Foundation 360: The knowledge of the world, through people. Interview with Julie Brown, Recruiting, Talent and Culture Department

The Foundation 360 series profiles important work happening at the Wikimedia Foundation, and the people behind it.

Myleen Hollero / Wikimedia Foundation / CC BY-SA 4.0

An empathic listener with an infectious laugh, Director of Global Recruiting Julie Brown moves fast and talks with intention. She gets through meetings with the “no time to waste” attitude characteristic of the New Jersey town where she grew up. Known lovingly as Downtown Julie Brown by her closest colleagues, Julie slows down her fast-paced life only for big dinners with friends and family, the occasional trip to somewhere new, or to care for her extensive plant collection in her home in San Francisco. 

Against a backdrop of vibrant, billowing dracaena, lilies and ferns, Julie sat down to talk to us about her work leading the global Recruiting team at the Wikimedia Foundation. She told us about the global recruiting strategy she helped to build from the ground up, taking us through what it means to the Foundation and the larger Wikimedia movement.

Q: You have been working in recruiting for a long time. What sets recruiting for the Wikimedia Foundation apart?

JB: I’ve been recruiting since 2003 and have worked with and for a lot of different user-facing organizations. Having the incredible reach that the Wikimedia projects do on the internet means the Foundation attracts really outstanding talent from so many professional backgrounds. In terms of industries, we hire from a huge range of sectors: NGOs (non-governmental organizations), big tech, scrappy start ups, large global corporations, educational institutions and governmental organizations, to name some. 

Then you also have the fact that our applicant pool is significantly more diverse in terms of locations we are able to hire from, which opens up so many opportunities to bring in exceptional talent from under-tapped markets. This is something that we have very intentionally been growing since I joined the Foundation in 2017. We are proud to have staff located across six continents (our small recruiting team alone has staff in 7 countries). This type of diversity adds a whole other dimension to our work that I find really exciting. 

I think the global, human element of what the Wikimedia Movement does challenges us to be nimble, courageous and curious when it comes to hiring, and allows us to really be open to all sorts of candidates. That stands out from other recruiting roles I’ve been in in the past, where parameters are much more set in stone. 

Q: In what ways has global hiring grown since you came to the Foundation?

JB: When I joined in 2017, the Foundation was around 250 staff in size. We were already a global organization, but a large percentage of our staff was based on-site in the San Francisco office. The organization had hovered around that size and that location breakdown for a while. As the Foundation has continued to grow to support the needs of a growing movement, we have done it with the intention of expanding our staff to be more representative of the population of the world. We have been focused on finding and retaining workers outside of the US whenever possible, and have grown from having staff in 24 countries to more than 50 in the past four years. 

We try to apply the goal of expanding our staff representation to every role that we can, not only with full time staff, but also contractors, part-time workers, fellows and interns in all types of roles. There are really only a few exceptions to that, including some roles in Accounting that have a requirement for US certifications, and some roles in Legal where the candidate has to have high levels of specialized knowledge about the US legal system. Generally, though, we look at every role as an opportunity to grow our staff outside of the US and Europe and particularly in emerging markets such as Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

As we continue to grow, there’s a lot more we can do to offer candidates across the globe a similar recruitment (and employment) experience. There’s room for us to carefully consider which new markets we want to expand into. This is something me and my team would like to be a lot more intentional about. 

Q: How have you made all this global growth happen?

JB: Our strategy is really based on two principles: proactive pipelining and inclusive hiring. 

Proactive pipelining is how we get as diverse and broad of an initial pool of candidates, or “pipeline” as it’s often referred to in the recruiting world, as possible. An important tactic for building a more proactive pipeline has been partnering with organizations in regional markets where we really want to be hiring from. These organizations, which are often providing technical training on the ground, give candidates exposure to Wikimedia in those markets and help us connect more consistently with local talent. 

Inclusive hiring is about overseeing the hiring process from start to finish to ensure fairness and consistency. Being a remote organization, we are very strategic in where and how we post jobs in various locations around the world and what our target regions are to source from.  Even things as basic as the type of language we use in a job description can affect inclusion. For example, using gender neutral verbs and adjectives has been shown to increase the diversity of the applicant pool. So really, every detail matters, and we try to monitor all of those things.

This strategy has paved the way for big changes to the staff composition of the Foundation. Our proactive pipelining has helped generate 50,000 applications in the past 12 months alone; 54% of which are located outside of the US. Our inclusive hiring has helped us increase our recruitment of people from the global majority by 20%, which comprised half of all of our hires during our most recent fiscal year.  This has been a huge collective effort by the entire organization, and the work does not stop there. My team is working to continue to grow that percentage year over year. 

Q: Upholding a global strategy means constantly using new information to update your tactics. What changes have you made to stay ahead of the curve in the last year?

JB: COVID-19 created an interesting scenario for us because we had a brief hiring pause as leadership assessed our financial situation.  The recruiting team used that time to put our heads together and develop new projects and ideas to better support diversity in our hiring processes. 

We made a lot of changes based on the collective thinking we did around this. We started researching and expanding our use of non-US job boards, and vetting and partnering with more on-the-ground organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. We also did a full mapping of career fairs around the world focused on diversity and inclusion, and we started attending those remotely. We built our inclusive hiring training, which is now required for all Foundation staff participating in interview panels. We sorted out the logistics to implement a fully anonymized task grading system for any candidate that has to complete a task as part of the interview process. Efforts like these have helped us steadily increase the diversity of our applicant pool. We have been growing that diversity by 10% every year since 2018, which is no easy feat when you have 50,000 applications per year!

Q: How does this global recruiting strategy impact the greater Wikimedia movement? 

JB: As a movement, we aspire to represent the knowledge of the world. I see my team as bringing knowledge to the Foundation, and to the movement, through bringing on talented, mission-driven people. When we bring on staff from different places and backgrounds, they are adding new perspectives to everything that we’re doing. And that enriches our work in all dimensions. The more we as a Foundation embody the mission we are all working towards, the better positioned we will be to support the movement.

Hiring specifically from the global Wikimedia communities is a big part of positioning us to support the movement. Deep knowledge of Wikimedia is always a plus in any role, and prioritizing the hiring of community members whenever possible has already had a huge impact. Examples that come to mind recently are the facilitators for the Universal Code of Conduct, the Board of Trustee elections, our Communications Specialists and Recruiters. Opportunities like this help bridge the gap between the communities and the Foundation, and help support not only better understanding and engagement, but also better overall participation of communities in important decision making processes. 

Over this past year, we brought our first community member onto our small recruiting team. I have really gotten to see first hand how this team member’s movement knowledge has given us more perspective on the roles we are hiring for and how they fit into the bigger picture.

Q: What is a tip you would give Wikimedia community members looking to connect with you about roles?

JB: We hear from a lot of highly qualified community members who are interested in working for the Foundation. Oftentimes, we get emails along the lines of “I want to work for you, here is my CV.” Our work is about filling the vacancies that exist, so I’d encourage community members to regularly check our job postings (which we put a lot of work into keeping fully up to date; we open new roles almost every day) and try to position themselves for a particular opening that might be a fit. Even if they don’t feel like they meet all the qualifications, or that their experience is unconventional, I’d really encourage them to apply anyway. If they’re not selected, they can always ask for feedback.  Like I mentioned before, we hire from all sorts of professional backgrounds and areas of expertise — we see a lot of value in that. So get us a CV for a particular role so that we can consider you!

Want to learn more about the Recruiting team?