Update: Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, VPR joined many other organizations in taking a good, hard look at how well we were living up to our values of equity and inclusion.
Over the past year, we’ve discovered how much more we need to learn and how far we still need to go. We’ve asked for help and began a journey toward sharing more people’s stories and becoming an organization where everyone feels like they belong.
In September, VPR committed to several concrete steps to hold ourselves accountable for making change. Before we merge with Vermont PBS on July 1, we want to report where we are on these goals. We also are planning to carry this work into the new organization - in fact, we believe the merger will help us better reach and engage with more diverse audiences.
We’ve completed three of these four steps, and are in progress on the fourth. Here’s an update on each.
1. Work with an independent expert to audit, create and implement an improvement plan for our recruitment and hiring practices, as well as existing internal culture.
A group of employees developed an RFP and interviewed several candidates before selecting the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity. Over the fall and early winter, VPFD conducted deep interviews with current and former staff.
Earlier this year, they shared their findings with staff and our board, a summary of which can be found here. It describes a culture where DEI wasn’t taken seriously, where people think they are more aware and informed than they are, and where people of color experienced white silence, microaggressions, and other forms of covert racism.
A group of employees presented the findings to each department at VPR, and it has led to introspection, conversation, and a determination to create a more inclusive culture.
Also, VPFD recommended changes in recruitment, hiring and training that VPR is in the process of adopting and implementing. Extensive training for all staff, and separate training for leadership and management, is planned for our next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
2. Immediately boost BIPOC voices on all our platforms through freelance work, as we move to diversify our full- and part-time employees.
Over the past year, VPR has produced several stories and shows that feature musicians, journalists, and other BIPOC leaders, such as our (Un)Fractured series, Safe & Sound’s Vermont Voices for Change, and Homegoings from Brave Little State.
Our improved recruitment practices led to an increase in highly-qualified BIPOC candidates in our hiring pools. Now, VPR’s percentage of BIPOC employees roughly mirrors the state average, but there is much work to do. For example, we still have no BIPOC individuals in leadership or management roles. Also, we have much work to do to increase all forms of diversity on staff - for example, individuals with disabilities.
3. Review our news and music content to determine how effectively it reflects our full community, and where we can improve.
This goal is in progress. This year, our news team researched different ways of tracking sources and developed a system to do so.
We have begun tracking demographic data of our sources in local interviews on Morning Edition and All Things Considered and plan to expand to tracking all content over the next few months. From there, we will set goals that hold us accountable to including more diverse sources and on all types of stories and content.
The VPR Classical team has conducted playlist analysis of our local music shows, and added hundreds of new pieces to the library. The organization's music database is also newly updated with better identifying markers. This allows better tracking of the music programming as it regards diverse and underrepresented composers and performers. Hosting and presentation across all music shows is also being evaluated and updated - so that we are providing context and sharing the stories of these musicians in an inclusive way.
4. Expand VPR's Diverse Voices Initiative to make sure the above efforts are adequately funded.
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to raise more than $60,000 for the Diverse Voices Initiative. We are especially grateful to the VPR Board of Directors - 100% of whom donated to this fund.
This has helped pay for freelance work from BIPOC creators, training, and allowed us to create a news fellowship, which recruits new or early-career journalists with life experience or other knowledge that will contribute to a broader understanding of all the communities VPR serves. Marlon Hyde is VPR’s first News Fellow, who joins VPR after graduating from Saint Michael’s College and covering news both in Vermont and through a special program in Morocco.
This work is particularly important as we merge with Vermont PBS. We believe this will be the test of success for our unified organization: to continue to serve our core audience, while engaging with more diverse audiences who aren’t as familiar with us yet.
To that end, our unified organization has accepted the invitation to join Public Media for All. It's a group led by people of color in public media, committed to raising awareness of the negative effects of a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in public media, and sharing solutions for individuals and organizations.
Joining Public Media for All commits us to 11 action items - some of which we have done or already doing, others yet to begin. This is another small step in our necessary journey to become a more inclusive and equitable organization - including training that is planned for all staff in the fall, and a new committee devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion that will include staff from both legacy organizations.
Our mission and vision work is still in progress, but after listening to many diverse groups we can share one overriding theme: the desire for this new organization to be more inclusive, to live up to our promise to serve ALL people. To be a place that shares all our stories and where everyone belongs.