Comatose

Staff Recruitment Initiative and Diversity

18 posts in this topic

Hi Sharders!  There are a couple of ongoing discussions that the staff have been having, and we want to fill you in on some of what we've been working on.

In particular, we want to say we realize that we are a predominantly white moderation team, and that our relative lack of racial diversity may make the Shard a less welcoming place for some folks. We've heard calls for more diversity on our team, especially on Shardcast panels. We hear that concern loud and clear and are taking it seriously. It is important to all of us that the Shard is a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds and cultures to form community—both among general members and among our moderation team. We all agree diverse perspectives are incredibly valuable on a leadership team, and that a lack of particular points of view can lead to serious oversights. While we've made some great strides in recent years in terms of increasing representation in some areas (like gender and sexuality), there are other areas where we still have lots of room to grow. 

As a result, we've been discussing our recruitment practices. Currently, we tend to observe the membership and take note of people who exhibit qualities like thoughtfulness, patience, or skill at conflict resolution, and then keep them in mind when we feel we need to break out the spikes and expand our numbers. Sometimes we have specific asks—like web design, coding expertise, or content creation—and look at our active membership to determine whether there's anyone with the desired skill-set who we think would be a good fit. We also value different backgrounds (including race, nationality, age, gender, sexuality, occupation, socio-economic status, disabilities, etc.) as an asset in making moderation decisions and producing content.  

Our current recruitment method relies on people being active and self-descriptive on Discord and the forums. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing what great candidates they may be, or what perspectives they might be able to add to our team. We are hoping to open up our pool of candidates, acknowledging that some people who love Brandon's books and would be great contributors to our moderation and content-creation team might not feel comfortable being super loud about their background or skills online. While we will continue to shoulder tap people we think would be a good fit, we also don't want to miss out on people who have valuable skills and insights to contribute.

We generally try to consider staff balance, and certain points may become more or less important at different times. In the interest of transparency, here are some examples of what we generally look for when recruiting new staff: 

  • Strong communication skills 
  • Conflict resolution skills or experience 
  • Previous contributions to the community (art, writing, Arcanum, Coppermind, etc.) 
  • Diverse backgrounds and perspectives (gender identity, race, nationality, sexual orientation, age, people with disabilities, occupation, socio-economic status, etc.), especially if it is in an area where the current staff is lacking 
  • Technical skills (coding, video editing, graphic design, etc.) 
  • Ability to work as a team 
  • Familiarity with the Brandon Sanderson works and fandom communities (both on the Shard and elsewhere) 
  • Timezone coverage 
  • How fabulous you look with spikes for eyes 

Going forward, we want to continue to learn and adjust our recruitment practices so they acknowledge the diversity of this community. Having access to different perspectives and insights from people of different backgrounds will enhance our moderation team and creative projects, and it's something we are hoping to continue improving on. If you don't feel represented by the current staff, or have skills you think would be a valuable asset that aren't listed above, feel free to let us know what you think is missing, and what you feel you could contribute. 

The questionnaire attached with the post is a new tool we are trying out. If it works, we might keep using it; if not we might try something different. We will not review responses regularly, and may only review periodically when we are looking to make recruitment decisions. The purpose of the questionnaire is just to give us more information to work with than what would normally be available crawling the forums and Discord. We also wanted to give people the opportunity to either put themselves forward or to nominate another person (please ask consent before nominating anyone!). So if you're interested in being staff, even if you don't feel qualified to do so or aren't sure exactly what you may bring to the team, please feel free to fill out the form. 

Lastly, if you have any ideas or recommendations on how we could improve, we'd love to hear them. Please feel free to post them in the comments of this news article or the #17s channel on our Discord, put them in the questionnaire, or message a staff member of your choice; we love suggestions! 

Questionnaire

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On 7/4/2022 at 10:22 AM, Comatose said:

Technical skills (coding, video editing, graphic design, etc.)

For referance what coding languages are you looking for?

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13 hours ago, Frustration said:

For reference what coding languages are you looking for?

We are not looking for anything specific. We don't usually have projects waiting in queue until we "hire" someone with the right skills to make them happen - most of what we've created has been someone on the team going "I am going to make this thing with whatever tools I have" and then doing just that.

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I’m sure you’ve thought of it already but an app would be amazing and make navigation etc easier. Like a second realm…

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34 minutes ago, MartinTC said:

I’m sure you’ve thought of it already but an app would be amazing and make navigation etc easier. Like a second realm…

The subject has been raised a few times before.

https://www.17thshard.com/forum/topic/95661-17th-shard-app/#comment-1181085

Long story short, it would be a lot of of effort for not enough benefit.

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App discussion is not relevant for this topic; let's keep this relevant to the recruitment topic.

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I'm very conflicted about this. On one hand, I understand why you want diversity, and how it may appear to some people, but also recruiting for diversity is never good. Best case scenario it's the same as it would have been, worst case you're getting people who shouldn’t be getting positions. I think this would probably end up best case, but also, this is the internet, diversity shouldn’t matter, skill should, if the only skilled people are of one group, only take from that group. I don’t have a problem with this because I trust the moderation here to pick good people, but decisions like this have the opportunity to go off the deep end.

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14 hours ago, The Unknown Novel said:

this is the internet, diversity shouldn’t matter, skill should, if the only skilled people are of one group, only take from that group.

I want to address this because I think it misses a very important angle - a cultural (or racial, or sexual, you name it) background we don't currently have within our team is a skill. Even if we weren't looking for anything else (and we do), this alone would be valuable. It not only helps us understand and moderate our community better, it helps tremendously in growing it as well, attracting people who might've never joined otherwise, or ones who would've joined and just lurked, uncomfortable to fully open up. 

You say that diversity shouldn't matter, only skill should, and I hear what you are saying - but this is also a view that, in my opinion, missed important nuances in the reality of the situation. I don't want to dig too much into this here and now, but you establish a scenario here that's not necessarily true. You say that if the only skilled people are of one group, we should take from that group - but this premise is not necessarily true, not all "skilled" people are from one group, it's entirely possible (very likely, even) that a big reason we don't have a more diverse Staff is because we've never put in the effort to find those quiet people and invite them in. 

Just some food for thought :)

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If part of what is desired with this is to try and find some of the more shy and quiet members of the community, it might help to make some more granular roles on the staff. Or if such roles already exist make it more obvious that is what you are looking for. 

From the outside looking in, a staff role seems like a lot of work. The staff members who I am most familiar with seem like they spend a lot of time on it, and have to wear a lot of hats. That combined with the above list of desired skills/experience given gives a very overwhelming impression. And for myself, as someone who tends towards lurking, being given moderator responsibilities seems especially intimidating, since it would represent almost a complete role reversal in terms of my interactions with the community up to this point. 

So maybe making some sort of role where someone from an under represented group could contribute to the policy and creativity discussions the staff has without having to be made a full on moderator would be an easier stepping stone? Especially so for someone who is already not 100% comfortable in the community begin with. 

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2 hours ago, Kolten said:

If part of what is desired with this is to try and find some of the more shy and quiet members of the community, it might help to make some more granular roles on the staff. Or if such roles already exist make it more obvious that is what you are looking for. 

So I did want to comment on this. Long ago, when the community was much smaller, we did have different staff roles, but that didn't work for a variety of reasons. Maybe in the future. There have been a lot of advantages to having staff be on basically equal footing and can choose what to do. Please note that you do not need to satisfy the entire list of things we are looking for! Most of our staff aren't coders, for example. Some should apply, though.

I do see what you're saying. One pitfall is we don't want to get people from underrepresented groups to feel like they are second class, which would be totally antithetical to our goals here. There's probably a way to navigate that, but I'm just saying that equal footing of staff is very useful. In addition, many policy things come up in the course of moderating as well, or being present in discussions on what moderation to do. (There are many staff who don't like, get in the direct moderation or disciplining aspects.) I see these as pretty connected, but perhaps I am not creative enough to imagine how this workflow works in practice. 

It's something to think about. I don't think more granular staff roles will happen soon, though, but perhaps eventually.

On 8/6/2022 at 8:04 PM, The Unknown Novel said:

this is the internet, diversity shouldn’t matter, skill should, if the only skilled people are of one group, only take from that group

Argent had great comments to say here, and I agree with everything he said. I wanted to quickly chime in and say that it seems impossible to imagine that people of one distinct background (racial or otherwise) are the only ones who could be good staff. That just seems like that cannot possibly be true. 

Also I wanted to mention that even in the technology industry, where you might think only skill matters and diversity doesn't, there have been real, tangible examples where programmers create an algorithm that just doesn't work as well for people of color. The example comes to mind is facial recognition, and that got some serious (justifiably so) blowback for there being an algorithm that couldn't recognize Black faces as well. That's really bad! That's a situation where you need both skill and diversity, so your blind spots don't lead to unintended consequences. It's a very real issue in many areas.

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Yeah I did not consider the second class citizen thing. I guess I figured such a role would be self selected rather than assigned, but I could see how it sends the wrong message. 

In any case, my main point would just be that if you want to pull some of the lurkers out of hiding to contribute, it might help to give them a stepping stone of some kind between fly on the wall and actively engaged staff member. I wouldn't be surprised if there were many who would be willing and happy to help, but don't know how to do so while staying in their comfort zone. 

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1 hour ago, Chaos said:

Also I wanted to mention that even in the technology industry, where you might think only skill matters and diversity doesn't, there have been real, tangible examples where programmers create an algorithm that just doesn't work as well for people of color. The example comes to mind is facial recognition, and that got some serious (justifiably so) blowback for there being an algorithm that couldn't recognize Black faces as well. 

Black faces look different from white faces. That's simple fact, although you can have whitelike black faces and blacklike white faces, they still tend to be different. It tracks that an algorithm designed to recognize white faces would have trouble recognizing black faces. Same would happen the other way around. 

Behavior is what matters, people of different backgrounds behave differently. If a certain group of people isn't inclined to moderate for whatever reason, they shouldn't be made to moderate (I'm aware this isn't what's happening). Having an all white staff isn't a result of you not looking. The only way for you to know for certain that a person is black or otherwise, is for them to tell you or have their profile picture show them. We except that a large portion of Brandon's audience is LDS, and it’s likely a large portion is white as well for numerous reasons.

Argent mentioned that it was likely that you don’t have more diverse moderators because you simply haven't looked, but you (I really hope) haven't been looking for white moderators either. If it's a ratio of 70/30 blue vs green skittles, and you pull out one, it's probably blue. If you pull out ten, it's not unlikely that you'll get nine blues and a green, or even ten blues. It is unlikely for you to get ten greens.

1 hour ago, Chaos said:

I wanted to quickly chime in and say that it seems impossible to imagine that people of one distinct background (racial or otherwise) are the only ones who could be good staff. That just seems like that cannot possibly be true. 

I'm not saying it is. Also, we regularly read things that are far more unlikely than only a single group of people being skilled at something. It's imaginable, although not true in our current situation. Do you disagree that certain groups (racial or otherwise) are more likely to have certain skills? Or certain interests? As that is what I personally think is the case.

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4 hours ago, The Unknown Novel said:

Having an all white staff isn't a result of you not looking. The only way for you to know for certain that a person is black or otherwise, is for them to tell you or have their profile picture show them. We except that a large portion of Brandon's audience is LDS, and it’s likely a large portion is white as well for numerous reasons.

This is explained in Comatose's initial post very clearly, which is why we are trying to intentionally resolve this discovery aspect. Diversity matters for the reasons we are explaining. We should find them because we are stronger with them and we will be more inclusive to all people. Saying the Brandon fandom is pretty white is not an excuse to do nothing. 

4 hours ago, The Unknown Novel said:

Do you disagree that certain groups (racial or otherwise) are more likely to have certain skills? Or certain interests? As that is what I personally think is the case.

This question is not relevant, as you readily say that we are not in this hypothetical you state. 

But for another example, it has long been falsely said that women are not interested in STEM fields as an explanation for why they aren't in STEM professional positions. Research has shown this is totally incorrect. It is important those fields very actively combat these cultural biases so that women feel they can be in these fields. Things are improving, but it's hard. Why am I bringing this up? Because I don't really think there's anything truly inherent going on here. Women can be awesome programmers and scientists! There's nothing inherent about being female that means you're less interested, but culture can sure try and beat it out of you. 

Don't fall into the trap that there's something inherent going on in this situation. Everyone of background can love these books. I think having more people at the top who are of diverse backgrounds not only makes our policies strictly better, but can expand our fandom so more people feel like they can belong here. Seeing people who are like yourself will only help lead to more people of that background feeling welcome.

The only possible downside is if we recruit people who are not qualified, which is not what we are going to do. We are simply intentionally trying to seek out diversity here, as we stated here. It's going to take time to institute change, but we are here to do the work.

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I'm simply going to bow out before this turns into an argument with no hope of either side changing. Your beliefs are simply very different from mine. 

I will however address this one point:

25 minutes ago, Chaos said:

This question is not relevant, as you readily say that we are not in this hypothetical you state. 

This question is very relevant, and which hypothetical? The one where all the skilled people are one group? I agree with you on that, that's why I posed the question, and that hypothetical was only for the purpose of saying skill takes precedent over all else, or at least it should. The one where there are more white Brandon fans than there are people of color? Which there’s no way to confirm or deny, and the little evidence there is points to it being true. And if the hypothetical you're talking about is different backgrounds/races having different interests, then I don't know what to tell you.

Edited by The Unknown Novel
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5 hours ago, The Unknown Novel said:

The only way for you to know for certain that a person is black or otherwise, is for them to tell you or have their profile picture show them. We except that a large portion of Brandon's audience is LDS, and it’s likely a large portion is white as well for numerous reasons.

Argent mentioned that it was likely that you don’t have more diverse moderators because you simply haven't looked, but you (I really hope) haven't been looking for white moderators either. If it's a ratio of 70/30 blue vs green skittles, and you pull out one, it's probably blue. If you pull out ten, it's not unlikely that you'll get nine blues and a green, or even ten blues. It is unlikely for you to get ten greens.

Indeed, and this is actually a strong reason for why we're posting this. As Argent and Chaos discussed above, diversity is a useful trait with its own merits for teams of many kinds, and it's something we think is important to have.

However, when a community has a meaningful majority of one group (be it race, sexuality, ableness, etc), simple probability makes this diversity less likely to arise on its own (the ten blue skittles problem you reference). And when said community is entirely pseudonymous and online, it's hard to notice this, much less try to correct for it when picking out moderators.

As such, we're testing this form out as a way to draw attention to those candidates who are qualified but otherwise by simple chance (or other reasons, such as feeling uncomfortable putting themselves out there publicly) may not be seen "organically". We don't know whether it will work or not, or whether we'll keep it around, but our current system is clearly not producing the results we need as a team and as a community, so we're trying something else and seeing if that improves the situation.

Edit:

5 minutes ago, The Unknown Novel said:

I'm simply going to bow out before this turns into an argument with no hope of either side changing. Your beliefs are simply very different from mine. 

My bad, that message was sent while I was still typing and I didn't see it until after posting. I'm still going to leave this response up, however, for anyone else that may have this concern.


10 hours ago, Kolten said:

The staff members who I am most familiar with seem like they spend a lot of time on it, and have to wear a lot of hats.

I will note that this is likely partially just exposure bias. The staff members who do a lot of different things (such as Shardcast, moderation, and writing articles) are more likely to be seen all over the place, while the staff who mainly do just one thing (such as coding or policy discussion) aren't as visible. In fact, I'd go as far as to say most staff do one or two things.

That said, that appearance is a very real barrier of its own, and unfortunately one where the solutions have their own tradeoffs, as Chaos mentions. We appreciate the feedback, as it's often hard to judge things when they're just hypotheticals on what people might think, and having actual opinions is useful for deciding how to approach things. We'll be sure to keep this factor in mind and consider whether there's anything we can do to help it.

Edited by LewsTherinTelescope
Add acknowledgement of "bowing out" message
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14 hours ago, The Unknown Novel said:

This question is very relevant, and which hypothetical? The one where all the skilled people are one group? I agree with you on that, that's why I posed the question, and that hypothetical was only for the purpose of saying skill takes precedent over all else, or at least it should. The one where there are more white Brandon fans than there are people of color? Which there’s no way to confirm or deny, and the little evidence there is points to it being true. And if the hypothetical you're talking about is different backgrounds/races having different interests, then I don't know what to tell you.

I'm referring to this statement:

19 hours ago, The Unknown Novel said:

Do you disagree that certain groups (racial or otherwise) are more likely to have certain skills? Or certain interests? As that is what I personally think is the case.

I do not think this is relevant. Now, I would say if you took that statement as true and you really went down that path and its implications, I think that can lead to some dark stuff. But let's not get into that. Let's assume that's true for the sake of argument. So what? Let's say hypothetically 95% of Brandon fans are male (this is of course not true, but roll with me). Does that mean we should not actively search out female fans for potential staff positions? Of course not. That's why your point is irrelevant. Regardless of how things are proportioned, intentionally looking for skilled people of various backgrounds to join us is good. Women exist and they should feel welcome here.

Let's have gender diversity. Let's have racial diversity. Let's have religious diversity, etc. We need people from a variety of backgrounds so we as a staff can make good judgments and decisions. It's easy to see examples of this being the case, so let's talk about religious diversity. Would people want every staff member to be religious? Every staff member to be LDS? Every staff member to be an atheist? Of course not. You certainly want a mix of that to make sure our decisions respect religious people and nonreligious people together, because they both groups that matter. You can easily imagine this same logic applying to many other qualities that we list. Having diversity means we have less bias on staff. This is good! We would be doing a huge disservice to everyone here if we didn't try to address biases. It's impossible for us to not have biases and distinct perspectives, but we can make sure we have a team where we can balance these things and make effective, fair calls that live up to our ideals in our Code of Conduct. 

I want to back up a second and talk about skill, as you keep mentioning it. You say "skill" should be the only factor that should be relevant. Argent, LewsTherinTelescope, and I have explained faults in this, but okay, let's assume that is also true. What does it mean to be skilled, particularly in a staff/moderation standpoint?

Imagine a programming job. You want to hire the best programmer. Say you create a test to evaluate the skills you want this person to have, and you give it to your candidates. You score it traditionally, from 0 to 100. Let's say one is at the top at a 95/100, and others are in a band in the high-80s. Okay, so we have someone who definitely scored in a class of their own. (We don't need to get into the details of creating the test fairly and grading, but that is a whole thing.) So you maybe say, cool, let's get that person. They are the best, they have the most technical skill. But then you call their references and you learn that though they are indeed very skilled, there was some conflict at their previous work that involved them, and they don't have the best team dynamic. That may not necessarily be a problem, but this position is in a team of ten people. This could lead to problems. Maybe the person who placed second in the test had effusive references and showed good team leadership. Now the choice is not as obvious as to which is the "best" candidate. It could be the person who had the most technical ability, but not necessarily, and maybe the slight difference in technical ability between the two candidates is not a sufficient difference to appreciably matter. That's just two competing things, and it's already kind of complicated to determine who the "best" person is. There's probably a threshold where the delta in technical skill matters enough that the first place person is best, but that's probably fuzzy. (Though I imagine tech companies probably use a lot of analytics to quantify and evaluate these.) In reality, it's not just two qualities that are being balanced, it's tons. Instead of a 0 to 100 scale, it's maybe twenty 0 to 100 scales, and almost assuredly no one is to score the best in every conceivable desirable quality. It gets messy and nonobvious who the best is. 

For moderation, I think it's harder than a position that has some objective, demonstrable technical skill. We want people who are passionate about Brandon's works, who work well in a team, who have good judgment. These are hard to evaluate and not clear-cut. For passion about Brandon's works, that can manifest in very different ways. A person who read every book 20x times is not necessarily "better" than someone who read them twice. Do you need to read every book? Not necessarily. Is a candidate worse for not reading, say, Snapshot or Sixth of the Dusk? Not necessarily. They could be awesome in other ways. 

What about working in a team? That could be demonstrated in many ways, but again, I don't think it's clear-cut. You don't need to have worked on a team like this to do well here (in fact, many of our staff had not done something like this before). Certainly if someone did have a lot of experience working in a team, that can be nice, but that isn't the only way to do things.

And those are just two things. There are many, many other qualities that could lead to a person being a great staff member. It's actually really complicated to determine what is "best". So I find this notion that you keep referring to about skill being the only thing that matters seems... Simplistic. You always need to balance the qualities you want. There won't necessarily be a clear best, most skillful. There could be, but certainly not necessarily. Much more likely there are people coming in with different backgrounds, skills, and passions that are not directly comparable and we would need to make difficult choices from there. So I'm just saying, "pick the most skilled" is easy to say, but super complicated in practice.

Perhaps your meaning is going as follows: if more people are from one group then, by absolute numbers, there are more good candidates from that group. Which, sure, but that doesn't invalidate that there are surely other candidates from other groups who are also great, which we can now capture much better due to random chance with this questionnaire. 

But more importantly, this does not mean we aren't going avoid staffing, say, a white cishet males anymore. So if anyone is reading this, that's you, and you're wondering if you can still apply, of course! We are not going to be avoiding amazing candidates here. All we are doing is intentionally thinking about our practices and identifying barriers to diversity, so that people of any group--who are qualified and awesome, as that must exist--can be found and included. That's what diversity, equity, and inclusion is about. There is no way there are not people of most any group you can think of who can be passionate about Brandon's works and have qualities we are looking for, and we'd like to find them.

And for anyone worried that this is a big change, it really isn't. We have long done things like this in many respects, such as gender, time zone, and race/ethnicity, and more. It has always been a factor. Now we can just more intentionally do the same thing with this questionnaire.

I realize I wrote way too much here, and you stated you wanted to bow out, so my sincere apologies on that. You are always welcome to message me or PM any of us staff if you wish if you'd like to discuss further. No worries if not. I hope I explained our perspective effectively so that you can understand where we are coming from.

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To defend Chaos's example about the face detection algorithm a bit. I work with machine learning models for my day job, and most of the recent press about bias in these algorithms has been due to these machine learning models not being trained on varied enough data (e.g. they fed it a lot of pictures of white people, and very few pictures of black people). 

So in this case the skill level of the developers in entirely irrelevant, the actual algorithm does not change at all, it just needs more varied training data. The problem was that no one at the organization even thought to ask the question "How well does this work on people who aren't white?" before they published the model. The problem was not one of skill, but rather a lack of perspective.

I don't want to speak for the staff, but I assume that when it comes to diversity, they are not looking to improve in areas they are already pretty good at (though that may well happen), but rather have their eyes opened to problems that they never would have thought to question themselves. 

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19 minutes ago, Kolten said:

To defend Chaos's example about the face detection algorithm a bit. I work with machine learning models for my day job, and most of the recent press about bias in these algorithms has been due to these machine learning models not being trained on varied enough data (e.g. they fed it a lot of pictures of white people, and very few pictures of black people). 

So in this case the skill level of the developers in entirely irrelevant, the actual algorithm does not change at all, it just needs more varied training data. The problem was that no one at the organization even thought to ask the question "How well does this work on people who aren't white?" before they published the model. The problem was not one of skill, but rather a lack of perspective.

I don't want to speak for the staff, but I assume that when it comes to diversity, they are not looking to improve in areas they are already pretty good at (though that may well happen), but rather have their eyes opened to problems that they never would have thought to question themselves. 

This is exactly what I meant in regards to that example. Thanks! 

Regarding your last paragraph, certainly in regards to diversity that is our primary goal. But there's of course an aspect of just, hey, we need more hands on deck for the absurd 2023 that is coming toward us, with Year of Sanderson as well as this adaptation stuff. 

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