I know this post may be fraught.
I want to address how important diversity, equity and inclusion are to the advancement field. Since the murder of George Floyd, the nation and world have been woke to pervasive institutional racism, the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. A light has also been shined on the presence and effects of implicit bias around race, people with disabilities, and sexual orientation, somethings we all harbor to some extent.
As nonprofit leaders, we are well aware of the need to avoid a “stale, male and pale” board of directors. Though I fit the last two descriptors, I have a forty-year history of working with and living in diverse communities.
Potential Missed Opportunities
That said, I am concerned that bending over too far on this subject can be detrimental to your organization. I am seeing:
- Professional organizations declining high quality trainings because a person of color is not included in the presentation.
- Highly qualified white job candidates passed over because employers seek to be inclusive.
- Board recruiting focusing almost exclusively on people of color who may not satisfy other core board needs.
Would you believe I support affirmative action, served as secretary of the Portland (OR) Urban League, built a staff where half the employees were people of color, and designed and led a successful employer-assisted program to improve health and reduce crime in Portland’s poorest quadrant through home ownership?
This post is cautionary about pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion thoughtfully and in ways your organization can sustain these through policies, self-awareness and programs. Moving too quickly with change may result in missed opportunities for your organization.
I suggest you establish a board-level committee that includes employees and a specialized consultant – to address diversity, equity and inclusion. Identify your organization’s current practices and culture, state where you want to be in five years, set objectives to get you there, and establish policies and programs to meet and sustain your objectives.
The urgency of this issue is manifest every day. We must be smart about how we make change that will work and will last.
Photo by: Kiana Bosman on Unsplash
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nicely done, Larry. T’is a fine line you are managing, as DEI has for so long been a ‘no action’ priority list item…but caution about the needle going too far one way or the other is sensible. It is of course feasible to increase the diversity of a board without sacrificing quality. It may require some patience and good judgment.
Investing in sustainable change is crucial. However, I’m concerned by the concept that urgent, firm DEI boundaries are not thoughtful, or are even to an organization’s detriment. What are outlined here as ‘missed opportunities’ are the very choices that enable lasting change:
– Professional organizations declining all-white facilitation teams, instead choosing to rebuild their rubric for what constitutes ‘high quality’ trainings
– A new talent pipeline of highly qualified, diverse job candidates who are being given the same hiring advantages and opportunities their white colleagues have long received
– Organizations reevaluating what ‘core’ board needs are, and whether anything that excludes diverse trustees should truly be considered core.
+1 to Natalie!
– If a professional training doesn’t include a single of person of color, is it truly high quality? It would not be hard to find a person of color who was an expert in the field.
– Fundraising is 85% white. There are lots of highly qualified white candidates who get passed over every day for a variety of reasons. We must be intentional about increasing the racial diversity of our field.
– How are you defining “core board needs”? I would argue that representing the community you’re supposed to serve is the primary role of a board.
Finally, we cannot wait for “five year plans”. There are literally hundreds of years of harm behind us. I disagree with your idea that we could “bend too far” or “move too quickly” when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.