Cause area: Increasing diversity and solving structural problems in the EA community
EA can come across as an elitist community due to some EA organisational and community practices. We need to do research into diversity in EA as a cause area and take action if we want to attract more diverse community members, which in turn will help us make better decisions. I propose some potential next steps as solutions (see below).
Please read the full post before commenting, as I address a lot of counterarguments in the post. I’ll welcome your thoughts and feedback, especially if they are respectful, well-argued, and backed up by data. I may not reply to all the comments.
Acknowledgments: Thanks a lot to Lauren Mee, Haz Feliks, Allie Maynard, Arnav Aggarwal, Andrew Alonso Fernandez, and Christina Aguila for your valuable comments and suggestions, as well as for your encouragement to publish and submit this post here for Open Philanthropy Cause Exploration Prizes and for EA Criticism Contest.
Who is this post for
- Hiring managers
- Organisations whose work involves a significant hiring component
- EA org leaders
- Community builders
- Anyone interested in DEI in EA
- Anyone not yet interested in DEI in EA (hopefully, it will change your mind on a couple of things!)
This is not a complaining post in any way, but an attempt to start a discussion, raise a concern and propose solutions. I believe that overall I have a lot of privilege. I’m white, from a second-world country and I've got a degree. I’m very grateful for what I have, both financially and for my multiple jobs at EA. I’m quite confident that I’ll achieve the impact I want to achieve without the further accommodation that I propose at the end of this blog post.
I’d also like to note that I believe that social justice and representation make sense on its own without considering the benefits for everyone, but in this post, I’m focusing on why it’s actually good for EA to be diverse.
I wrote this post because I became very aware of my own privilege and lack of it at the same time
I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege recently - my own and other people’s. I used to be a strong proponent of meritocracy and reject the existence of systemic problems (like many in EA I think). I used to think that if everyone worked just hard enough, they’d be able to achieve anything. If someone didn’t have opportunities to do impactful work, well, they’re just lazy or lack motivation.
Having been a part of the EA movement for over two years and the animal rights movement for five, I don’t think so anymore. I’ve realised that some people (including some brilliant people!) will never have access to doing good, no matter how hard they work.
I believe that EA has a lot of value and I enjoy being a part of the EA community, but I’ve heard a lot of criticism towards EA for not being inclusive enough. I’ve heard that people don’t feel welcome, partly because the threshold for being good enough for EA seems high, and partly because people don’t see enough people in EA that are like them. Because of this reason, a lot of people don’t want to engage in EA activities.
I would like to contribute to making the EA community more diverse and thus attract more people to it. I also know that many EA organisations have some good practices to allow for DEI, such as blind application assessments and paid test tasks, but I think we can all do something to improve in this area.
Main argument: Lack of diversity in EA is likely to harm the movement’s ability to do good long-term.
Here is this argument in the standard form for reasoning transparency - from the first premise (P) to the final conclusion (C )
(you can also view my steelman version in Workflowy here)
P1: It’s hard to get EA jobs, most EA jobs accept unpaid volunteers and some don’t pay a living wage.
P2: It’s hard to get involved in the movement generally due to locations of EA Hubs and conferences mostly being in the Western countries.
C1: The EA movement is currently mostly made of quite privileged, disproportionately white people from Western countries and is not diverse.
P3: Multiple EA organisations and individuals offer low wages, hire without a diverse pool of candidates, and don’t pay for trial tasks.
P4: In the world, the majority of people cannot afford to work for free and their job is their main source of income.
C2: The EA community hires people who have a lot of privilege (which doesn't include people from unprivileged backgrounds)
P5: Diversity has been proven to be good for high-quality decision-making and innovation because it provides different perspectives due to a variety of backgrounds and experiences.
P6: EA community’s beneficiaries are mostly people from unprivileged backgrounds.
C3: If we don’t have enough representation in our teams and leadership from less privileged backgrounds, we won’t be able to relate to the people we are trying to help as well as we could have and will make poorer decisions about how to help them.
C4: If we continue on this trajectory, our overall model of the world will become less accurate, and our ability to make an impact long-term will decrease.
C5: Lack of diversity in EA is likely to harm the movement’s ability to do good long-term.
Why we can’t have a truly effective and global movement in the long-term without diversity
Some people can argue that it is indeed possible to understand beneficiaries without diversity in teams, for example, by doing research, but I am less convinced. A lot of decisions, big and small, are made by the organisation on a daily basis and it’s impossible to include diverse opinions in these decisions without having people already inside our teams (preferably, at all levels) who will be able to give their input.
There are a lot of utilitarians in EA who believe that as long as you’ve got the skills, knowledge, and motivation to do the work, it doesn’t matter where you come from. So having a disproportionately large percentage of EAs come from top universities is ok. Even though most of my views are quite utilitarian, I don’t agree with this particular point.
Why do I think so? Because I have experienced “privilege blindness” many times, both on my own side and the side of other people, I think it can harm EA’s ability to make good decisions long-term.
For example, we recently house sat for a very wealthy family and we told them that we live in the north of England but don’t really like our area. They asked, “Then why do you live there?” It made me realise that because they had so much money, for them it was absolutely unthinkable to not be able to afford to move to a better area, let alone not afford a house anywhere in the U.K.
I also recently encountered my own lack of privilege in EA: I’m a Belarusian national and I need a visa pretty much everywhere where EA and animal welfare events are happening (such as the EU countries and the US) - and visas can take up to eight months to process. I’m missing out on at least 3 good events this year (and a job!), where I could have potentially had career-changing encounters, just because of where I’m from, while the rest of the active EA community just books a flight and goes.
My citizenship, something that’s completely unrelated to my ability to do good work, is making me less likely to succeed, in a way.
I’m based in the UK, so I will go to EAG London, but I’m concerned about people like me who may never get an opportunity to go at all. Maybe the majority of the EA events shouldn’t be in Western countries. I know that we host them where most of the community is, but it’s a catch-22 situation. If we don’t host such events in more diverse places, we won’t grow the community there.
When I spoke about this issue to my multiple EA colleagues and friends, they were all completely unaware that this is even an issue, because they never encountered it. Visa issues for conference attendance is a hot topic right now in most industries.
It made me think: what other things am I taking for granted: something that’s super easy and accessible for me, but not for others? Or maybe, what am I missing out on, because I’m a woman for example? How many other brilliant people out there, who are just not able to go to EAGs, because of multiple reasons? Not only visas, but caring responsibilities, financial situation, jobs, ethnicity, accent, language barrier, and others.
I know that EAs care a lot about cost-effectiveness, and this is usually a huge deterrent for anyone who wants to do DEI work in our movement. “It’s cheaper to hire from this country” or “It’s cheaper not to pay people”. I think that we are making trade-offs today for which we will pay in the future. It may be cheaper now, but in 10-20-50-100-1000 years’ time, when the movement is not as diverse, we will reap the consequences. As a result of our blind spots and echo chambers, we might do research but overlook some obvious (and sometimes, more cost-effective!) opportunities to improve our work and the world.
We all want to think that we’d like to give people opportunities because they’re smart and capable and because we think they can do the job well. But, because we can’t get rid of human bias, sometimes people get opportunities because they look the same as opportunity givers, because they have connections, leverage, and money.
There are so many people who would like to and are capable of doing good well, that will never be able to gain these unfair advantages without our systematic help. And it’s not just good for these people - it’s good for us as well. When we have new community and workplace members with diverse perspectives who see (and experience) the world differently and spot things that we don’t, we can make better decisions and produce innovative solutions. In turn, this will future-proof our community and will help to avoid problems short and long-term. When I say problems, I mean staying in a privileged bubble and being blind to the facts that are obvious. Thus, making a significant effort to make EA and any impact-driven movement diverse can even be claimed to be of existential significance.
That’s why I believe that EA, especially long-terminists, should start exploring how we can become a more diverse movement, and then investing (or if you’re already, increasing your investment) in creating more opportunities for people who would otherwise not have them, and most importantly, make existing opportunities available for these people. Sometimes, it’s an easy and cheap fix, sometimes it will require years of work. But it will bring huge rewards in the long term.
What can we practically do to become a more diverse and inclusive movement?
I’m not a DEI professional but a concerned community member. I do have some ideas, however. I am aware that they need to be researched properly to be implemented. Please feel free to add your ideas in the comments!
(relatively) Easy to implement
Test on job skills, not “intellect”
We need to remove all the unnecessary tests from job application processes to ensure that we don’t put diverse candidates off and hire “second us”. Some EA jobs ask applicants to complete IQ tests or maths problems for jobs that will not involve these problems.
Blind-assess job applications
We need to make sure that job applications are assessed blindly at most stages in the application to avoid bias.
Use references as a last step box tick rather than an assessment criteria
We should only use references to screen for major red flags right at the end of the application and make them the last tick box for making an offer. Some EA employers now use references as a way to score candidates and compare them with each other, which I think opens up a huge DEI problem. Some people do get jobs because they are already privileged. I also think we should be careful about “informal” references that EAs give each other if they are friends with the previous employer: it may give them some advantage or disadvantage over other candidates.
Make hiring processes shorter
It shouldn’t take people more than an hour to apply for a job (ideally shorter). It shouldn’t take 3 months to hire someone.
Have more online EAGs and other online events, or ways to participate online for in-person conferences
Connect for Animals, for example, lists plenty of online events for animal welfare people, which is great. There is going to be a virtual EAGx which is fantastic. I understand that online events are not the same as in-person events, and after lockdown, we want more in-person events, but some people simply can’t attend them. Maybe there is a need to do more research into better ways of building meaningful relationships during online events.
Organise in-person EA events with more notice so that people have time to apply for visas
It would be good for organisers to be able to provide more support such as invitation letters well in advance. Maybe there is a way for EA organisations to issue invitation letters with provisional dates before they’re confirmed. Maybe we just need someone in the head office to figure out how to get visas quicker.
Do more outreach to people outside the EA community with resources, opportunities, jobs, etc.
For example, I’ve recently started a newsletter about all things animal welfare that aims to make all the resources accessible publicly and outside the “EA bubble”.
Provide travelling scholarships to conferences and meet-ups more proactively and quicker
Use as little EA jargon as possible
When writing blog posts on the EA Forum, your org’s website, LinkedIn, or similar, make sure that you use as little EA jargon as possible. If you have to use EA-specific words (such as epistemics, value drift, etc.), link to definitions as much as possible. If the concept is hard to understand (e.g. the person has to read a ten-page article to get it), consider including an easier explanation in brackets. This will make it easier for entry-level people to read our content without feeling inferior. A really good idea would be to put together a “Top Ten EA Jargon Words Explained” blog post so that new people can get 80% of the value 20% of the time.
Short-term with medium implementation difficulty
Consider hiring people as contractors and employees, not volunteers
If someone is volunteering for you, and you have the funding to pay people for their work, consider hiring them as a contractor or an employee. The problem here is that some people will ask for a stipend or a contractor rate, and some won’t. And some organisations will provide the payment to some people once asked. So you can basically end up with a situation where you pay some people and don’t pay others, while they are doing the same or similar job. Usually, it’s the more confident, more experienced, and more privileged people who will ask to be paid. There are people who are afraid of asking for money for the fear of being rejected from a job, after all, if someone qualified is happy to work for free, for many organisations it’s a no-brainer to take them on, but if the organisation will have to pay, they’ll be a lot more thorough. I think going forward, we should offer to pay people upfront without waiting for them to ask for it - this way we will pay equally for equal work. In my post about volunteering, I wrote about how some organisations will be less likely to offer you a paid job if you are a volunteer and won’t see you as a serious employee candidate.
Consider hiring “outside of the box”
We need to actively look for diverse candidates and community members, sometimes we’ll have to use methods “outside the box”. For example, we post jobs online or on the EA Forum because we don’t want to be overwhelmed with candidates from Indeed.com, for example. That’s potentially bad because not everyone reads the EA Forum.
Consider paying for test tasks, interviews, and prep time
We need to make the job application process available to more people, for example, by paying for test tasks, prep, and interview time. Some organisations already do this, which is great, but they are a minority at the moment. This is a super contentious issue and I understand the rationale for not paying for trial tasks (cost-effectiveness). However, EA job applications are very time-consuming in comparison to normal jobs (now reach 20-40h of application time). In an average job, you’d probably have 1-2 hours of interview time and maybe do a presentation during the interview, and then you’ll be hired or not.
I totally agree with hiring slow, but I also don’t think that candidates should pay with their time for the orgs’ wish to hire slow. Organisations that demand more than 2 hours of someone’s time should consider compensating people for their time to ensure a diverse candidate pool.
There are a lot of people with caring responsibilities and set working hours, for whom an unpaid trial task means time off work or having to book an expensive childminder. For them, participating in an unpaid 5-hour test task, or even taking time off for a 1.5-hour interview means losing money and potentially not being able to put food on the table (let alone 20, 30, and 40 hours). This investment can potentially be justifiable if you get the job, but often only one person will get it, making the EA job search process a sort of an expensive lottery with really bad odds.
I also know from experience that many organisations use the work and ideas from test tasks for the org’s later work, and considering that the people who produced it didn’t get paid and are unlikely to get any recognition, it’s simply not fair.
Make sure that your org is paying a living wage
We need to start paying people decent living wages because we isolate ourselves from huge areas of society who cannot afford to work for a wage below a certain amount or/or without job security. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people in EA have a good social security net, and many can afford not to work full-time, at least for some time due to savings, assets, high EA wages, or family support (a rare position to be in). When I say a living wage, I mean an amount that allows a person to afford accommodation, food, essential transport, energy bills, and general financial security, not what the government constitutes as a living wage.
I spoke to too many people who were put off EA jobs due to low salaries or poor benefits. A lot of these people were from underrepresented backgrounds. Some people don’t even apply for EA jobs because the salary is not stated or is too low. After all, what’s the point of investing 5+ hours in the application process if you don’t even know you can afford to take this job?
Disclose salary and working status as early as possible in the application (preferably in the job description)
There are many arguments for and against displaying the salary in EA jobs. However, if we don’t display the salary, we put people off who can’t afford to work for a low salary and waste the time on those riskier applications who get an offer just to realise they can’t meet their mortgage payment on the offered salary.
Consider hiring people as employees (not contractors) if they are really your employees
More research needs to be done into this, but I’m slightly concerned about how many EA charities and projects hire employees as contractors. While some people prefer to be contractors, being a contractor doesn’t give you as much social security in many countries as being an official employee does.
Organise more EA events in other countries
…especially from where it’s hard to travel, either due to long distances or due to entry restrictions. For example, I was very pleased to see that EAGs now happen in Australia, India, and Singapore, and I’ve heard that there is an EAG being planned in Latin America. I’d love to see more locations, such as Georgia (the country) for example, as it will also include people from some Slavic countries who can’t travel to the EU or the US, or an EAGx in Africa, or UAE (after all, it’s very well connected and most people can travel there visa-free). For example, I really like this Condor Camp initiative for students in Latin America.
Fund managers: consider providing mini-grants faster and all-year-round
I like that the EA Infrastructure Fund is now doing year-round applications and responding quickly. We need more individual mini-grants that will be able to deliver decisions and funds quicker. At the moment it can take up to two months to receive a decision on a grant, and two months is a very long time not to have an income for someone with no to little savings.
Help people down the EA Funnel
We need to think of ways to help people down the EA funnel to engage in the community, otherwise, we’ll run out of diverse candidates in the near future. I think Open Philanthropy already does something similar, like their university scholarship - we need more activities like this.
Welcome a variety of professionals to EA
It’s been talked about a lot, but I do believe that we need a forum version for “dumb people”. Although maybe we should rename it “for newbies”. It must be so intimidating for people to visit the Forum for the first time, and then the first year in EA is a very impostor syndrome-inducing space, especially for underrepresented communities. We also need to move away from needing to be “smart” to be an EA. There are so many different types of intelligence and if we want our community to thrive in the future, we need all of them. EA is not going to be only about research, economics, and non-profit management - it already isn’t. For example, we already have a fiction-writing retreat. If we want EA to exist in the next 50, 100, and 1000+ years, we need all kinds of people with an EA mindset if we want this movement to grow and succeed in improving the world. If we succeed in this, more people will be interested in joining EA as they’ll be able to see other people from diverse professional backgrounds doing it.
Make more EA content in other languages
We need to make a lot more EA content available in other languages, especially where the content will be adopted for different cultural contexts. It can include translations of books or sub-forums on the EA forum. I also love the idea of contests and other activities in other languages, like this one. The results show that they are very cost-effective and doubly beneficial. Not only do they create high-quality content in other languages on the topic, but this is something the participants can put on their CV/EA Forum and use to get paid jobs later. I’ve also found Futurosophia, an NGO that aims to grow the Spanish-speaking EA community and Riesgos Catastroficos Globales. I think it would be fantastic to start a separate fund or a regranting team who will focus on making more non-English language EA content.
Run more EA work placement programs
We need to run EA work placement programs where there is a unified recruitment round run by one organisation that distributes candidates to other effective organisations for a short time period (they can be hired permanently later if they’re a good fit). Hiring this way makes it easier for people from diverse backgrounds to enter EA (because the organisations can get funding to hire the candidate initially and because the unified recruitment organisation can set their own hiring standards that allow for diversity). We all agree that getting an EA job is hard. Currently, the only easier option to enter EA is through unpaid volunteering which unfairly advantages people who can afford to volunteer for free. Getting the first EA position makes it a lot easier to get another one in the future, and thus is much more likely to make these people engaged community members. At the moment Animal Advocacy Careers is doing such programs and I think more organisations should do them.
Do more research on diversity in EA
We need to do research on the best ways to bring diverse people into EA and how we can build long-term diverse talent delivery funnels. For example, I'd love someone to estimate and quantify the value that increased number of EA employees from underrepresented backgrounds bring to the movement (such as the value of improved decision-making or the value of representation), as well as conduct a general deep dive into the current state of diversity and structural issues within EA.
Maybe start a new EA org focusing on diversity in EA
If the research on the best ways to bring diverse people into EA shows that it will be valuable, maybe we need to start a separate organisation that will concentrate on researching and setting DEI standards on how we should implement them in our organisations. It could turn out that new emerging hiring agencies in EA, as well as existing organisations that do a lot of hiring-related work (such as 80,000 Hours) can fill this gap by hiring DEI specialists and advising other EA organisations on DEI. If this is already being done, I’d love for these organisations to publish more information on this.
Orgs should consider providing a wide range of paid opportunities
All organisations should consider providing a wide range of engagement opportunities: not just full-time work, but plenty of paid part-time, interning, and short-term opportunities. It’s very hard to get a permanent job because of the organisation’s long-term commitment, but it’s much easier to hire for a 3-5 week consultancy. This will allow people to test their fit, get the organisation on their CV and get more valuable experience, which in turn will increase their chances of getting a more permanent role later.
We need to consider paying people to volunteer (and find funders who will support this)
It sounds a bit counterintuitive, however very few people nowadays can afford not to work. Unpaid internships lead to a less diverse pool of candidates. Perhaps some funders can provide cost-of-living stipends for volunteers if the organisation itself can’t pay for the work due to low funds. Thus, it won’t make any difference for the organisations themselves whether or not the person is paid. A good small step towards this would be including a question in your volunteering form “Will not receiving a stipend for this volunteering/internship cause you undue economic hardship?” and having a discretionary budget to support people who say “yes” or “probably”.
If you can’t run a full hiring process, consider hiring from a unified recruitment round
At the moment, many organisations hire from their existing network without a proper hiring process. This is unlikely to completely disappear, as sometimes you have to hire quickly and the candidate is very good, but the organisation doesn't have the resources for a full hiring round. This reduces diversity in our movement. I think that this problem should be solved by outsourcing hiring to an agency that will run rounds for these organisations, with the final interview being conducted by the final employer. Animal Advocacy Careers ran some initial calculations and found that we can save a lot of time if we hire this way in EA.
More mentorship for underrepresented groups of people
We need more mentorship programs such as Magnify Mentoring that focus on helping people from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.
Internal and external DEI programs and recommendations
Overall, I think there should be DEI programmes in organisations that will help current EA members understand what privilege is and how they can help recognise it and be more inclusive in their work and interaction with people. Encompass used to be such an organisation and they provided a range of resources as recommendations for other organisations.
More funders should consider DEI
I'd love more funders to consider whether the charity/project they are funding is using ethical working practices, such as paying people for their work and using hiring practices that allow for DEI, rather than just cost-effectiveness and impact.
Thanks so much for reading and I'd love to hear your thoughts!