Building a Stronger Sierra Club Through More Equitable Hiring

The Sierra Club is on a journey to become an organization more deeply rooted in principles of equity, inclusion, and racial justice. As part of our Multi-Year Equity Plan, we’re evolving our hiring practices so they better align with those principles. Changing how we hire staff members is just one part of our larger organizational transformation, which will include critical shifts at the individual, team, and systems levels.

Emmanuel Paul Sterling, the Sierra Club’s new Equitable Recruitment and Hiring Strategy Lead, is playing a key role in our organizational transformation. We sat down to talk with him about what equitable recruitment and hiring look like in practice, and why it’s especially important for environmental organizations like the Sierra Club.

Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Sterling


How did you come to the Sierra Club? What about its mission speaks to you?

Prior to coming to the Sierra Club, I’d been given the opportunity to support hiring and equity work at a few organizations and institutions. While working to support diversity efforts at another organization, a colleague shared some of the work the Sierra Club was preparing to do.

When I started to have informational interviews and conversations about the possibilities of coming to the Sierra Club, there was an article about Cancer Alley on the front page of the website. To the author it was Cancer Alley, but to me, it was home!

There are Sierra Club volunteers on the frontlines, right in my hometown. The mission, the work, and the impact began to feel so much more personal. As I started to do my research into the Sierra Club, I realized I had been having conversations about environmental racism, its impact on communities, and how centering those directly impacted in the fight for environmental justice was important.

What is “equitable hiring,” generally speaking? What’s your philosophy around equitable hiring?

Equitable hiring is removing barriers that would create an unfair advantage for individuals participating in the hiring process and placing value on an individual’s skills while recognizing the challenges and circumstances experienced.

My philosophy around hiring, in general, is to find the best and most talented people interested in new growth opportunities. In terms of equitable hiring, I believe in a candidate-experience centered approach—thinking about what a candidate would say about your organization and process after they did not receive an offer. The values and priorities of an organization must be elevated through their hiring practices.

In my effort to create just hiring practices I always suggest being transparent, understanding the “must have” and “nice to have” skills for each role, and setting up strong foundations for reliable and fair processes, coupled with organization-wide buy-in.

Why does equitable hiring matter? Why is it especially important for environmental organizations like the Sierra Club?

Equitable hiring gives organizations the opportunity to attract the best candidates whose passions are aligned with the organization’s mission and values. Intentional recruiting by actively engaging individuals in one’s network and collaborating with partners who share our commitment to diversity becomes a way to engage candidates and elevate a candidate's experience around the work.

There’s so much work to be done in this space. Big green environmental organizations have long been labeled “white” organizations. I believe that as we see more and more BIPOC leaders and organizers taking on the fight to make our environment livable, it becomes that much more important to create hiring practices that give them an opportunity to lead inside organizations like the Sierra Club.

In your past roles, how have you seen equitable hiring transform organizations? How do you hope it will help the Sierra Club become a more equitable, inclusive, and actively anti-racist organization?

Your practices are just as important as your policies. I have been in spaces where organizations made strong statements around transforming their hiring by setting attainable yet bold goals, and investing in teams to do the work. Recently, the leaders at an organization I worked for took a very deliberate step toward streamlining their hiring. Many of the employees felt it was a nod to the work the organization had been promising to do. While change isn’t seen overnight, the transformation is felt the moment someone is hired because of their skills and not potentially biased notions of “fit."

At the Sierra Club, hiring managers and teams will have to rethink how we will do hiring moving forward. We will have to be intentional about removing barriers that may have existed and buy into the new hiring guidance that was built with our organization's health and growth at the center. We have to embrace the idea that a more diverse Sierra Club is stronger and better than any version of its old self.

I’m excited to roll out our new equitable hiring guidelines. The guidance underscores and adds value to our hiring by training hiring managers and committees and sharing resources to set them up for success, and monitors each process with the hopes of streamlining our process across teams and encouraging everyone to move towards more just practices. The guidance is the product of people in every department, the Human Resources team, as well as a reflection of commitment to the work across the organization.

Equitable hiring offers this organization the opportunity to become more diverse, more social justice-oriented -- all while continuing to engage the people already working and volunteering with the Sierra Club. This won’t just be a HR shift; this will be an organization and culture shift.

What are your plans to rethink recruitment and make it a more equitable process?

I have been tasked with helping the organization develop a strategy around recruitment, creating a foundation for our efforts, and elevating our tactics to build diverse candidate pools.

Currently, our recruiting efforts are decentralized. Hiring managers who have acted as recruiters now have the resources and support to help get the job done. I’ll provide a foundation and a strategy that hiring managers can plug into. The strategy will involve direct sourcing of candidates, targeted job boards, more transparent job descriptions, a deliberate effort around job socialization, and a cohesive narrative of the Sierra Club that inspires potential candidates. I am thinking through who we can partner with to obtain the best and brightest, and how we can engage those partners.

Equitable recruitment and hiring practices are important, but are not enough on their own. How are you working with other parts of the organization to make sure that everyone we hire is treated with care and dignity and offered equal opportunity to succeed once they come on board?

Relationship building is a critical part of my job function. I am engaging with every departmental leader and their teams around hiring. The equitable hiring guidance that we have built is being adopted by all hiring managers. This is actually the first step to a long-term equitable hiring plan, where we will eventually introduce an anonymized resume review and a new applicant tracking system. I understand this transformation to be a people-centered process. It will only be successful if we tap into the value of our people and use the strength of our mission to really do this work better. Not correctly -- because there is no one correct way to recruit and hire—but better.

I should also mention that these hiring guidelines are one part of our overall transformation to become a more equitable, just and inclusive organization and that other work is being done across the organization to make this an organization where people across all identities can thrive.