RYAN: I’m going to go ahead and introduce our next speaker while you find your seats. I’m really excited for everyone to meet Disha — speak with Disha later on today. It’s probably less surprising to know she has a spreadsheet of movies to watch when you learn that she started programming when she was 6 years old. Awesome, right? Disha worked as a journalist both in Bangladesh and India. And went to grad school at USC. She’s here with us this morning to share what it like to look for a newsroom job as a young woman of color, with data and journalism skills in an area that values diversity? Disha, welcome.
DISHA: Good morning, can everyone hear me? My name is Disha and I work at NJ Advance Media. Most of you know it as — I’m a data reporter and I am on something that’s unofficially called the morbid curiosity week. So everything I write about is about death, destruction, bad things, violence. Kind of ties into my love for horror movies. So yeah, this is my first talk and please bear with me if I sound like I’m about to crap my pants. So yeah. I’m here to talk about how messed up my job hunt was, like, just getting people to talk to me without having a professional recommendation.
I went to USC. My decision to go to grad school was a very practical one. I worked in India, and — for a short time in Bangladesh and I knew what I wanted to do. So that clarity helped. I knew what I wanted to get out of grad school. And that was the easiest way I could be be in the American media landscape by going to an American J-school. So I did that.
And I specialized in data and investigative journalism. I started networking pretty early around November. I was — I graduated in May. So there were job fairs, and people would come in with — like, hiring managers would come in with a bunch of opportunities that they were — jobs that were available the next year.
So I applied to all of them. The first one at a major site news outlet, for whom I really, really wanted to work, I met the hiring manager and she looked at my résumé, seemed very impressed with it, said that I was quote-unquote, “more fit for the road.” Explained what the job was like, and the job, incidentally, and this is something that I learned later on was intended to be a diversity program. She spoke to me for close to 20 minutes, and then said, “You’re perfect for this role, but don’t bother applying.” I was really confused. You are looking for someone. You’re saying that I am pretty much everything that you want in that position, but you won’t give it up.
So I asked her why. And she gave me this really vague answer about not being sure if they were going to hire for the next year, which is, again, very confusing because what the heck are you doing here?
And then she said that also, you know, like, your nationality is a problem. So we won’t sponsor visas. So that is pretty much the response that I got from almost every place that I applied to without having the backing of a professor. So there were other places who said that I was overqualified for the job but I already had a master’s agree from India and I was already working on a second one, which was, again, bizarre.
What happened after that? Like, after a gazillion such interviews where people were like, oh, you’re a woman, a person of color? I went to my professionals and told them that, this is the scenario and I really need a job and that’s why I came here. It’s not like I wouldn’t have gotten a job back home. I know exactly what I want to do, so help me.
So three professors vouched for me. And I was venting about this with one of them when he got really mad and he sent out an email to the ListServ saying that this is the situation. I keep hearing that there are jobs in the data and investigative industry where you have jobs for people of color and women and we have consistently been producing students with that job skill.
So are you going to, like, just stop, or actually walk the walk? So I believe those are a few who are on the NICAR list. So emails started pouring and some of them responded on list, some of them responded off the list. And that’s eventually how I got connected to my current employers and got the job.
There were all kinds of responses. When I was preparing for this talk, I went back to the trip, and some tried pivoting it to class. I remember someone saying actually we do a better job at race and gender than class. Don’t get me wrong. I acknowledged that class is a problem. But we were discussing about a very specific issue and relating it to something else does not help. Some people said that they did not — they wouldn’t hire new grads as their only data person. Fine, makes sense.
In the same, like, point was that if they had resources to hire more people, why would they be looking at new grads, after all?
My confusion was that, yes, I am a new grad but I’ve also worked before. And news flash: international organizations also follow pretty similar rules. We have deadlines, we write, we have a style guide. It’s not like we have a whole different way of working. So yeah. So a lot of people also wrote in with, like, words of support, and then I was put in touch with a bunch of other people who give me really valuable advice. But I keep wondering — and some of those people are actually here. So thank you. But what I keep wondering is what would have happened if my professors hadn’t recommended me? Would I have the job that I have today? Would I be up here standing talk to you? And, honestly, the more I think about it, it’s — I don’t really — you may hire as many people of color, as women as you want, but will it actually change things? Because as a reporter, I don’t have to bar to the side what gets published. That is something that people — like, people in the — who have editorial roles are capable of changing. When I was prepping for my talk, I sent out this mini survey asking people to send me their stories.
And this was a common refrain amongst most of the people who responded, that there are fewer people leaving — fewer people in the mid-level who were leaving the workforce. So there isn’t enough room to get diversity into the level where it’s easier to make change, if you know what I mean.
And, honestly, what I — are we going to hire new grads? That’s, like, getting new reporters of color is great, and that helps us reach a different audience but if we are not hiring people at the mid-level, as well, or, like, editors or color, then it really doesn’t make much of a difference because I can raise as many red flags as I want, and I already have. And after all, that has not led to anything.
I can raise as many red flags as I want, but it’ll be the editor’s discretion as to what gets published. So whenever I think of my experiences, it’s — I think I got lucky. I also think that I questioned myself. I constantly have doubts because I feel like I’m held to a different standard. I’ve been told by people, “Oh, you’re their diversity hire!” after I got my job. I want people to know that I’m not a diversity hire. I’m here because I deserve it. I’m here because I’m qualified. And if you looked at my résumé before you met me or, like, if you thought my résumé was perfect without seeing my face, then I’m sure, you, as the hiring manager, that I could do what I claim I could do. So the next time — I’m pretty new at my job, but the next time I look for a job, I don’t want to be defeated, I don’t want to lose hope, I don’t want to be in a situation where I see a white-male counterpart get the same job for maybe a higher salary. And I don’t have solutions other than asking people to be better people…?
[ Laughter ]
But yeah, like, just many of you have high bars. So just keep — keep all of that in mind. And keep in mind that it’s difficult for people of color to look for equal opportunities and the way we feel when we are looking for a job is very different from what a white counterpart would feel. It’s really a double whammy for me because I am also a foreigner. So there is this whole question of visa sponsorship and I’m not even getting into that. But if we want to do something about it, if we’re talking about equal opportunity, let’s three, try to make it a real equal opportunity industry. Thank you.
RYAN: Thank you so much, Disha. And, please, help me thank our first two speakers at SRCCON.
[ Applause ]
Like I said, we are here together to do the work. We don’t always have the answers but we know that we need to be asking better questions and that’s what we’re getting ready to do in a bunch of breakout sessions that will be starting here in just about a few minutes. It is 10:37. Our schedule says that the next sessions will start at 10:45. So there’ll be few moments of transit. But we’ll be talking about those aspects of careers and hiring. We have sessions about improving the pool of candidates that you’re pulling from, making that pool more diverse. Onboarding new employees. What else are we talking about? We’re talking about internship, mentorship, management. And we’ll be talking about career paths. So a bunch of different aspects of careers and hiring to explore together. Again, the three rooms where the breakout sessions will take place are Ullyot North which is on the other side of that wall, and frankly and Haas are the two rooms upstairs. So if you’re facilitating one of those sessions, thank you for being here. I’ll give y’all a few minutes to clear up and get to the sessions that you want to. And thank you so much for being here.