves where white people have taken up too much.

'However, if you are including us to not seem out of touch with the moment, that is tokenism. People will be annoyed at being used for optics.

'If you’ve done the learning about why diverse and inclusive environments are good for everyone, and the deep heart and soul work required to becoming anti-racist, then you are doing the right thing.

'The difference is profound. You will continue to learn and change your behaviour around these issues forever and ever amen, not just when they are trending on social media.'

It would be great if you had a bunch of diverse writers on your rolodex and it’s ok to feel embarrassed that you don’t. But embarrassment often stops me rather than encourages me, so maybe acknowledge it and then move on.

The easy option for all of us is to book/hire/feature the people we see in front of us.

Casting Producer Sancia Robinson, responsible for the fantastically diverse Everyone’s A Critic (ABC) cast said:

'I realised, working at Blackfella Films, I had been an asshole with a white bias so I committed to changing. Hardly any people of colour presented for Everyone's A Critic so I went and found them. I made sure their contribution wasn’t about "educating" white people; they had no duty other than to be themselves.

I realised, working at Blackfella Films, I had been an asshole with a white bias so I committed to changing. Hardly any people of colour presented for Everyone's A Critic so I went and found them. 

- Casting producer Sancia Robinson

'For me it’s my job to be the change and it's also my privilege. In 2019 I co-directed a conference where we consciously aimed for diversity across the panels. We tried really hard and we nailed it in some areas and pulled up short in others. I approached everyone in relation to their professional experience – which is what I wanted them to bring. What I did differently is that I actively searched beyond my usual networks.'

It takes longer to find new people but they’re there. Advertise in places where you know you’ll reach people of colour – Diversity in Australian Media on Facebook is a good place to start.

Jinghua Qian (who has written extensively for ArtsHub) has produced an amazing resource, Critical Mass, featuring details of many diverse Australian writers. The resource can be found here [Google Doc].

Make sure you read the work of those mentioned in this fantastic list. Decide whose output best fits your magazine needs and approach them as you would anybody else – on the basis that they are qualified to do the work you offer.

You could say: 'Hey, I’m looking to expand my contributor base, would you be interested in talking to me about pitching for work?'

Read more: 11 Ways to Support Gender Diversity in the Workplace

Please don’t get stuck in the white-guilt, fear based, feedback loop of, 'I want diverse writers but I don’t know any. If I look for some and approach them are they going to feel offended because I’m approaching them because they’re diverse?'

Take action. You can’t control whether someone is offended. You might be the final white straw that breaks their racially vilified camel’s back. In which case take the flack and move on.

On the other hand, you could kick start a much-needed move towards genuine inclusion. You could launch a new writer towards the recognition they deserve but have struggled to get.

You have the power to make things different.  Do your research. Approach people. Just get on with it!

Got a question for the mentor? Send it to us at editor@screenhub.com.au with the subject line 'Media Mentor Question' and we'll pass it onto Esther.

Media Mentors are currently partnering with ACMI to produce the free Running Free online skills workshops for screen industry professionals and enthusiasts. See the full sessions here on ACMI's YouTube channel.

About the author

Co-founder of Media Mentors, Esther Coleman-Hawkins, is an experienced TV producer, conference organiser and career mentor. She’s made factual series for public service broadcasters around the world. She has also had the dubious honour of developing or producing 13 series about obesity… She’s developed numerous ideas for Australian production companies including 'Secrets of Our Streets' for SBS and 'Luke Warm Sex' for ABC1; she has an electric google search history. With Media Mentors she is building on her passion for helping people to develop their careers in the creative field.