Amanda & Merrill

An Update on All the Ways Our Company is Tackling Diversity

by:
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.

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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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“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.”
— Christine
Comment

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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28 Comments

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)
 
noisette January 10, 2018
To those who are quick to criticize (this is the internet, after all): is this how you would like to be treated when attempting to learn something or improve? The more community work I do, the more I realize how many communities have the same issues - people being shunned and attacked for not having the same level of knowledge, experience or 'wokeness' as others. <br /><br />If we were in a 12-step program, would we discourage people who are on Step 2 because we're on Step 7? I understand the frustration, and my visits to the site have certainly waned over the years, but I have been much more interested in the content that came out in 2017, and I appreciate the chance for dialogue. <br /><br />I also think it's not entirely Food52's role to police the comment section. Debate is fine, and if someone says something you disagree with, you can respond. Your comment will remain there for people to see just as theirs will - it's not reasonable to suggest that all comments that don't reflect a certain point of view be moderated. People will always disagree with each other, and we can continue to build internet -- and real-life -- bubbles to insulate ourselves against views that may anger or hurt us (and indeed, sometimes this is what we need to do in order to keep going) or we can try and figure out ways to engage with and influence these views, pointing out where we feel they've gone wrong in a respectful way. Some will change, some won't - such is the world. But hurling accusations won't change anything. <br />
 
melissa January 9, 2018
Does Food52 want "diversity" because a) Indian/Kazakh/Nigerian/Thai food is so yummy!; b) exposure to different cultures makes white folks (and especially their children!) "better" people; or c) because it believes in the humanity of people of color? <br /><br />As a longtime reader of the site, I do NOT think the answer is C. Food52 wants "authentic" recipes, but the minute a writer of color challenges white supremacy the editorial team hides its head in the sand. Look, for example, at the comments section of articles by Mayukh Sen (**former** staff writer) and you will get a sense of the white nonsense that POC writers receive for speaking about race and power -- not just food and aesthetics. And you will see how quickly editorial support for its writers of color evaporates. Food52 wants decorative, "inclusive," diversity, but not when it calls out white supremacy. Not when it makes white ladies uncomfortable. Having actual standards (aside from "tolerance") and using those standards as the basis for moderating the comments section (aside from a kindergarten encouragement to "be your best self!"), would be one easy way of dealing with this, rather than expecting the writer and the readers of the site to have to fend for themselves. Can you imagine Amanda telling Addie or Walker's schoolyard bullies to merely "channel their best selves"? (And yes, Addie and Walker are fair game because of the "Amanda's Kids' Lunch" column -- also, coincidence, the American Girl slave doll is named Addy Walker lololol). <br /><br />Despite Food52's insistence that they are progressing, the letter above clearly states that the site is looking to cultivate readership amongst men and people over the age of 45 -- i.e., people with the most social and economic power. This is not a site lead by, or really for, millenial mindsets, which is why this letter is getting dragged on Twitter.<br /><br />I would love to challenge the team at Food52 to have a group lunch discussion of Robin DiAngelo's essay "White Fragility." This website is liberal white feminism at its very finest. POC who give them cookies are in the sunken place (or working their careers -- I won't judge).
 
Amanda H. January 9, 2018
Thanks for sharing your perspective. While we may not agree with you, we do welcome your thoughts.
 
melissa January 9, 2018
thanks for refusing to engage, amanda.
 
Jennifer January 9, 2018
As a long-time reader of this site, this 57-year old is glad that you will make an effort to include the perspectives of mature contributors (writers, editors). I am very broadly appreciative of what you do on the site, but I will admit to occasional irritation about bubbly celebrations of some "new" practices/ingredients/techniques I've followed my entire cooking life (which began in earnest when all the 7th grade girls had to take Home Economics--no objection to that, but why not the boys?). I love to learn from all generations--but yes, some balance in maturity would be welcome.
 
AntoniaJames January 10, 2018
Hear, hear. ;o)
 
Tiffany January 9, 2018
This is an admirable first step. However, another timely and important topic that needs to be addressed is the prevalence of sexual harrassment in the restaurant/food industry--and what we can do to ensure a safe working environment for all. I realize that some of the accused have been featured on Food52 and that this presents a conflict of interest, but the bravery to speak up about this issue--especially from a website that was founded by two women and has a substantial female readership--is exactly what is needed at this time.
 
Amanda H. January 9, 2018
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We're in total support of the national conversation around this topic in all industries. We feel that we can address this issue head on through our actions -- these revelations will guide who we choose to work with in the future.
 
bluebird08 January 9, 2018
As a WOC who loves your website, I appreciate your commitment to diversify the staff and content at Food 52. I hope you continue to reach and exceed your diversity and inclusion goals-be aggressive and intentional as you continue to grow.
 
Merrill S. January 9, 2018
We will indeed! Thank you so much for your support.
 
Shalini January 9, 2018
Wow. I am awed by your committment and action, Amanda and Merrill. I've shared your post with some Canadian media as it's so inspiring.
 
Amanda H. January 9, 2018
Thanks, Shalini -- we were truly supported by F52ers, who shed light on the topic in the first place. So thank you, as well.
 
Beryl A. January 9, 2018
Thanks for the deeds—there are enough words.
 
Merrill S. January 9, 2018
There's always room for improvement, so we'll keep at it!
 
karen January 9, 2018
What a bunch of self-righteous virtue-signaling hogwash. Suggestion: stop focusing on people's complexions, genitalia and age (all things they have no control over and which you should not be taking credit for) and work on improving the site content.
 
Merrill S. January 9, 2018
Thanks for weighing in. Our view is that as we work on improving diversity, this will naturally result in higher quality content that will better serve our wonderful community.
 
monkeymom January 9, 2018
Hi food52 team! Thank you for being very transparent about your vision, goals, and progress. The negativity in the world today can be so overwhelming - it is very inspiring to see how much you have done in a year within your own space to bring change and inclusivity. I'm looking forward to spending more time on food52 this year with your new recipes, stories, and products.
 
Amanda H. January 9, 2018
So pleased to hear from you monkeymom -- and we hope to see more of your incredible recipes!
 
Marisa January 9, 2018
Very thorough update! Keep up the good work.
 
Amanda H. January 9, 2018
Thank you -- will do!
 
Jk P. January 9, 2018
Thank you!
 
Merrill S. January 9, 2018
Thank you too, for your support of F52!