Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Five important questions for B2B media: Part Three

This is the third in a five-part series in which I pose important questions for B2B media. You can see Part One by clicking here. Check out Part Two by clicking here.

If you're reading this, odds are you're white.

Since I started my consulting business a few years ago, I've had the chance to visit dozens of B2B publications. I've also had the chance to speak at tradeshows run by Folio magazine, the American Society of Business Publication Editors and American Business Media.
And everywhere I've gone I've looked out upon audiences made up almost entirely of white people.
It's really begun to drive me nuts.

Sure, every once in awhile I'll see a few Asian folks. That's particularly true in New York and California. And sometimes I'll meet someone with a Spanish surname.
But of the roughly 1,000 U.S.-based B2B journalists I've met, no more than a dozen or so were black, Arabic or South Asian.

It's been nearly two years since I first wrote about this issue. Back then, after a visiting a series of white-dominated businesses, I said "it has become positively creepy to visit your newsrooms." And I assure you that the creepiness factor has only increased.
In addition to the whiteness factor, here are some other things I have noted:
1. An absence of black folks in the newsroom does not reflect the numbers of blacks in a community. Even in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Kansas City -- all of which have substantial numbers of black residents -- B2B news staffers are overwhelmingly white.
2. The lack of black folks in a newsroom does not correspond to a lack of black folks at the company. When I wander outside even the whitest of the white newsrooms, I tend to run into substantial numbers of black people in support jobs -- payroll, circulation, reception, etc.
3. When I ask executives about the lack of minority journalists at their publications, the answer I'm most likely to receive is some variation of "we just don't get many minority candidates."
4. When I ask executives what, if any, recruiting they do that is aimed at minority candidates, the answer is almost always "none."
5. When I visit college campuses, or speak to groups of college students at journalism conferences, it is clear that part of the problem begins at the universities. The numbers of minority students at most schools is dissapointingly small.
6. It's also clear that few if any schools consider trade publishing a suitable destination for their graduates. So even schools that have large numbers of minority students tend not to funnel those kids toward us.
7. B2B's shortcomings involve race and ethnic background, not gender. I am not aware of a single B2B publication that has a problem recruiting women for entry-level jobs. Journalism schools tend to attract a good number of female students. And although it is possible to argue that management remains a male-dominated realm, the number of women in management jobs at most B2B publishers dwarfs the number of minority employees at any level in editorial.

It's worse for us
It is clear that this problem -- although present to lesser degrees across all media -- is massive in B2B. Newspapers don't have a problem this big. Television, particularly among on-air personalities, both national and local, doesn't have a problem this big. Radio is considerably more diverse. Online-only consumer news is far more diverse. B2C publishing doesn't have a problem like we do. I've worked in all those fields. And it's only in B2B where the lack of diversity is so glaring, so obvious and so overwhelming that it makes my skin crawl.

In a global economy, there are compelling reasons to diversify a workforce.
But I don't want to talk about those today. Because the more I think about this issue, the more it becomes clear to me that the problem here isn't about motivation. It's about effort.
Far too few B2B executives and senior editorial staffers put enough effort into recruiting minority journalists. Far too few of us visit historically black colleges. Far too few of us post our jobs on sites that cater to minority journalists (examples are here, here and here.) We don't do enough. That is clear to me.
What is unclear is the reason. Is B2B more racist? Is there something about this industry that attracts and rewards prejudiced people? Or is it some other character flaw? Are we lazier? Less concerned with social issues? Are we more easily defeated? Prone to giving in more readily in the face of difficult tasks?

And so this is today's question:
What is it about B2B in general, and your company in particular, that causes our race problem?

(Disclosure: I am a member of the most common demographic in B2B publishing -- I am a middle-aged, white, male.)

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  1. Paul,

    You're vaguely implying racism in the B2B world, or that we have to recruit "minority" candidates. It's like someone saying "We need more diversity in the work force" when they really mean, "hey, we need some black folks out there." I'm black and I work in B2B. No one at our office is here because of or a lack of, skin pigmentation.

    True diversity, sir, is the variety of ideas and backgrounds, not your skin color.

  2. Barry,

    Paul isn't implying that there is inherent racism in the B2B world. He's stating a fact; the B2B world is dominated by middle-aged white guys. I joined my company's executive team at 28, and I felt like a minority even though I was white and male. Almost everyone else was a middle-aged white guy. There were some women publishers, and they were all white. I was put in charge of a team that was mostly white males (two white females). My experience at ABM industry events made me feel isolated because I was usually the only exec in my age group (and often assumed to be an assistant). I felt so isolated that I decided to focus heavily on building a diverse team. Today, Penton's New Media team boasts talented individuals of a variety of color, background, and gender. Each of these individuals was the most qualified for their positions of all the candidates that applied for the position. Part of that is a reflection of the talent pool for online; part of it is a reflection of our recruiting efforts.

    Personally, I think that part of the reason for the homogeneous nature of the industry is the hiring practices. B2B companies tend to hire and recruit from other B2B companies. It's not an intentional exclusion of minorities, but perhaps B2B publishers aren't trying hard enough to attract a diverse workforce through sources from outside the industry.

  3. Paul:

    I appreciate your post and you addressing this subject and encouraging the discussion.
    I agree with many of the points you make, though I have no basis upon which to say that it’s an issue specific to B2B. I haven’t attended the various tradeshows and conferences you mentioned, but have attended a number of business conferences in the particular trade for which I write about. At even the largest of these, I am usually one of a handful of minority faces in attendance (I am a black woman).

    Have you considered the audience for B2B? If the industry you write for is diverse, it may be more intuitive to have diverse voices writing the articles. Every industry is different, and perhaps B2Bs are less sensitive to their lack their diversity because by definition their audience is a specific niche from among whom very few minorities may be represented – unlike a major metropolitan paper or general interest consumer magazine. This doesn’t make the situation right – but if there is a significant difference in minority representation, that might be a contributing factor.

    The things that you mention that I think would be quite effective - targeting minority job fairs, historically black colleges and universities, and recruitment Web sites such as – would take more time and effort, but would put these B2Bs news organizations on the radar of minority students and probably increase the number of qualified minority applicants for jobs there.

    Of the reasons you propose for the lack of diversity, I’d venture to guess it’s a lack of effort combined with some lack of motivation. For some reason – and I‘m not saying that it’s overt racism – the powers that be at some of these organizations probably don’t feel diversity is a priority. I suppose they feel that if they can get qualified people in place doing the work, who cares if they are all or mostly white? But I’d like to see them embrace the idea that diversity is a value in and of itself – and to realize that if you get a diverse pool of candidates, you can and will find minority candidates who are the most qualified for the position -- that hiring for diversity does not have to be the equivalent of a hand-out.

    I think there can be a blandness and shallowness of perspective in an all or predominately white workplace – or all black, or all Asian – you fill in the blank. Perhaps that is the creepiness of which you speak? At the very least there can be a certain groupthink that goes unchallenged. And Prescott makes a good point -- for those who are not part of the majority group, the lack of diversity can feel very isolating.

  4. Hi Paul--

    I was in the midst of leaving a comment, but it got really long, so I just wrote a post on my blog about this. You can check it out at:

    -Jeremy Greenfield