Staffing for Diversity

By Jan Gartner

our hands reflecting diverse skin tones, each grasping the wrist of the next

Wherever you may be in your process of hiring and supporting staff at this moment, exploring your vision and values is an important starting place for thinking about diversity.

Vision and Values

As we become more deliberate about making room for people of color in our own place of employment, some of you have asked for guidance about how you might similarly work on increasing the diversity of your staff. This is a multi-faceted topic, and we'll address various pieces of it in this publication over the next few months.

While you may be tempted to jump right into the nuts and bolts of job postings, personnel policies, and the like, we suggest starting on a more philosophical level. To begin your exploration, UUA Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness Taquiena Boston recommends the book, Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry, edited by Mitra Rahnema (Skinner House 2017). This book, one of two UUA 2017-2018 Common Reads, features the stories and perspectives of Unitarian Universalist religious professionals of color. Learning about and honoring their experiences may give you new insights into supporting staff and congregants of color.

Additionally, Taquiena offers these reflection questions, which have been partially adapted from Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre's keynote at the 2013 Mosaic Makers Conference: Leading Vital Multicultural Congregations*:

  1. What are the vision and values that motivate our congregation to hire a diverse staff?
  2. What kind of diversity is already present in our staffing? (Examples: sex, gender expression/gender identity, ability, age, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, education)
  3. How might our congregational/community culture support attracting and retaining diversity in our staff leadership? How might our congregation/community need to change? What are we willing to sacrifice to achieve this goal?

Position Descriptions and Publicity

When you have a staff position to fill, you probably seek to cast a wide net, attract a strong applicant pool, and hire the "best" person. Unfortunately, sometimes position description language can feel discouraging people who would actually be excellent for a position. Or the way the position is publicized limits who sees the opening or who is inspired to apply. Your thinking can get constrained by unconscious biases and pre-formed notions about what's needed or what the new staff member will look like.

In particular, pay attention to academic and experience-related qualifications or preferences. What knowledge and skills are necessary in order to fulfill the responsibilities of the position? What are all of the ways that knowledge and skill set might be acquired? A particular college degree, in some cases, might offer assurance that an applicant has had sufficient depth and breadth of training for the job. But would you necessarily want to rule someone out if they don't have the degree? And what about a more general "bachelor's degree or equivalent" requirement? What capabilities does the college degree stand for - and is there another way of assessing those? What does "equivalent" look like? What could someone's life experience offer you that doesn't immediately translate into "knowledge and skills" in the traditional sense? Do you expect the applicant to claim Unitarian Universalism as their own religious identity? If so, why? Is there a more inclusive approach?

You may have heard about the Hewlett-Packard study showing that men tend to apply for a job if they meet 60% of the posted qualifications, while women tend not to apply unless they meet 100% of the qualifications. (Take a look at the graphic showing the reasons people didn't apply. It's not about confidence or ability.) Are potential applicants with other marginalized identities similarly less likely to apply for your position if their experience doesn't match your requirements?

When it's time to advertise your position, are you thinking expansively about how to get the word out? Within your local area, what are all the networks you can tap into? What connections do you have - or can you make - to communities of color? To other faith-based and nonprofit organizations? In your publicity piece, do you emphasize your congregation's commitment to nurturing employees who enrich your staff team and congregation by bringing diverse identities? Have you reached out to your regional staff, who know your congregation and its context, for advice?

These questions are not a checklist, nor do they have "right" answers. They are provided to plant seeds and to be a springboard for your own dialogue. As one potential conversation-starter, we suggest the reflection Letters after My Name, in which lifelong Unitarian Universalist Kari Kopnick shares her experience of being a non-degreed religious educator in a UU congregation.

Screening and Interviewing

In striving to diversify your staff, it's important to be aware of your assumptions and biases. Differences in learning styles, life experiences, cultural norms, and more will introduce variety that you aren't expecting; it's all too easy to misinterpret. What might get in the way of objectively determining who can do the job? Vu Le, author of a popular blog about nonprofit work (see reading list below), gives an example of bias that no doubt has kept many fine job applicants from proceeding to an interview:

A colleague once told me, "I go through people's resumes. If I see a single typo, it goes straight into the no pile." And I thought, "Yeah, those no-good lazy bums who don't bother to proofread!" But let's think about all the great candidates whose first language is not English; their perspective and ability to speak a second or third language should more than make up for the occasional mistake in English.

You can find many resources online about interview strategies, including guidance for steering clear of illegal questions. With the goal of staffing for diversity in mind, here are some pointers:

Group Interviews

Even when the hiring decision is ultimately up to one person, it is important to have at least one or two other participants in the interview. You're likely to find that multiple impressions emerge and help paint a more complete and objective picture, especially if you are intentional about preparing interviewers to be alert to biases and assumptions—their own and those of others.


One way to help your interview team prepare is to ponder a few questions together. Some ideas:

  • What if a candidate has blue hair? First impressions? How might that influence you? Does it make a difference in their ability to do the job? (Substitute other human differences for "blue hair.")
  • What assumptions have you made about a candidate's identity, based on their application materials (e.g., age, gender, race, ethnicity)?
  • What expectations do you have about how candidates dress for their interview?
  • What aspects of your own identity and experience might feel relevant to you as we move through our interview process?


Based on cultural and other factors, some people shine in a traditional interview setting and others don't, just like some people are better test-takers than others. Can you complement a question-and-answer session with other ways of gauging candidate abilities and contributions? For a Director of Religious Education interview, for instance, you could ask each candidate to come prepared to tell a story for all ages.

Scrutinize Each Step

Cultural norms and differences affect our feelings and opinions about others in all kinds of ways, often subconsciously. From reviewing application materials to meeting with candidates to sharing perspectives post-interview, continually ask yourself what you might be missing—how your own norms, biases, and assumptions may be shaping or skewing the process.

Recommended Reading for Screening and Interviewing

The resources are Canada-based, but very applicable to the U.S.

From Vu Le's Nonprofit And Friends blog

Welcoming New Staff

Your chosen candidate has accepted your offer. Their start date is on the calendar.

Will your new employee receive a warm welcome? Will onboarding (employment-related forms and benefits enrollment) go smoothly? Will this newest member of your staff team receive the support they need to get off to a good start? Helpful resources for bringing on new staff, including a Welcoming and Onboarding Checklist and the GA 2016 "Got New Staff?" workshop video, can be found on our Staffing Practices webpage.

Think for a moment about how you felt as you got ready for your first day on a new job. Maybe you were unsure of how to dress, exactly where to go upon arrival, or whether there would be a refrigerator for your lunch. Maybe you were aware of difficult circumstances surrounding the departure of your predecessor or a split decision about hiring you. How you were treated during your first few days likely had a big influence on your sense of comfort and belonging, thus contributing to your ability to feel successful in the job.
For a member of a marginalized group, or anyone who is aware that some aspect of their identity is not the norm in your setting, the initial sense of uncertainty or unease can be magnified. Examining your first-day (and first-week) protocol is an opportunity to pave the way to a good experience for every new staff member. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Get Names Right

Calling someone what they want to be called, including saying and spelling their name correctly, is fundamental to showing that you see them and care about them. Your new hire may have used their legal name on application materials but prefers to go by a different form of their name. Do they want congregants and/or staff to address them by title (e.g., Reverend Chris or Reverend Romero, or Ms. Jan)? Ask how they wish to be addressed, and confirm the spelling and pronunciation. Make it part of your routine to do this for everyone, not just when someone has an "unusual" (to you) name.

Demonstrate Gender Inclusivity

Ask about preferred pronouns. You may not be able to change legal forms from other sources but, at least in new-hire paperwork that your congregation creates, is the language gender-inclusive? Again, this is something you can do for everyone to signal that your workplace understands and celebrates gender diversity. And, of course, new staff will appreciate knowing where the bathrooms are. Do you have a convenient, gender-neutral restroom?

Check Assumptions

As an example, you may be accustomed to everyone on staff driving themselves to work, and you're great about letting new staff know ahead of time where to park. But perhaps your new hire uses public transportation or gets dropped off by a relative. Clarifying where to park may be a courtesy, but could it inadvertently signal to a staff newcomer that they don't fit your expectations? In this situation, you might consider providing information that includes not just parking, but bus stop/route information and other transportation tips. What other assumptions are you making?

Respect Preferences

You're eager to add your new staff member's headshot to the staff display on the lobby bulletin board! Especially on an otherwise all-white staff, a person of color may be hesitant to have their picture posted, perhaps feeling that they are expected to help paint a picture of diversity. Take another example: the staff typically eat together in the kitchen, but the new employee declines your invitation. Offer opportunities - and then honor the employee's choices.

Looking at how you bring on new employees through the lens of diversity and inclusion can create a more intentional and welcoming experience for all staff.

Ongoing Staff Support

Congregational Reflection

Deep conversation and ongoing education are necessary for any kind of diversity effort to be successful. With respect to staffing, in our August issue, we shared reflection questions offered by Taquiena Boston, UUA Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness, as adapted from a keynote delivered by Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre for the 2013 Mosaic Makers Conference. These bear revisiting:

  1. What are the vision and values that motivate our congregation to hire a diverse staff?
  2. What kind of diversity is already present in our staffing? (Examples: sex, gender expression/gender identity, ability, age, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, education)
  3. How might our congregational/community culture support attracting and retaining diversity in our staff leadership? How might our congregation/community need to change? What are we willing to sacrifice to achieve this goal?

In addition to the questions above, once again we recommend: Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry, edited by Mitra Rahnema (Skinner House 2017). A downloadable discussion guid (PDF) is now available for this 2017-2018 UUA Common Read. Although the book focuses on religious professionals (primarily ministers) of color, their stories, challenges, and perspectives will help you strengthen your understanding and support of all of your staff and the diversity they bring.

Norms, Biases, and Assumptions

What norms are operating in your congregation - unwritten rules, patterns, or ways of being that you don't even notice because they are simply "part of the water you swim in"? Congregational norms aren't necessarily good or bad, but it's important to recognize them and to consider how they might make life easier for some staff members and harder for others. Adding to these organizational norms are biases and assumptions that you and other individuals might bring to your leadership. See if you can name things that are "just how it works" in your congregation, look at your own leadership with fresh eyes, and think about how these ways of being may impact staff of marginalized identities.
Pay special attention to assumptions and practices around finances and access. For instance, do you assume that staff can pay for expenses out of pocket and get reimbursed afterwards? (Always have an alternative process.) Do you expect staff to have the technology and circumstances that allow them to check email or do work from home? (What starts out as offering flexibility can slide into establishing an expectation.) Do staff take up collections for birthday gifts? Anything involving staff members' personal finances and home situations should be handled carefully.

Formal Processes and Practices

Your congregation provides direct support to staff through, among other things: compensation (salary and benefits), office space and setup, employment agreements and personnel policies, supervision, performance feedback, staff meetings, and staff team development. As your staff becomes more diverse and you become more intentional about your support, you're likely to notice ways that these systems and structures unduly favor some staff over others. Whatever your leadership role, we urge you to pay attention, to raise concerns, and to seek ways of strengthening the experience of staff of color and other staff who may experience marginalization. Your efforts can help dismantle systemic oppression in your congregation, in Unitarian Universalism, and in our society as a whole.

Keep Learning

Learning from one another is fundamental to who we are as Unitarian Universalists, and it is key to bettering ourselves as individuals, as congregations, and as a faith. In striving for greater diversity on your staff, what is your congregation learning and grappling with? Have you discovered and mitigated racial or other bias in your job descriptions? Have you made adjustments to your screening, interviewing, and hiring processes? What about your welcoming and onboarding protocol? Supervision and performance feedback?

We've shared some basic considerations in this article, but the experiential wisdom lies with you. If you have gleaned insights or developed good practices that you think would be helpful to others, send them to Jan at They will be compiled and shared in a future issue of Office of Church Staff Finances publication - cleansed of identifying info, as appropriate.

Additional Resources

Note: An earlier version of this article originally appeared in the August 2017 through January 2018 editions of Compensation and Staffing News, a monthly Office of Church Staff Finances publication.

About the Author

Jan Gartner

Jan is passionate about helping congregations live out their values within their walls!...

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