News & Politics

Washington Post Unveils Suite of Initiatives to “Build a Stronger Culture of Diversity and Equity”

Photograph by Evy Mages

The Washington Post on Thursday announced steps it plans to take to “build a stronger culture of diversity and equity,” as Publisher Fred Ryan wrote in a memo to staff.

The paper will hire more than a dozen new positions, including a managing editor for diversity and inclusion, a reporter “who can write with immediacy, sweep and authority on race and identity in America,” and a reporter who will cover “domestic terrorism, including extremist groups with supporters in the military and police; the internationalization of far-right groups; and the sources of financial support for white nationalism.”

In addition to these hires, the Post plans an “opportunity fellowship” in the newsroom that will offer three staffers each year a secondment to another desk. It will hire a “Diversity & Inclusion Director” for its HR department, conduct trainings in unconscious bias for managers and editors, and add criteria to its employee reviews that holds managers responsible for “effectively setting goals, coaching and developing employees, and building a diverse and inclusive team.”

A few of these steps appear to line up with a recent “action plan” that the Post‘s Guild sent to management last week: The union asked the Post to hire a “senior management position dedicated solely to equity, diversity & inclusion,” for instance, and asked the Post to establish pipelines to hire employees of color and to promote them once they’re inside the organization.

Others appear to remain unaddressed. In its plan, the Guild asked Post management to address questions of pay equity that it raised in a massive study last fall that found that the Post pays women employees in its newsroom, as a group, less than it pays men. Post management told Washingtonian it considered the report “seriously flawed.” Ryan’s memo does nod to pay equity, saying the HR department “has a well-established salary review process” and that the Post “routinely provided pay adjustments for individuals outside the merit pay process.”

The Post is in the process of writing a new social media policy, something it sorely needs, as evidenced by recent flaps including the reporters Felicia Sonmez (who stayed at the Post after she was suspended because of a tweet) and Wesley Lowery (who left for Quibi and later told the New York Times he’d clashed with Post Executive Editor Martin Baron over social media. A new policy appears to be in process, though it’s not clear how far along a new policy is. The Guild had asked for a management/labor working group to overhaul the social media policy, one that it hopes will “uphold a standard of accuracy and fairness” and “not be enforced punitively.” Post staffers, the Guild wrote, “should not have to worry they will be disciplined for tweeting ‘Black Lives Matter’ or similar assertions of their humanity and lived experience.”

Washingtonian has asked the Post Guild and the Post‘s PR shop some questions about the memo and the progress of the Post’s new social media policy, and I’ll update this post when I hear back.

Full memo:

Dear Washington Post colleagues,
 
Over the last few weeks, we have actively sought advice internally and externally and held many conversations with Post employees on ways we can build a stronger culture of diversity and equity at The Washington Post. We’ve also thought hard about the important role The Post can play in reporting and leading a national conversation on issues of race and diversity while shining light on the inequities that exist today.
 
The Washington Post is an organization that values and is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture, and we are proud of the efforts we have made over the years. However, we know we can be better, and we can do more.
 
In this memo to you, I want to share some of the immediate next steps we are taking to further advance our commitment to these fundamental values and to ensure The Post is a place where all employees feel valued, heard and supported.
 
Newsroom Expansion
I’ll begin with some major initiatives we will be launching in the newsroom to use our powerful platform to address issues of race in this historic moment and over the long term. We are committed to devoting substantial resources to this important priority. The George Floyd killing, the protests and the responses from politicians, corporate leaders and cultural figures demonstrate that Americans are confronting racial inequities with an intensity we have not seen in a half century. Our newsroom leaders have thoughtfully focused on how we can strengthen our capacity to cover this rapidly unfolding societal reckoning and the broader issues related to race and identity in the United States. To that end, we will be adding more than a dozen new positions to the newsroom:
 
  • Managing Editor for diversity and inclusion: This senior leadership position will act as a convener of regular coverage discussions that will bring together an expanded group of editors, reporters and visual journalists focused on race and identity. This managing editor will participate in story meetings, review coverage that involves sensitive issues of race and diversity and listen to and share staff concerns. This managing editor will also work with Tracy Grant to identify and recruit candidates and participate in final decisions on hiring and promotion.
  • America Desk Editor: We will add an editor to the America Desk to help direct and edit expanded coverage of race and identity. This team will be enhanced by the addition of the following three reporters.
  • Race in America writer: A reporter who can write with immediacy, sweep and authority on race and identity in America.
  • Writer on America and multiculturalism: A reporter who will focus on this country’s emergence as a predominately multicultural society – a momentous demographic shift that requires sustained attention and enterprising reporting.
  • Writer for the “About Us” newsletter: An additional reporter to expand this already successful newsletter, which we are now publishing twice a week.
  • National Security writer: A reporter with investigative skills who will dig into domestic terrorism, including extremist groups with supporters in the military and police; the internationalization of far-right groups; and the sources of financial support for white nationalism. 
  • Criminal Justice writer: A reporter who will focus on the administration of justice in the United States, from policing to probation. The beat will encompass the police reforms now being debated, incarceration at state and federal levels, and the experiences of those leaving prison. 
  • Style writer: A features writer who can chronicle the cultural manifestations of an America that is changing demographically. Coverage might include profiles of individuals who are reshaping the national conversation and the mainstreaming of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Climate & Environment writer: A reporter to focus on environmental inequities, how climate change disproportionately harms people least responsible for it, the higher risk of exposure to pollution for communities of color and how communities of color are finding ways to adapt to environmental threats.
  • Health and Science writer: A reporter to focus on health disparities, the impact of structural and interpersonal racism on health and the sociology and psychology of racism and its effects.
  • Photojournalist: A photojournalist with experience in coverage of race and identity.
  • Multiplatform Editor: An additional editor on the multiplatform desk to help with the increase in coverage.
 
Across the newsroom, teams are in discussions about additional efforts that will strengthen already excellent coverage, so that The Post emerges as the preeminent chronicler of this critical time in our nation’s history.
 
Newsroom Opportunity Fellowship:
In the fall of 2020, we will launch a yearlong cross-department training program. This “Opportunity Year” will enable up to three staffers annually to work in other roles and departments, further developing their skills. The goal of the program is to enable staffers to explore career paths, encourage even greater collaboration throughout the newsroom and facilitate creative thinking among managers about career development for their staffs. To ensure that the regular work of those participating in this program is covered, we will be hiring full-time, temporary employees to backfill the individuals selected for the program, thus minimizing the impact of their move on affected departments. Look for more details about the program and its selection process in the coming weeks.
 
Race in America Live Series:
The Washington Post has established a powerful national platform with Washington Post Live and our shift to digital programs during the pandemic has found an enormous nationwide audience. We plan to use this major platform to hold ongoing conversations on race over the next year, expanding on the Race in America series that has run over the past few weeks, which has included leading voices on this important issue. We will expand our staff to oversee the development of this major initiative and work with editors and reporters throughout the newsroom on the content.
 
 
Companywide Initiatives
Beyond these newsroom initiatives, I want to discuss several companywide employee-focused measures that will build on programs and efforts that have long been in place and ensure that these efforts always remain a top priority.
 
Expanded HR Department: 
The Washington Post is fortunate to have a strong HR team. As we work to expand our diversity and inclusion efforts, that team will make additional resources available to support the newsroom. This will help ensure that all newsroom and business-side employees receive the vast HR resources, guidance, and training available, while enabling us to more effectively focus our attention on diversity issues company-wide. The newsroom, with its expertise in recruiting and hiring talented journalists, will continue to lead that process as we work to expand diversity at all levels of our organization.
 
Diversity & Inclusion Director:
As part of our expanded HR Department, we will dedicate additional HR resources to further focus on the HR Department’s diversity and inclusion strategy centered on the areas of recruiting, retention and pay equity. The new Director of Diversity & Inclusion will expand all elements of this strategy, including:
  • Recruiting & Hiring
  • Retention & Culture
  • Pay Equity 
  • Accountability
  • Succession Planning
 
Unconscious Bias Training: 
In 2018, our HR Department launched “Navigating Today’s Workplace,” a highly successful program that focuses on discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This year, we will build on that success with the launch of ongoing Unconscious Bias Training, which will be required for all managers and editors with direct reports, including all executive team members.
 
Leadership Competency in Manager Appraisals:
In addition to the three catalysts currently integrated into all employee appraisals (Shape Ideas, Redefine Speed, Take Ownership), we will add a leadership-focused competency to appraisals for all managers and editors with direct reports.  This new leadership competency will hold managers accountable for effectively setting goals, coaching and developing employees, and building a diverse and inclusive team.
 
Release of Diversity Data:
In order to measure our progress and ensure transparency, we will release a diversity report for the entire company on an annual basis. This follows the lead of the newsroom, which has long released its diversity numbers to the News Leaders Association (formerly ASNE). The first public release of the data will happen in July.
 
Pay Equity:
We remain committed to our ongoing efforts to promote pay equity at The Post to ensure that employees are paid fairly for the work they do. The HR Department has a well-established salary review process that critically reviews employee compensation issues. When warranted, we have routinely provided pay adjustments for individuals outside the merit pay process, and that work will continue.
 
Diversity & Inclusion Landing Page:
To reflect the importance of these fundamental Washington Post values, we will be building a web page that includes an overview of our mission, strategy, goals, diversity data, current programs and upcoming initiatives and link to that page from three places: GuidePost, the “About Us” section on The Washington Post’s homepage and our Careers site.
 
New Paid Leave Plan:
Last week, we informed employees that in 2020 the company would observe Juneteenth as an optional day off. We will be making a permanent shift in the allotment of annual paid time off to be more reflective of our multicultural workforce. In addition to the eight currently established holidays, effective January 1, 2021, all employees will receive two additional personal days each year to use at their discretion, whether to celebrate cultural and faith traditions or any date of personal significance.
 
As I hope you will see from this memo, The Washington Post is making a significant long-term commitment, in addition to the work we have been doing over the past few years, to ensure we have a workplace that reflects who we are as company. We view this as an urgent and ongoing priority, and it will take unwavering commitment from all of us to get this done. While we are hopeful that much can be accomplished in the short term, the ultimate measure of our success will be achieved when current and future Washington Post employees can thrive in a diverse, inclusive and respectful environment.
 
Fred.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.