“Tell us about a time you experienced a conflict over something you’d written.”
The candidate we were interviewing met our eyes and didn’t look away. Her friendly expression had been replaced with a more serious one.
“I’ve never been in conflict with anyone over my writing. I get along with all the people I work with.”
She was confident and professional. She was also Black. After the interview wrapped up, the hiring manager shook her head and wondered how anyone could be a writer for that long without any conflict. It was unreal. Maybe even unbelievable. We were hiring for a position on a team with frequent leadership change, a rapidly-shifting political landscape, and several existing interpersonal conflicts. We needed someone who was truthful and authentic when dealing with people who could sometimes be hard to deal with. Our candidate didn’t seem like she was right for the role.
Only later did I realize that our interview process had set up this candidate for failure. Our interview prompt put her in a double-bind. Her choices were to downplay her experience navigating conflict or risk playing into a common racial stereotype: Angry Black Woman. If she had taken that risk, would we have hired her? She clearly didn’t think so.
This year, following the murder of George Floyd and the protests demanding justice for him, for Breonna Taylor, and for the many, many other victims of racialized violence against Black people, we’ve seen Black voices be elevated in demanding better.
But what can we do to do better in our hiring processes? How can we be anti-racist? How can we be equitable? Here are some places we can start.
Step 1: Educate ourselves
Before we change our process to be more equitable, we have to understand the ways it’s not currently equitable.
Learn who we’ve excluded
Start by identifying who’s been excluded. Ask yourself these questions about your UX writing team, peers, mentors, mentees, and community. (But don’t ask or push anyone to disclose their identities — sometimes people aren’t open about their identities because of the discrimination they face.)
- Does my group have more than just white people? How about people who aren’t considered “model minorities”? Does it include people with Black skin? Does it include Latinx people?
- Does my group include more than one gender? More than two? Does it have gender-nonconforming or transgender people?
- Does my group include people who aren’t able-bodied? Someone with mobility challenges? Someone blind or deaf?
- Does my group include people who aren’t neurotypical? More than just a person with ADHD? More than a person with anxiety?
- Does this group include LGBTQIA+ people? Someone who isn’t a gay man or a white lesbian?
- Does it include parents? Parents who don’t have a spouse who does the majority of the childcare? Someone who is pregnant?
- Does this group include people of different ages? More than just older men?
- Does this group include people of different appearances? Body types and sizes?
Each of these identities represents a real person who uses the technology we design and who has insights — unique to their lived experience — to make it better. Pay attention to where you’ve answered no. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the words in the questions, look them up. Then find ways to listen to people that aren’t represented in your workplace and communities. Read books by these people. Follow their Twitter accounts. Listen to their podcasts.
Learn the challenges they face
You might know about sexism in the workplace, but do you know how that sexism is different for women of color? Are you familiar with the term “microaggressions” and can you spot them? Do you understand how marginalized people change their appearance or speech to fit in or gain respect? Do you know the phrase “code-switching”? Do you understand what a model minority is and what specific challenges they face?
It’s sometimes hard to learn about or find this information, especially when you don’t know where to start. It’s ok to ask for help or guidance — and ok to offer to pay someone for the time and energy they spend educating you about these issues.
Step 2: Work with others
Find your allies
You can’t do this work alone! So start by having conversations with your peers, managers, and community. Understand who else shares your goals and vision — and be receptive to their ideas and vision as well. If your allies have marginalized identities themselves, be mindful and make sure they’re not shouldering all the work and that they’re receiving recognition and credit.
Get management and HR involved
Get a commitment from your management to support diverse hiring. (If you’re not sure how to do this, start by pointing out the ways that a lack of diversity in design costs companies money and face; and reinforce how diversity in design generates more and better design solutions.)
Ask questions and find out what sort of hiring goals HR has. Then find ways that your goals align with theirs.
Here are some ideas for those goals:
- 50% of initial candidate resumes for open job listings are Black or people of color
- At least 2 final candidates are people of color (studies show that if there’s only 1 candidate of color, the final hire is almost never a person of color)
- Job listings all include prominent information about benefits supporting equitable hires
- Initial candidates’ resumes are anonymized to prevent discrimination based on identifying information
Step 3: Make changes
Change up your job listings
Roll up your sleeves and start making changes by looking at your open headcount. This is the first place you can start having very tangible impact. Here are some places to look:
- Can you change a senior UX writer listing to a junior or mid-level one? UX writers with senior experience tend to draw from a less diverse pool — you’ll have more success hiring equitably if you broaden your range.
- Can you hire interns? If you already are, can you search for interns in more diverse places, such as city colleges? Start by drawing from areas where someone with less resources but lots of drive and motivation might be studying.
- Can you limit the scope of the role? There’s a lot of demand for UX writing, and in response many of us have to cover large areas of work. People with long commutes, disabilities, children, less-traditional family structures, or who have extra work because of their gender may not be able to put in those hours.
- Can you increase the pay? Pay your interns, so they can afford to work and learn. Even for senior positions, pay gaps can cause couples to prioritize a husband’s earnings and career, causing women to drop out to focus on family and supporting their husband’s long hours. Similarly, if a pay gap causes someone to not be able to survive in a coastal city with a high cost of living — like San Francisco or New York, where many UX writing jobs are located — they might not be able to accept a job in the first place.
Audit your interview materials
Next take a close look at your interview materials.
- How long are your interviews? Is it reasonable for someone without access to support to be able to get through them? Or does it require a partner or someone else to support you over a longer period of time while you’re also working full time? Can people participate without access to paid cleaners or hired help? If you’re not sure, look for ways to streamline your process.
- How much time do your writing exercises take? When these exercises take less than 2 hours, this is great. But when they might take 4 hours or more — without being familiar with the product or competitive landscape — this step stops being accessible to a diverse range of candidates.
- Do your working sessions and writing exercises include guidance or support? Do you offer guidance? Do you include information like your voice and tone or the goals you’re trying to achieve? Do you give the candidate guidance to show their process in addition to the final outcome?
- Can you restructure your interview questions and practices? Interviews that simulate stress or conflict can disadvantage people of marginalized identities. Think about what you’re trying to understand, and frame the question or prompt positively. Set up the candidate to succeed.
- Do you proactively reassure your candidates that they’ll be supported, and show them in your interview process? For example, offering to let someone define when to start their written exercise gives them a better chance of success than if you start the timer when you hit send on your email.
Step 4: Support your new hires
Many large companies stumble over this step. Even if you’ve done the work to hire equitably, you’ll need to make sure your workplace, culture, and environment support the diversity you want to have.
Ask your peers and direct reports what culture they experience. The culture can be sending signals to members of their group that they’re not welcome.
If you play music in open spaces, who is picking the music? Is it mostly men? Mostly white people? Are white people playing music that uses the N-word and singing along? (I’ve worked in places where this is the case.) Do people who are older or have different musical culture feel welcome in these spaces? (They probably don’t.)
Do you go drinking as a group? If so, are people with different religious backgrounds or people who are pregnant feel comfortable? Are people free to refuse alcohol without disclosing a medical condition or a history of addiction? Do you solve problems by having a beer and hashing it out? If so, are you creating a workplace where men are more easily able to solve problems than women or other genders?
Try asking your community or peers things they wish were different or things that have worked for them. Do a user journey. You can probably find several ways to stretch those design muscles and innovate on your culture.
Sometimes people don’t feel safe being open about their identities at work. Even if you don’t think you have someone with a disability or marginalized ethnicity, gender, or orientation on your team, you probably do. Consider the way you talk about diversity in your shared spaces, and think about what it might be like to hear these conversations as someone who might be white-passing or invisibly disabled or closeted.
Create a support space for your employees and team mates, or give them encouragement to have their own support spaces or affinity groups.
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It’s not easy or intuitive to reexamine the structures we use in our work. And doing so requires skills that we aren’t often taught and don’t always talk about. But when we learn about and respectfully learn from people who aren’t like us, we expand our world view and perspectives. And we create better design solutions for the real people who use the products we’re designing.
Christie is currently a UX Writer at Rivian. Connect with them on LinkedIn.