On Our Minds

Working with so many organizations across multiple issue areas gives us a unique view into what’s happening in the social sector. This is where we share our insights and ruminations.
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Meet an On-Ramper: Laura Polk

“Meet an On-Ramper” is an interview series in which one of our team members discusses their work, their interests, and what it’s like to work at our search firm. In this edition, Research Specialist Laura Polk (she/her) shares how her identity, lived experiences, and background in anthropology influence her work. 

Please share some background on how long you’ve been at On-Ramps and what brought you here in the first place.

I joined On-Ramps in October 2019. I went to grad school for applied anthropology and have a background in qualitative research and ethnography. After grad school, I worked at several, mostly faith-based, nonprofits doing advocacy, community organizing, and policy work.

So, I really have an eclectic background and I think my role as a Research Specialist at On-Ramps really allows me to bring all my different experiences together to do some good. 

What energizes you about working at On-Ramps?

The language On-Ramps was using around DEI drew me to the position. I'm used to organizations paying lip service to diversity and inclusion, but it was clear from my first interview with Cindy that On-Ramps is genuinely committed to DEI. We’re actively encouraged to find candidates from marginalized groups, and I’m really proud of the contributions I’ve been able to find new, creative ways to find more diverse candidates. Seeing a candidate that I found get the job is really energizing. Being part of the effort to break down the barriers and subvert the gatekeeping that excludes historically marginalized people is very exciting and deeply personal.

When I applied to graduate school, I wasn’t a typical candidate. I hadn’t been an anthropology major, didn’t have experience doing fieldwork, and had been out of school for a few years. There was a Black faculty member in the anthropology department who made the case for me to be accepted into the program. I was qualified, but it took a person saying, "Hey, this person isn't who we normally admit, but I think they're qualified." I think about that experience a lot in my work at On-Ramps—how someone opened the door for me so that I would be able to open the door for other folks. Remembering that energizes me and drives my commitment to my work at On-Ramps.

How does your background in anthropology—specifically in anthropological fieldwork—influence your work at On-Ramps?

On an organizational level, I’m able to look at all aspects of an organization and make sense of current trends in the nonprofit field. On a more interpersonal level, anthropologists are trained to look at multiple sides of a story. That comes into play when I’m on a call with a client because I’m able to observe and assess the interpersonal dynamics between the people on the call. 

My background in ethnography is instrumental in finding creative ways to source candidates and my ability to work well with other members of the On-Ramps team.

Outside of anthropology, how do your passions and interests intersect with your role at On-Ramps?

I teach English as a second language, primarily to adults. As a result, I work with a lot of people from other parts of the world who are learning to navigate American culture. One way my work at On-Ramps has influenced my work in the classroom is that it gives me new insight into employment, hiring practices, and navigating the job search. There are times when I can share some of those insights with my students because the curriculum that I’m teaching is often directly related to English for participating in the workplace.

That experience has shaped the way I think about my work as a Research Specialist at On-Ramps because I’ve seen firsthand some of the barriers that my students are facing as job-seekers.

In particular, it has framed my approach to searches for candidates with international experience. Working with my students inspired me to start looking at schools overseas and looking at people from other parts of the world who are working in the US. Automatically, candidates attending non-U.S. schools or who moved to the US from elsewhere have that international experience, and they’re often able to bring a new, less U.S.-centric perspective. It's exciting to see that play out in the search.

How do the identities you hold influence your work at On-Ramps?

Something I've talked about with my colleagues is that I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). That's always been kind of a challenge in the workplace, but with On-Ramps, I've found that my colleagues recognize that it’s something that affects me. I know that sounds small, but you'd be surprised with a lot of employers, that basic concept is very hard. I also appreciate that there are really clear expectations and that I regularly receive helpful feedback so I know if I’m meeting those expectations and how I can improve. Having ADD is like having the traffic cop in your brain be asleep—a friend of mine described it that way—and that affects your everyday tasks. At the basic level, my colleagues make space for me to talk about it and explain how it affects me and talk about strategies to help me do better.

I know that people with disabilities bring a vital perspective to the room. But, many people don’t put their disability status on their resume or cover letter. So I’m thinking a lot about creative ways to find candidates with disabilities. I haven't really figured out how to do that yet; it’s really an ongoing process. However, my own experience as someone working with ADD definitely influences how I understand, assess, and interact with candidates. 

My experience job searching as a person of color is something that guides how I do this work too. I actually think about it a lot because identity is something we really focus on at On-Ramps. There’s this idea of looking for markers or cues—things on a candidate’s resume that indicate a marginalized identity—as a way to source a truly diverse pool of candidates.   

When I first started learning about how we look for those cues and markers at On-Ramps, the first thing I said was, "Oh, I took those off my resume years ago." Oftentimes no one would realize that I'm a person of color until I showed up to a job interview because, on paper, I don’t read as a minority. 

So, it’s exciting and refreshing to work at a search firm like On-Ramps where we’re specifically looking for folks with those markers. At the same time, I still go into the search knowing that there are a lot of people like me who write their resumes thinking "I just need to get my foot in the door, and I know that this ethnic sounding name might cause my resume to go in the trash and I'm trying to pay rent." It really comes down to being a personal decision.

I'm hoping that one day, marginalized people won’t feel the need to hide their identities by using first initials in lieu of “ethnic” sounding names in order to pass as white, or western, or anything else or by taking affinity groups off their resumes. Contributing to making that change is definitely something that energizes me about this job.

Want to work with Laura and the rest of our phenomenal team? 

We’re hiring a Research Specialist and several other positions. Click here to learn more and apply!