November 10, 2021 / News & Blog

Centering DEAI in Staff Recruitment and Hiring

This article is part of the “Inside the Curve: Business as (Not Quite) Usual” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Angela Henderson, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Like many cultural institutions and recreational venues across the country, the pandemic forced The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to close its doors to the public in March 2020. What started out as a two-week closure became three and a half months. Institutional priority shifted to the safety and well-being of our staff, volunteers, interns, and visitors. Although the museum was closed to visitors, our need to act as a community anchor became more important than ever before. Museum staff worked hard to provide virtual experiences for online visitors that were both engaging and worthwhile. With the support of our board of trustees, we also were able to continue paying all staff during the entire closure without any furloughs. Because of these efforts, the museum continued to operate with a full staff throughout the closure.

In July 2020, the museum reopened to the public at 25 percent capacity with mask mandates and additional cleaning and safety protocols in place. Visitors were encouraged to purchase tickets online prior to their visit. Because on-site staff members were included in the museum’s capacity figure, those staff members who could work remotely were strongly encouraged to do so. Staff members working on-site were required to conduct daily self-health screenings and temperature checks upon entry. We also tracked daily staff, volunteer, and interns’ comings and goings in order to be prepared to perform any contract tracing, if necessary.

In fall 2020, as a result of decreased visitors and revenue, the museum made the tough decision to reduce the number of staff members by 5 percent. During this same time, the museum took a long hard look at staffing, visitation, and revenue projections for 2021. Fortunately, spring 2021 saw an increase in museum visitation, necessitating the recruiting and hiring of key positions across the organization. When we began the process of hiring again, we had rededicated ourselves to ensuring that our hiring practices were purposeful, inclusive, and equitable, to ensure we sourced and selected diverse candidates.

The Summer that Changed Everything

In the midst of challenges presented by the pandemic, the civil unrest during spring and summer 2020 also created opportunities for the museum to reexamine how we source, recruit, select, nurture, and retain staff members, especially people of color.

The injustices suffered by George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other African-Americans sparked difficult listening sessions and conversations both in our museum and throughout the country. To help with this very important work, in fall 2020, the museum engaged the expertise of Decide Diversity, a training and consultant firm that fills the gaps that traditional diversity and inclusion programs unintentionally create. These gaps are often seen in an organization’s lack of access and equity in practices; representation in exhibits, marketing materials, partnerships; inclusion of diverse people in leadership positions, and inclusive decision making.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis originally opened in 1925. Keeping in mind that it took nearly 100 years for our institutional culture to become what it is today, taking things to the next level and changing the perceptions of the community, our staff and volunteers, and our visitors will not happen overnight. The work we have begun with Decide Diversity is the first step to recreating our work environment and culture, and ensuring it is diverse and inclusive for all staff and volunteers.

Concurrent with the museum’s work with Decide Diversity, museum leaders decided to rethink and restructure the talent acquisition manager’s role with a strong emphasis on diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI). As DEAI talent acquisitions manager, I am responsible for the sourcing and recruitment of job applicants, as well as working closely with each department and its designated hiring managers—who, along with other duties, are responsible for staffing their particular departments—to further establish and maintain a work environment that is diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive for all. I previously worked in the museum’s community initiatives department, and before then held positions with Dayton Public Schools and the Indianapolis Public Schools Innovation School Network, where I saw firsthand how the lack of equity in education affects our youngest citizens. To my professional experience, I add my own personal history, as a mom of Black children and the daughter of two working class parents. This role supports my passion for working to combat and unravel systems that have been stacked heavily against communities of color.


Creating a diverse hiring pool of candidates that represent various cultures and backgrounds while remaining true to the work-related tasks required of various positions is directly connected to where and how candidates are informed about available jobs.

Although the museum has historically tracked recruiting and sourcing information, we are being much more purposeful in our efforts to determine where candidates are coming from. We have increased our scrutiny of established sourcing activities, including career sites and job fairs, to see how many applicants they pull in and how many are hired. We have also begun to identify missed opportunities to reach a more diverse candidate pool through community and neighborhood engagement. We work with various community partners, including the museum’s own Community Initiatives department, Fathers and Families, Inc., Dress for Success, and several college and university partners. We now post open positions to new or under-utilized talent recruitment networks, such as Ascend Indiana, which allows employers to create organizational profiles where they can post open positions. Ascend Indiana also suggests candidates from their pool of job seekers, allowing our hiring managers to send personal invitations to these qualified candidates.

As we incorporate these additions and tweak other recruitment and sourcing activities, we are challenging ourselves as a division and an organization to track data that we can use to move the museum in a direction that not only shows that we are the “biggest and best children’s museum in the world” for our guests, but also for our staff, volunteers, and interns.

Screening Applicants for Diversity and Staff for Bias

A large institution like The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis requires a large, talented staff. Our organization is made up of nearly twenty-four departments with more than 330 employees. More than eighty of these employees serve as “hiring managers” for their departments.

As DEAI talent acquisitions manager, I work closely with the hiring managers throughout the sourcing, recruitment, and hiring process. Together, we discuss the scope of the posted position as well as ways to ensure equity and diversity within the candidate pool, identify other sources for recruitment, and establish hiring timelines. We openly talk about how they plan to incorporate DEAI strategies in the hiring process and how they can address—or avoid—their own biases that may have an impact on who they hire.

The first step to sourcing a more diverse candidate pool is to have a clear understanding that biases exist in all of us. Working to address and correct these biases will help to minimize them in the recruitment, hiring, nurturing, and retaining of staff members. People are naturally inclined to want to socialize and work with people they feel they have something in common with or that they can relate to. For some departments, this proclivity extends to selecting candidates in the likeness of themselves. As we do the work to identify homogeneous groups, we note that this could signal that there are biases that need to be addressed and that tools and resources are needed to help correct them.

Creating a culture that emphasizes and places a high value on DEAI and its impact on our community requires purposeful action. For the recruitment and placement piece of our business, DEAI involves making sure we are equitably and consistently giving all under-represented groups an opportunity to be considered and hired for jobs at the museum. We want our hiring managers to know that being purposeful in our DEAI efforts is essential to achieving our ultimate goal of hiring the right people for the right jobs. Hiring a candidate who doesn’t meet the job requirements simply because of their race or gender does an enormous disservice to the individual and the organization.

Responses to Unprecedented Challenges Create Lasting Change

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is changing the culture of the organization and developing an even more inclusive workplace and workforce. This work is not limited to HR; it is the work of everyone in the museum. We are expanding decision-making to include staff and volunteers at all levels of the organization and have established a DEAI task force. In pushing for change, the DEAI task force is looking at five key areas of museum business:

  • • Neighborhood Inclusion
  • • Internal Inclusion
  • • Equity & Accessibility
  • • Establishing a DEAI Learning Culture
  • • Hiring and Retaining Diverse Staff, Volunteer & Interns

2020 brought about changes and hardships we could never have imagined, but it also brought about a tremendous opportunity for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to examine who we are and who we want to be. It has forced us to prioritize what matters most to us as an organization and in doing so has reminded us that we are about and for all children and families; we must do our part to look like and be a safe space for everyone.

Angela Henderson has served as the DEAI Talent Acquisition Manager at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis since April 2021. Previously, she served in a number of community educational support roles, and was a Community Activist Fellow for the Wayfinder Foundation.