This is the time of self-evaluation for white managers.
Looking at our own thought processes toward inclusiveness as passive or racist is not fun, but this is the perfect time to do it.
If not today, when?
As a radio program director and executive producer, I have hired dozens of people, and always believed I did it fairly. Seeing beyond race was always important to me, because radio staffs tend to be built to mirror the complexion of listeners. If you believe the NFL needs the more robust Rooney Rule it enacted this offseason, American talk radio could really use some enlightenment.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve tried to assess whether I was as aggressive as I should have been as I tried to include minorities on my staffs. One of my proudest hires regardless of race is Michael Grady. Michael started his media journey as a weekend board-operator I hired for WIBC while he was a student at Vincennes University.
Michael showed himself an adept learner and very reliable employee as he ran the board, and he quickly became the producer of Network Indiana Sportstalk. In that role, Michael ran the board and did sports updates on-air every 30 minutes. He never called in sick or took time off, which I appreciated because finding a person versatile enough to handle all the responsibilities of that job while being available from 8p-12a on Friday and Saturday nights was difficult.
Bob Lovell was (and is) the host of the show, and he poked his head in my office repeatedly to say, “You know, Michael is the most talented guy in this building.” At the time, I thought Bob was stumping for his guy. We had a lot of talented people at Emmis, and Michael was a 24-year-old still finding his way – or so I thought.
After a couple of years, Michael was certainly ready for a full-time job, and the position of WIBC’s morning show producer became available. As the assistant program director, it was my responsibility to make the hire, but I decided to allow the morning show hosts and program director to vote on the two finalists. Michael was one of the finalists, and I favored him. The other four voted for the other candidate. He got the job.
I learned during that search that in order to manage a direct report, a manager needs to make the hire. Turning it into a team project is weak and counter productive. It’s not that the other candidate was an ill fit or projected to be bad at the job – he wasn’t. But for some reason my effort to champion Michael’s case fell on deaf ears.
Was my advocacy as strong as it should have been? I don’t know. The other candidate was white. He got the job. Should I have dismissed the vote and hired Michael regardless? The vote yielded a decision I disagreed with, so should I have stood on the conference table and shouted Michael’s qualifications until the others went along with me? I don’t know that either.
A year later, we decided it was time to slide WIBC’s content from 1070 AM to 93,1 FM, and that prompted the decision to flip the 1070 AM signal to sportstalk. Tom Severino, our general manager, told me I would become the program director. He asked what my first decision would be. I said, “Hire Michael Grady as my executive producer.”
We needed hosts, but it never occurred to me to consider Michael for that position. He was verbally adept, smart, and diligent, but I didn’t believe he was ready to host because it’s important to have some life experience to share along with an understanding of sports. Instead of finding out what level of life experience Michael had to share, I thought his career would be better served if deployed in management. Was that the right thing to do?
I also loved Michael’s voice and delivery, so I folded imaging 1070 the Fan into his responsibilities. When I needed a play-by-play voice for the Wooden Tradition game we produced and broadcast, I asked Michael if he wanted to do it. He said he did.
The honest truth is that I asked Michael to do the games because he had excelled at every task I assigned, and I wanted to find a challenge he might not be ready for. I sat next to Michael during the games just in case he needed a little help or guidance. Again, he wasn’t just good at a very difficult one-off play-by-play event – he was superb.
When the Indiana Pacers called to ask if I knew anyone who might want to work during games interacting with fans during timeouts, I said, “I got your guy – Michael Grady.” Michael was great at that to the point he earned promotions which made him the public address announcer for Pacers games.
After I was replaced at Emmis, management paired Michael with Big Joe Staysniak for a two-hour daily show from 10a-12p. Again, Michael excelled.
He is now with the YES Network in New York City working Brooklyn Nets and New York Yankees games.
His career is a great success story, and I’ve always been proud to have played a small role in his career path. But I’ve also had this aching concern over the years that I was not as aggressive as I should have been in moving Michael into roles that he was suited for. Until recently, I excused that worry because it all worked out for the best.
In the last two weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time evaluating my behavior as a manager. Have I been a force for good, or should I have done more? Should I have made unilateral calls to accelerate Michael’s progress? Does Michael’s ascension validate my decisions, or damn them as too long in coming?
When I was at Emmis, we had a parade of interns who have gone on to successful media careers. To my recollection, none were black. Should I have mandated we seek out minorities for some of those positions? I would today, but didn’t then. Why didn’t I?
This is not to publicly flog myself for being flawed in my inclusiveness, but to look in a mirror and assess my behavior. This is not white guilt; it is white introspection. It’s important for every manager to look in the mirror. Self-examination is what is called for as we evaluate our methodology for ensuring fairness in hiring and representation.
My dual aims were always to do what was best for the company and each employee. I could have done more. I should have done more.
Next time, I will do more.