I have heard from several of you about the importance of DEI issues and of having an actionable plan for addressing them. From what I hear from our consultants and clients, there is some good news, and still much work to do.
In the room were 13 nonprofit Executive Directors, Board Members, and Board Presidents ready to give their biggest takeaways from their most recent roles and engagements. We let each nonprofit leader offer their observations and have compiled those to share with you. Afterwards, we’ll offer actionable next steps that your organization can take to bridge generational gaps.
I like the focus on racism vs. DEI. I've always felt the DEI approach was too squishy and had way too many off-ramps to be effective. That said, the mission of a nonprofit typically isn't to dismantle institutional racism. It's to feed the hungry, house the homeless, educat[e] the children, bring art and culture into our lives, etc. Its effectiveness is measured in how well it executes on its mission. If a food bank with a ‘white’ management structure feeds twice as many people than one with an ‘anti-racism’ management structure, which is the more effective nonprofit? How important is it to the people being served how the nonprofit management is structured? Don't get me wrong I don't have any patience or apologies for nonprofits that operate in a way that excludes anyone, and yes, the vestiges of racism go deeper than whether white employees use the n-word or overtly marginalize their co-workers of color. I just feel that leaving the purpose and mission of the nonprofit out of the conversation is an oversight and relegates this work to an ancillary position instead of mission critical.”
One of the authors of the article, our own Dave Lenox, addressed that feedback in saying:
We hear you! We are hearing these exact sentiments from clients across sectors. What we do NOT want is for DEI efforts to be seen as a reason to stop serving the people (or environment, or animals, for that matter) that we were formed to serve. It will take all of us working together to address systemic and unconscious bias. But we can't stop the important work of helping in other ways while we do that!
That comment and the response broach a really critical topic: have today’s hot button topics like anti-racism, diversity, equity, and politics gone too far? Or, more specifically, have the focus on these topics sidetracked well-intentioned nonprofits from their primary missions, thereby reducing their effectiveness?
One reason for limited outcomes from these efforts is that they have softened the topic itself and uncomfortable discussions around it by bundling it all into a bumper-sticker of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Instead, if we want to achieve authentic DEI outcomes, we need to talk about racism, identify it in our organizations, and address it systemically as a structural, procedural, and cultural issue.
Strategies and Tactics for Supporting Diversity in Hiring
What is performative diversity? Performative diversity is when an organization advocates and affirms a commitment to DEI but takes no practical actions towards achieving it.
Moving past affirmations and into action requires thoughtful, proactive, and concrete steps to foster a workplace that genuinely values a broadly diverse workforce. One of the most critical processes to examine and improve is your hiring practices, policies, and approach. The way your organization approaches hiring the Executive Director sets the tone for DEI in the rest of the organization. It also sends a message about how serious your Board is about equity.
As you begin to navigate your upcoming leadership transition, here is a list of some practices your organization can adopt that builds towards a more equitable, transparent, and human-centric hiring process.
Who are you? How do you interact with the world? When are you at your best as part of a team?
These seemingly simple questions are actually landmines for many, perhaps most, of us when we think about our participation in life, and more specifically the workplace. Employers are not unique in raising the issues of diversity regarding the people we interact with, equity in how people are valued and supported, and meaningful inclusion of people who come from different lived experiences. We pick our friends, and sometimes enemies, based on some of these factors. We create communities where we feel at least the first two of those factors because we can relax in those communities and just be ourselves.
Add in the context of a “DEI Filter” in the hiring process and the nuance underlying those questions can sometimes be completely skipped over because the interviewer thinks they know who you are, how you will interact with the world, and what you will bring to the team based on how you look or their first impression of you and your experience as represented on a resume.
I regularly see discussions around DEI committee membership that openly refer to someone “representing the African American community,” or the “BIPOC community.” I wonder how those people feel about that tokenism. (Because, let’s be clear, if that is how their selection was approached, then they are literally serving as tokens to represent those communities.) How can one person be expected to represent the entirety of the richness, diversity, and lived experience of the African American community? Or any community for that matter?
As we approach the national holiday that celebrates the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. it seems appropriate to revisit the reason we NEED a National Holiday to reflect on his legacy, and what we, as nonprofit leaders can and should DO with such a holiday.
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