After years of focusing on survival, The Seattle Times lacked a solid roadmap for how to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion company-wide in a resource-strapped environment. With cost savings, revenue generation and innovation at the top of the priority lists, goals of diversity, equity and inclusion sometimes took a backseat, despite the best intentions.
At first, we lacked a solid roadmap for how to prioritize DEI in a resource-strapped environment. But after several years of planning and implementing DEI programs, we have a few pieces of advice for media companies that want to focus on DEI in their organizations.
Use company values as a foundation
While we felt that long-term employees understood our company values, COVID presented new challenges in hiring and adapting our culture in a remote environment. The Seattle Times leadership team went through an exercise to define the values we want all employees to incorporate in their daily work and interactions. For us, values of Belonging and Community brought diversity, equity and inclusion to the forefront of the behaviors we seek in new employees and reward in existing employees.
Reflect on the past
News companies can’t change the future without reflecting on the industry’s past wrongs. Our newsroom has reflected internally and publicly on past wrongs in our media coverage. That reckoning prompted a renewed focus and progress in DEI, including a Newsroom Equity Team that fosters inclusion and belonging through reviewing policies, style guides, hiring practices and more.
Those conversations led to the promotion of columnist Naomi Ishisaka to Assistant Managing Editor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Staff Development in the newsroom and co-chair of the broader ST Company DEI committee (which I have the honor of leading with Naomi). This work has been acknowledged nationally, with Naomi named Changemaker of the Year by the Asian American Journalists Association earlier this year.
Create a common understanding
We invested in several forms of training to create an awareness of bias in the workplace. We prioritized managers but opened training to all employees. The training formats varied from free to high-cost, and self-guided modules to group discussions designed to get employees to think more deeply about these issues and, at times, push past discomfort. All these formats had their pros and cons, but each created common understanding, terminology and perspective to drive home why progress is needed.
Find your advocates
Some of the best ideas and work are employee-led and -driven. These employee advocates are not a replacement for a diverse and committed leadership team, but they can be a support team for leaders who are often overwhelmed with the business challenges of our industry. Employee-led efforts also increase buy-in overall. Our company DEI committee was built from employees who had to apply to join. They are paid an annual $500 stipend for their work, but they are ultimately driven by passion and commitment to this work. This committee, which represents every department and the diversity of our company, helped design the training curriculum, organized a heritage feast and company participation in the Pride Parade, created a “Learning Lab” for sharing DEI holidays and information, and serves as a channel for sharing input and ideas.
This work is gratifying, but still challenging to keep at the forefront of our very long and overwhelming list of priorities. DEI requires commitment through company culture and adoption by employees throughout the ranks. It involves a constant evolution and reflection on how we’re doing and what’s next. But DEI is worth it, in the internal and external trust, community and awareness it brings.
Amber Aldrich is the Senior Director of Advertising at The Seattle Times, co-chair of The Seattle Times DEI Committee, and an LMA board member.