Two University of Arizona journalism alumnae at the Los Angeles Times are contributing to a diverse wave of journalists breathing new life into newsrooms.
Improving inclusion in the workplace is about action, not just talk. At the Los Angeles Times, University of Arizona journalism alumnae Brittny Mejia ’14 and Kristina Bui ’13 are helping their newsroom prioritize diversity — and keeping leadership accountable. The two are founding members of the new L.A. Times Guild, which has driven diversity changes in their workplace.
One of the guild’s biggest achievements? Bui points to the newsroom’s expanded version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule – management must interview at least two candidates who are women or from generally underrepresented groups, whenever possible. And the guild formed a joint diversity committee to ensure the company follows through — while providing recommendations about recruitment, hiring and retention.
“That kind of transparency is about creating accountability,” Bui says. “And it’s a huge part of empowering everyone in the newsroom to feel like they can play a role in fostering diversity.”
Bui and Mejia share their takes on how newsrooms and businesses can benefit from a diverse workforce.
What are the consequences of a workplace’s lack of diversity?
Mejia: When I applied for a position at the L.A. Times over five years ago, I remember saying that I wanted to work in a newsroom that reflects the community it serves. A lack of diversity in newsrooms will always be evident in the stories newsrooms don’t write and the communities that aren’t covered.
I started at the paper covering the eastside [of Los Angeles], and the fact that I was raised in a Mexican-American home and learned Spanish as a first language helped me understand the community better. My editor, Hector Becerra, is also Mexican-American, and having someone like me reflected in upper management is incredible. Hector understands the stories I pitch, because he’s lived my same experiences. In the past few months, I’ve written about Latino housekeepers and gardeners who went to work because their bosses didn’t tell them they’d been evacuated because of fires; about a Mexican woman who was hanged in California in 1851 and her significance today; and my most recent story about Latino atheists. I was able to write these stories because of my perspective as a Mexican-American woman. It’s important to diversify newsrooms, because we need more stories like these.
"Everyone can play a role in building a more diverse workplace, but management has a duty to listen and make space for these conversations."
Bui: It feels almost too obvious to say, but failing at diversity just isn't an option for newsrooms, especially in a region as diverse as L.A. County. It’s as simple as this: Newsrooms with many perspectives can tell many stories and serve many audiences. And of course, newsrooms can only retain many perspectives by fostering an environment where every journalist feels like they're welcome to participate in the conversation.
How can newspapers — and businesses in general — better reflect the people in their communities?
Mejia: I feel like there needs to be a more active recruiting effort in diverse communities. I’ve heard the argument before that diverse candidates just aren’t out there, which I find really unbelievable. The talent is out there. Newspapers — and businesses in general — need to look.
Bui: Sometimes the solution is as simple as being aware of our own biases and forming habits that respond to them. We know that women in general tend to get interrupted in meetings, and women of color in particular face certain stereotypes when they speak. So we can change the way meetings are run to ensure everyone is given an opportunity to speak and that they get to finish speaking when they're interrupted. We can do things like repeat people's ideas (and give them credit for it) to ensure their voices are amplified. Sometimes it has to happen on a larger or more official scale, through things like having everyone on staff, not just managers, do implicit bias training.
Is diversifying a workplace only something management can do? Do you have any advice for employees looking to lead the charge and convince leadership?
Mejia: It definitely isn’t something that only management can do. Employees can play an active role in promoting diversity in their workplace. I have coworkers who are consistently pushing out job openings to make sure these opportunities are getting in front of a wide array of job candidates. Employees can also compile lists of candidates to provide to leadership to help when it comes to hiring. We can all play a part here.
Bui: Everyone can play a role in building a more diverse workplace, but management has a duty to listen and make space for these conversations. Increasing diversity isn’t as simple as just hiring another person of color. It's about hiring, yes — but it's also about fostering talent, mentoring and promoting. It’s everyday, ongoing work to make sure those employees feel supported.
I think in many workplaces, employees of color are welcomed on board and made to feel like their perspectives are valued, but then they offer new ideas or constructive feedback, and they get shut down by both peers and managers. They’re told that this is the way we’ve always done things, the way business has always worked. That speaks a lot to why we organized the L.A. Times Guild in the first place — to make sure that everyone felt like they could speak up and be heard.
What college experiences helped to inform your ideas about the importance of inclusion in your readership, community and workforce?
Mejia: While working at the Daily Wildcat, I met so many people with different perspectives who helped diversify our coverage. It’s an experience that really shaped the way I think about diversity today.
Bui: So much of college is about making mistakes and growing from them. I learned so much about diversity and inclusion working in student media at Arizona, mostly because we sometimes got it right and also because we often didn’t. We’d hear from Daily Wildcat readers or even students who were also on staff who were let down and expected us to do better. That’s really where I came to understand the value of being listened to and the value of listening.
Connect with University of Arizona alumni like Mejia and Bui and gain tools to advance your career on the Bear Down Network.