Executive Director Uma Viswanathan shares how hiring for pluralism is a uniquely different and rewarding approach.
Here at New Pluralists, we’ve made exciting additions to our team with three new hires: LaMonte Guillory, Director of Storytelling; Lauren Higgins, Director of Ecosystem Strategy; and Sarah Aguirre Origer, Program Manager. When we began this hiring journey, we knew that for us to embody the principles of pluralism, our approach had to be different. Providing space for different experiences, backgrounds, and ways of thinking was critical to finding the right people for our team. That meant going beyond a more traditional search. So we partnered with Talent Citizen - an executive search firm that taps into the nation’s best thinkers in civil, corporate, and nonprofit sectors in pursuing positive social impact - to help us hire for pluralism.
A Different Approach for a Different Model
The recruiting process was complex, with multiple stakeholders, decision-makers, and participants. We had to orient the Talent Citizen team to the principles of pluralism and ensure that together, we centered it in the search strategy and in practice. Both New Pluralists and Talent Citizen grappled with questions such as - “How do we hire for culture change? What does it look like to hire for a collaborative? How do we hire for an organization oriented towards emergence?” Facing these challenges together required a unique level of trust and vulnerability among all stakeholders - something that is not always present in executive searches for other roles or organizations.
This way of working also meant leaving space (and a lot of time) for productive pauses to regroup, reset, and recalibrate our approaches to the search. “Our approach to finding talent is not transactional - with our clients or candidates,” explains Tracy Welsh, President of Talent Citizen. “The work we did with New Pluralists is a microcosm of pluralism itself. We experimented, we pushed ourselves and our partners, and we did a lot of self-reflection and checking in,” she adds.
For some, Talent Citizen’s approach might feel different. For example, Guillory says he typically overlooks unsolicited outreach from recruiters. But when he got a LinkedIn message from Eva Kotilinek, a senior associate at Talent Citizen, “something felt different,” he says. “Not only had she done her homework on me and my professional background, but she approached me as one human to another. It may sound like a no-brainer, but that doesn’t always happen, especially in professional recruitment circles,” Guillory explains.
Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone
For this type of search - three roles for a collaborative with multiple stakeholders (including funders and Field Builders) centered around a concept that is fuzzy and abstract to many - we knew we’d need time and patience. And for Talent Citizen, they knew they’d have to reach out beyond their usual networks to find the right candidates. “As a firm, we’re typically left-of-center, and so are many of our clients,” says Welsh. So they had to look in places they typically don’t, including more moderate and right-leaning networks, to ensure they brought the full spectrum of experience and perspectives to the table for consideration. But, of course, the work of pluralism requires all of us, so our recruiting approach can’t be any different.
While swimming in these somewhat uncharted waters, the Talent Citizen team realized that searching for ideological diversity did not always translate to diversity in other areas. The New Pluralists team must reflect the communities of this country, so it was critical that we talked with a pool of candidates that was as diverse (in many ways) as possible. However, we sometimes missed out on racial or ethnic diversity in seeking candidates with different perspectives. It was time for one of those productive pauses. We had to ask ourselves why this was happening and re-strategize how to pull in diverse candidates from across as many spectrums as possible. This also connects to a question we’ve grappled with as an organization (and one we asked ourselves during the Healing Starts Here RFP process): where and how do we find all of our brothers and sisters to join pluralism? The answer isn’t clear cut, but we know that we must push ourselves to think and connect broadly, even if it’s uncomfortable or unfamiliar.
Designing a Process for Everyone
Hiring for a collaborative required an intentional and well-crafted interview process that balanced respect for candidates’ time and humanity, the desires of funders, the needs of the New Pluralists team, and the input of Field Builders. No small feat. Talent Citizen, alongside New Pluralist staff, designed a transparent process to help funders understand the candidate pool's breadth and awesomeness while holding space for what the Field Builders need from New Pluralist staff. “We asked ourselves, how do we exemplify the tenets of pluralism while also moving things forward?” Welsh says. And, there was careful consideration and a feedback loop to ensure the process felt respectful to the candidates’ time and experience. The Talent Citizen team is always careful to ensure the process doesn’t feel exploitative for candidates and takes a human-centered approach that values their dignity.
One muscle that often needs to be built up when practicing pluralism is the ability to stop and check one’s assumptions, biases, and built-in behaviors. We’re all creatures of habit. It can be easy to fall into well-established patterns and behaviors and to feel cautious when faced with something new or challenging our worldview. But to work through our differences is a principle of pluralism that holds true for the recruiting process. For everyone involved, from the New Pluralist team to Talent Citizen to funders and Field Builders, there were moments when we fell into roles or paradigms that didn’t serve the process. Power dynamics, assumptions, and biases came into play, and we had to intentionally stop, recognize them, and take action to correct it. The self-awareness, intention, and space to do this are powerful, and we believe they helped us arrive where we did - with three exceptional new hires ready to put pluralism into action.
The Power of Pluralism for Recruiting
Most organizations have to hire. And often, it can be easy to view it as something transactional. But, it can also be an opportunity to live out values and principles. For us, practicing the principles of pluralism for recruiting was another opportunity to build these muscles and “walk the walk.” It can be a difficult walk, but we’re heartened to see pluralism receive more public attention than ever before, from a White House summit to recent opinion pieces in The New York Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, all pointing to how pluralism may be able to take philanthropy, and our country, in a different direction. And perhaps it’s also a different approach for hiring. This process to find Sarah, LaMonte, and Lauren left us not only with wonderful additions to our team but with a set of learnings on how to bring pluralism to life.