Hiring Bias

Heather Augustine – Photo Credit Brian Kinnanman

There’s been a decided shift in hiring practices coming back from COVID

Shows and companies are more focused on transparency and trying to reach a wider pool of people, which is wonderful for both reducing the amount of nepotism and increasing the diversity of the industry. However, no system is perfect. I was talking with a friend and colleague not too long ago and he told me he was worried that he would get passed over for jobs because he was a white male. Which, honestly, is a completely legitimate concern. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but think:

Now you might understand

Now you send in your resume and wonder if yours will get set aside because of factors intrinsic to your identity that you can’t change. That someone less qualified might get hired over you because they fit what the designer or producer wants to see.

Welcome to our world

I routinely get asked by local crews if I’m the audio assistant or the stage manager or the *insert traditional women roles here.* It’s never meant with any malice, but the bias is there. When locals tell my assistant and I how great it is to see an all-women road crew on audio, it’s because they almost never see one. I can count on one hand the number of local audio heads I’ve worked with who were women. There’s only been one local audio crew that was all women, and that was only because the male local assistant had to call out for a medical emergency. For reference, that’s out of working with 200+ audio crews of 4-8 people over 8+ years touring across the USA and Canada.

But now we’re trying to level the playing field

Does it suck that in that attempt we’ve thrown off the balance in the opposite direction? Yes. Absolutely. Is the goal that the industry can eventually get to an equilibrium where work ethic or skill are the determining factors for hiring and not skin color, gender identity, or other biases? Also yes.

So, to the white men in the world who are wondering how they’re going to compete in a system that now seems rigged against them, here’s my advice. It’s something that every woman and minority has had to live by their entire careers: You have to be better. You have to work harder and improve more than the people around you to prove yourself competent. You have to be so good at your job that people will hire you despite your skin color or your gender.

This is what our world has looked like for decades. It’s not fair, it’s not nice, it’s just the reality. When you know the biases work against you, you have to make yourself stand out. It’s just that historically minorities have been dealing with subconscious bias, whereas now the shift is to balance hiring with conscious choices.

So now, to the non-white, males in the room, remember that working to correct those biases won’t happen overnight

Just because the hiring scales have tipped in favor of women and POC doesn’t mean that everything has magically shifted. In most cases, a white man will still be assumed competent until proven otherwise. However, a woman or POC, especially those in the earlier years of their career, will still have to prove themselves capable before they’re considered qualified for the job and not just someone the producer was looking for to check off a box on their diversity list.

I know was hired for my first tour as an A2 because I was a woman. I got pushed to the top of the (likely very short) list of women because I was the A1’s girlfriend. The fact that I came well recommended by my references and with an education from a well-respected college program was probably taken into consideration, but I’m well aware I was not truly hired for my skills or experience that first time around. Even later on in my career as an A1, there are times I’ve suspected that my resume floated to the top of the pile because I was a woman and the fact that I was qualified for the job fell (a hopefully close) second.

Thinking you’ve been hired for reasons other than your qualifications quite frankly sucks. You walk in the door already feeling like you’ve got something to prove and thanking that there’s a thin margin for error before people might start whispering behind your back about how you really got the job.

The advice that’s resonated with me for most of my career is: It doesn’t matter who (or what) got you the job. You’re the one that keeps it. I’ve never regretted taking the opportunities that were given to me in large part because of that advice and I used the chance to prove I had the skills (or could learn whatever I needed to) to carry my weight. Sure, the first job I got was based on factors I’d like to think are irrelevant, but through that, I started to build a reputation based on who I was and the work I did, and that travels faster and reaches further than any bias.

This is an industry where we all leverage whatever advantages we can to establish ourselves. We get a leg up based on who we know, where we live, or even being at the right place at the right time. Don’t feel bad for taking advantage of an opportunity that is placed in your path, regardless of why. I know I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without help from a very large number of people and quite a bit of luck, which I then strove to back up with hard work.

Again, it doesn’t matter what or who opened a door for you. Your willingness to step through gets you into the room and your willingness to work and learn is what keeps you there.

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