Amanda & Merrill

An Update on All the Ways Our Company is Tackling Diversity

January  9, 2018

Update: In response to feedback, we've removed the team photos from this post, as well as a section about the photos on our Jobs, Team, FAQ, and Contact pages which could be read in a way that we didn't intend.

You may recall that last February we wrote a post laying out the feedback that you, our dear F52ers, gave us about how we could be a more inclusive company, a place that celebrates differences as genuinely as our commonalities. You gave us a lot to think about and do, and we came up with a list of priorities. Now that 2017 has come to a close, we wanted to report back on our progress on each point, and give you a chance to share your thoughts and any new ideas you might have. Thanks so much for your help thus far.

Here were our goals for 2017:

  • Increase minority representation on our team. As a first step, we’ve added new language to our Jobs page and we’re posting on job boards with more diverse audiences (we’re always looking for additional boards, so please share any recommendations on this front).

Internally, we formed a Diversity Task Force with members across teams. We're looking at everything: best hiring practices, the prices in our Shop, how we make sure business and ad sales partners share our values, how we can better support contributors, the representation of voices across our site, and more.

We formed new mini policies around things like hiring, partnerships, content (including the pitching process for outside contributors), video, and events. We recruited more diverse talent from within our ranks for photo and video shoots, and we're now actively and constantly looking to recruit and develop creative freelancers who have more diverse backgrounds with a new, year-round job posting. We have a spreadsheet that tracks suggestions from our team (and beyond) for all different kinds of industry events to attend/host/present at; this will give us exposure to new networks and audiences.

These simple changes—along with a commitment to expand our recruiting and hiring pools, rather than solely relying on tight timelines and our existing networks—made an impact. In 2017, we hired 35 exceptionally talented people. Among this group, 12 are people of color (at the end of 2016, 92% of our team was white; at the end of 2017, it was 76%). Of the 5 executive-level hires we made, 2 are people of color and 2 are above age 40 (more on this in a moment). These executives will be having a direct impact on the direction of Food52 and will be representing our brand at speaking engagements, events, and the like. We look forward to the influence they’ll have on the company.

Diversity has many facets, though. An area where we have an almost complete lack of diversity is in age. Ageism is an enormous problem at start-ups and in media, and we’ve done nothing to address it thus far. Amanda, at 46, is the oldest person on the team—and yet, 45% of the audience we reach is over 45. How can we be doing an excellent job of serving this group of readers, shoppers, and community members when no one on our team is like them? The answer is, we can’t. We plan to make this a priority with recruiting going forward (not only at the executive level), just as we’ve done with other kinds of diversity.

Another facet of diversity that we plan to continue working on is gender. As Food52 is focused on the kitchen and home, topics that have been stereotyped as the domain of women, we’ve long resisted (and resented!) this gender association. While it’s true that we see far more female applicants, particularly for editorial and creative roles, we know we can do a better job of appealing to men. This year’s baby steps in male hires include bringing on a staff writer to cover cooking, food news, and food culture; a Shop editor; a buyer on the Shop team; and a creative operations director. The total team is now 29% male.

  • Bolster the diversity of topics we cover and writers/photographers we call upon to do so.

We published work by 25 new contributors who were people of color in 2017. And we’ve expanded our editorial offerings in other ways. For instance:

  • Mayukh Sen, a former staff writer, explored the lives and careers of chefs and cookbook authors of color, from Joyce Chen, the first woman of color to have her own televised cooking show, to Princess Pamela, who owned a popular New York restaurant before she mysteriously disappeared.
  • We published food and travel narratives by writers who have an authentic cultural connection to the place they’re covering: Sonja Swanson walked us through the production of jang in Korea; Clarissa Wei argued that the green tea capital of China is also its Silicon Valley; Ishay Govender-Ypma showed us how to recreate spiced Cape Malay doughnuts from South Africa in our own kitchens.
  • We covered a range of holidays by having virtual potlucks for Eid and Black History Month, and, with the help of Ximena Larkin, styling a table spread for Day of the Dead. We asked immigrants to tell us about their first Thanksgivings in the US, and community member PistachioDoughnut taught us how to make cardamom burfi for Diwali.
  • We interviewed Oglala Lakota and Navajo chefs Sean Sherman and Freddie Bitsoie, respectively, about their work, and published a recipe for frybread that doesn't skip over the dish’s ugly origin story.
  • We explored food festivals: Writer Khalid Salaam asked whether one in Harlem hurt or helped the neighborhood. A piece on a food festival in Santiago de Anaya highlighted how indigenous Mexican cuisine thrives against many odds.
  • We spoke with Nik Sharma about being a queer immigrant of color, Esteban Castillo about how he fights for authentic imagery over at Chicano Eats, and Ruby Tandoh about how food intersects with mental health.
  • We ran thoughtful first-person narratives about Bengali widows, Nigerian stew, and kimchi. (And we’re always looking for more first-person stories, especially if they have recipes—send your ideas to [email protected]!).
  • We profiled business owners, cookbook writers, and philanthropists about their projects, from the founders at Saffron Fix to Joudie Kalla, who brings us Palestine on a Plate, to the refugee-staffed catering company Eat Offbeat. In conjunction with a dinner we co-hosted with Purpose in our HQ, we sampled vegan arepas (find the recipe here) made by Venezuelan refugee Magedda Arreaza. And we talked to Sudanese refugee Manyang Reath Kher about his company, 734 Coffee, which sources beans directly from Sudan and Ethiopia (and is delectable—buy it here).
  • In How We Holiday, a new editorial franchise highlighting the many forms celebrations can take, we shared the stories of 36 people; of those, 11 are people of color and 6 others represent diversity through sexuality, religion, age, geographic location, and more.
  • And we made the point that socio-economic diversity is vital in our content by running a variety of recipes and roundups on cost-conscious meal planning.

There will be more of all of this in the future.

  • Host and facilitate more inclusive potlucks and community gatherings around food. Not long after we launched Food52, community members started getting together to cook from the site and socialize. We plan to get back to facilitating these gatherings, and to host more potlucks of our own.

In terms of nurturing an inclusive, engaged community, here’s what we did do. At the beginning of the year, we started the Food52 Cookbook Club on Facebook, which now has over 19,000 members from around the globe. It was such a spirited and committed group that we decided to launch a Baking Club as well, which now boasts over 11,000 members. These groups have led to meaningful connections beyond social media. We know some members have been able to meet up together offline and we hope to be able to help facilitate more of those connections in the coming year. Club members have come together during challenging times, too. When members have faced tragedies this year, losing cherished belongings due to the Santa Rosa fires and flooding from Hurricane Harvey, fellow members rallied around them, offering to send them cookbooks and providing words of encouragement and strength. (We got in on the action and sent them a few things, too.)

We’ve also kept up our Holiday Swap, which this year (the 7th Annual!) involved nearly 700 people from 12 countries sending boxes of homemade and local treats to each other.

When it came to organizing/facilitating potlucks and other gatherings offline, however, we fell short. We’re considering ways we can address this; if you have any thoughts, please do share them in the comments section below.

  • Forge partnerships with brands and individuals who speak to new audiences and share our belief that embracing diversity is the way forward.

Our buying team made a concerted effort to bring in more smart, useful products under $50, like these Bodega glasses (set of 12, starts at $25), the Frywall (which we featured on the Today show; set of 2, $50), and Fancy Panz’s casserole carrier (set of 2, $40). All three ended up being best sellers.

However, we failed to forge any meaningful partnerships that would speak to new audiences. This is top of mind for the year ahead.

We came away from this year feeling that some good progress was made—but more importantly, a new mindset was embraced. We’ve started to build momentum toward becoming a company that better reflects the people we’re serving. In 2018, we plan to maintain this momentum by continuing to cultivate a more diverse team, with a specific focus on hiring a healthier ratio of team members who are 40+; varying our content (including plenty of budget-conscious posts); featuring a broader range of people in our photos and videos; and promoting potlucks among our beloved community. We’ll follow up on this at the end of the year.

That’s our update—now it’s your turn to grade us in the comments. We love hearing from you! We’re truly grateful to you for raising this topic with us, and for supporting us as we find our way.

Amanda & Merrill

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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adambravo February 4, 2018
This sounds great. However, this big gay fan is rather surprised your definition of diversity appears to exclude sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. How do you support your lgbtq employees?
Jennifer February 4, 2018
Hear hear! Not to mention lgbtq readers...
Rach3190 January 14, 2018
Thank you for making these attempts, I remember these conversations last year and it's amazing to see you all took it so seriously.
Christine January 10, 2018
As a member of the baking club it has been a very positive and enjoyable experience. As a diversity and inclusion professional I appreciate that an internal communication has been shared with a broader audience. Committing to and making change and then sharing successes (and also shortfalls) creates accountability. With ongoing focused effort change happens; thanks for sharing.
Laura I. January 10, 2018
I'd love to participate in in-person potlucks based around the online Cookbook and Baking clubs. Maybe make it a bit broader and allow more than just the current month's books, especially if they're not being held monthly.
AntoniaJames January 10, 2018
I'd like to see more support by Food52 for B Corps, if it absolutely cannot itself be one. (I always look for B Corp vendors and give them preference whenever possible..) ;o)