A Whitepaper on Equitable Representation in Food Media Publications: The Kitchn
An in-depth look at how The Kitchn is responding to diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organization.
Written By: Jenny Dorsey, Edric Huang
Last Updated: 6/1/2021
Context & Background
The term white paper came from British politics, where legislators would write reports analyzing details of specific issues, often offering certain policy suggestions and rationale for support.
Today, white papers are common in business-to-business (B2B) educational content; in particular, we see them as a tool to present long-term research in a structured way. Compared to other content, white papers are generally expected to be far more heavily researched, longer, and more academic in tone.
At Studio ATAO, we aim to use white papers to provide extremely detailed action plans that supplement broader call-to-actions from our toolkits such as “Hire talented, experienced people of color in decision-making roles” (Toolkit for Recognizing, Disrupting, and Preventing Tokenization).
This whitepaper and others like it are meant to break down what exactly needs to occur to start moving towards the end goal, while offering a realistic understanding of the challenges and considerations along the way. This way, we can proactively counteract the any fear of taking action due to "not knowing where to start."
We are NOT compensated by any publications included in these whitepapers to avoid conflicts of interest. We believe that by sharing information transparently, we can collectively develop higher industry standards for equitable representation that benefits everyone.
These white papers are 100% self-funded so if you do learn from this work, we hope you will consider supporting us financially so we can continue to pay our team equitably for their work. You can do so by joining our Patreon community as a monthly donor, or by making a one-time gift via GiveLively.
Overview of this Whitepaper
We began the process of this whitepaper with Apartment Therapy Media (ATM) & The Kitchn (Kitchn) in January 2021. Apartment Therapy Media is an independently owned media company started in 2001 by interior designer Maxwell Ryan that has “grown to become a leading source of design inspiration and tips for real people looking for real-life decor solutions.” ATM currently has over 20 million in their community across the website, newsletter, and social media platforms and produces 125+ pieces of original content every week.
The Kitchn was launched in 2005 by interior designer Maxwell Ryan. Kitchn is made by a nationally distributed staff of home cooks, reaching a mass audience with a personal voice. Kitchn guides women as they plan, shop, cook and organize to support busy, fulfilling lives. The brand’s content covers the 360-degree food cycle, from meal planning to grocery shopping to cooking to the family table.The Kitchn publishes hundreds of new pieces of content monthly across its website and social channels, with a monthly readership of over 20 million (with another 4.5 million via social channels).
Together across its three editorial brands, Apartment Therapy Media employs 117 full-time employees.
Our main stakeholders at Apartment Therapy Media are:
Maggie Lansdale (Director of People Operations, Apartment Therapy Media)
Faith Durand (Editor in Chief, The Kitchn)
Phil Vuong (CFO, Apartment Therapy Media)
At the beginning of the year, 7 main initiatives were identified by ATM and Kitchn for the scope of this whitepaper, 4 within people (internal to ATM/Kitchn) and 3 within content (specific to Kitchn):
Launch new DEI recruitment strategy at Apartment Therapy Media
Creation and rollout of a Manager Handbook + Management Training
Cultivate safe channels for communication and employee engagement within ATM
Launch an improved performance review framework to ensure transparency of feedback and opportunities for growth
5. Release of a Diversity Statement from both Apartment Therapy and Kitchn
6. Publish transparent Pitch Guidelines for Kitchn
7. Initiate a site-wide recipes audit for Kitchn
In Q1 2021:
ATM launched the first portion of its new DEI Recruitment Strategy, specifically on the updated interview process.
ATM began manager trainings on company policies, training new hires, and how to partner with People Ops.
ATM’s Change Initiative (CI) group, an internal DEI Employee Resource Group, has also been working with leadership across the organization to further develop where and when they have oversight on key decisions.
In particular, CI has a Content subcommittee that is working with Kitchn to offer a feedback system around larger content packages and identity-related features
Additional “safe spaces,” led by a third-party DEI consultant, were hosted for ATM employees to discuss current events and social issues
Kitchn has put together a plan for a complete recipe and content audit of the website, starting with curating a diverse team of auditors.
Kitchn has continued to update its internal Style Guide with words, phrasing, and framing be evaluated for inclusivity
Initiative #1: DEI Recruiting Strategy
Prior to launching the DEI recruitment strategy, ATM rolled out a new Applicant Tracking System (Greenhouse) so there would be a system to monitor interview progress using scorecards, and offer candidates a platform to provide anonymous feedback. ATM has also focused on removing potentially biased and/or vague language on job postings (e.g., “ninja” or “rockstar”) as well as potentially arbitrary requirements (e.g., a Bachelor’s degree).
This DEI recruiting strategy is new for ATM, with the goals being:
· Building a more diverse pipeline of candidates
· Maintaining an equitable recruiting process
· Creating guardrails against potential bias in the process
The first step of the Recruitment Strategy was to create and execute a new interview training for everyone involved in hiring. The training focused on how to use data-driven metrics specific to the job description to evaluate candidates, versus vague traits like likability or organizational fit. Several new processes were also introduced to interviewers: scorecards to avoid inconsistencies in interview questions and reduce bias; the STAR method to focus on behavioral questions and uncover relevant skills from past work experience; and asking interviews to tie their candidate feedback to ATM’s stated company values (which include humility, integrity, and being mission-aligned).
With few exceptions, everyone involved in hiring for the organization attended the training, and any new employees with hiring authority will be included for future trainings.
Notable upcoming plans within the DEI Recruiting Strategy include:
Creating a job posting toolkit to ensure the job descriptions are as inclusive as possible.
Building a new team of Values Interviewers, comprised of volunteers across the company to evaluate new candidates against company values, especially for candidates interviewing for particularly homogeneous teams.
Implementing an adaptation of the Rooney Rule, so no offer is made until at least one candidate meeting the ATM diversity criteria has made it to the Hiring Manager interview.
Establishing metrics to track during each stage of the interview process (e.g., percentage of diverse candidates at each stage of recruitment, percentage of job offers extended to diverse candidates, retention/turnover rates of diverse employees).
Candidate Referral Process
ATM is also reevaluating its internal candidate referral process, as it has historically not been a source of diverse candidates. As referrals are also paid, ATM is questioning if this is a process that should be continued and if so, how to restructure it to specifically bring in candidates that meet ATM’s diversity markers.
On the Kitchn side, editorial leadership is looking to better understand the composition of its freelancer pool and track how this changes over time. Each vertical’s editors have now compiled a list of freelancers on a spreadsheet, to be evaluated on a quarterly basis with the EIC, various editors, and a 3rd party DEI consultant.
Kitchn leadership has also been encouraging assigning editors to consider pitches from those who may not consider themselves “writers” or have limited or no food-specific bylines. Some columns have been identified as particularly well-suited for new food writers; for example, product reviews and personal essays. Editors have also been asked to reach out to diverse freelancers to solicit pitches. Defining a standardized process for both of these actions is ongoing.
Initiative #2: Manager Handbook & Trainings
ATM’s People Operations team created and rolled out a new Manager Handbook for all management levels in Q1 2021. The goal of the handbook is to ensure all managers are equipped with the same foundation of understanding when it comes to standard hiring, onboarding, day-to-day management, and the company policies and procedures that support their direct reports. By ensuring all managers are equally trained on these topics, their team members will have a more equitable experience across different departments. The Manager Handbook will be complemented by LifeLabs’ Manager Core 1 training in Q2.
ATM also held several DEI trainings this quarter. The topics were:
· Allyship & Advocacy: How to Support Employees of Marginalized Backgrounds
· How to Support Black Employees in Your Workplace
Attendance is optional for these trainings, and roughly 75% of staff participated in the workshops.
Initiative #3: Channels for Employee Engagement
Change Initiative (CI) is a BIPOC-run, volunteer employee resource group (ERG) that was founded in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and 2020’s uprisings, and has become both a healing ground and an incubator for diversity initiatives at ATM. CI’s mission statement is:
To create and uphold a diverse and inclusive environment at Apartment Therapy Media for employees and our audience alike. This will be achieved by building up the awareness, visibility and understanding of those in the BIPOC community. This group will enforce the accountability of stakeholders in charge, and others, to maintain a respectful and dignified community among our staff, contributors, and our readers.
As one member described the Change Initiative, its purpose is to implement “checks and balances” on the company and the Executive Council. CI has also been working with ATM leadership to draft and edit other statements put out from the company during major holidays such as MLK Jr. Day, as well as planning programming for heritage months such as Black History Month.
There are currently ~20 CI members spanning across departments. Any BIPOC staff member of ATM who can commit to CI’s cadence of meetings (1 hour bi-weekly) for at least 6 months is allowed to join. In addition to the main group, there are 3 subcommittees:
· Community (which includes Recruiting and People Ops)
Each sub-committee is headed by a CI member, but these are open to allies and Executive Council members whose work is directly related to the subcommittee. Each subcommittee hosts regular check-ins outside of the main CI group, and reports back to the main group. We’ll be covering CI’s Content subcommittee work with Kitchn in more specifics in the Content section.
From the start, the CI has worked closely with a 3rd party DEI consultant to guide their work. This consultant also hosts regular “safe space” sessions for all of ATM to discuss larger social issues and current events. In Q1, 2 safe space sessions were held; one immediately following the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and one after the anti-Asian Atlanta murders. In these sessions, attendees can also voice feedback on organizational changes they want the consultant to communicate to management.
Initiatives #4 and #5 are forthcoming in Q2, Q3, Q4
Initiative #6: Diversity Statements
The People Operations team, Change Initiative, and The Kitchn leadership worked together to write a joint diversity statement for ATM that will be added to the company’s bylaws and live publicly on the company’s “About Us” page. The initial draft was started by a 3rd party DEI consultant and went through multiple rounds of edits internally. It is live on the ATM site here.
Initiative #7: Site-Wide Content and Recipes Audit
The Kitchn currently has an archive of roughly 6,000 recipes existing on the site, dating back to its inception in 2005. A major goal for this year is to create a formal process to audit older content and recipes on the site, updating them if needed for accuracy, thoroughness, and sensitivity. Because previous recipes have been developed by a large number of freelancers, alongside a smaller Kitchn in-house team, Kitchn acknowledges there is a range of experience and professionalism within its backlog of recipes. Prior to 2018, Kitchn also did not cross-test recipes in-house as it does now.
To start the recipe audit process, Kitchn editors wrote a Mission Statement (see below) on how recipes will be evaluated. Now, Kitchn is in the process of identifying a small group of diverse content auditors to define and start the review process. Some of the considerations here include demographic background; familiarity with food media, recipes, and Kitchn; and experience with sensitivity reading. Kitchn aims to have these auditors finalized in Q2 and have a plan of action for them to start in Q3.
A Kitchn recipe is, first and foremost, delicious and gratifying to cook. It is clear, accessible, and reliable.
A Kitchn recipe is mindful of how home cooks budget, shop, and cater to many needs. It’s tested in a home kitchen to make sure that it will work for you. It teaches recipes and their stories from the point of view of an expert, whether that authority comes through direct experience or via carefully researched and credited sources.
A Kitchn recipe teaches without assuming its audience is homogenous.
Some of the major sources of discussion for the audit process were:
1. Process for correction. Once flagged, should there be a record of the change? If a recipe or article is deleted (or a new one reissued and redirected to), should there be a record that it once existed?
There is not yet a standardized method of flagging recipes that may need to be reviewed. To date, most recipes flagged for retesting, fact-checking, or sensitivity updates have been a result of the recipe writer or editor themselves proactively asking for review, or the regular, systemic process of updating recipes for effective search engine optimization (SEO).
2. Soliciting opinions for change. Who should be asked to weigh in on potentially tricky situations? How can this be done in a respectful way that does not tokenize staff members or put them in uncomfortable situations?
For example, a personal essay with a recipe that related to a Jewish holiday included an illustration with a cheeseburger. Jewish Kitchn staffers were polled on if this was potentially offensive to be run as a lead post on the homepage, with no clear consensus. As a result, another article (with no ties to the holiday) was run as a lead post.
3. Demarcation of accessible yet respectful. Kitchn sees its brand as an educational voice for those who are interested in food and cooking, and not necessarily professionally. As one editor described, “teaching always has some element of translating”. As such, which terms should be explained further, or not?
Additionally, Kitchn does want to meet its audience where they are and “not leave people behind”. What does it mean to offer a starting point for all audiences for each recipe?
4. Reviewing social media. There is no formal process as to how editorial content is rewritten for social media.
5. Ingredient glossary. To circumvent problems with having to introduce readers to ingredients they may be unfamiliar, one idea from an editor is to create an ingredient glossary or database that can be continually updated and linked from various articles or recipes. However, this would require a large amount of time and resources.
Kitchn leadership is also working with CI’s Content subcommittee to find a sustainable way to integrate them into Kitchn’s content creation and review process going forward. Subcommittee members initially volunteered to review all headlines and headnotes before pieces go live, but this felt infeasible to leadership. Because there’s also been some changes as to who is on the subcommittee, Kitchn leadership is looking for ways to ensure group consensus in future decisions. The current plan is to have senior editors at Kitchn meet with the subcommittee for an hour bi-monthly, with a clear agenda for desired outcomes.
Initiative #8: Pitch Guidelines
As part of the effort to include a wider range of freelancers, Kitchn leadership is working on a new set of publicly available pitch guidelines for freelancers. This would include details on:
· Assigning editors of each column and/or type of story
· Pitch structure (or what should be included in the pitch email)
· Writing experience required (if any)
· Number of pitches that will be accepted per column or type of story
· Upcoming media packages (e.g., Kitchn has an upcoming package about rice)
· Expected length for different stories
· Rates for different stories
The main outstanding issue has been structuring rates for freelancers. Kitchn wants rates to be as standardized as possible, but also not inflexible if there are scenarios where contributors should be paid more (e.g., if a piece requires multiple rounds of expert interviews).