My colleague, Shannon Williams, gave me some great starting advice as I was onboarding with Armstrong McGuire. “Nevin, please free to poke a hole in what you see.” These words were liberating to me, as I saw this not only as an invitation to be at the table, but to also bring my ideas.
Now, I would like to poke some holes in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts, especially with racial diversity and inclusion, that I have witnessed in my nonprofit career. First, here are some stats I carry with me from the last 20 years to provide some context.
o Zero out of 4 CEO/Presidents that I have worked for have been people of color.
o Zero out of 5 board chairs that I have worked with have been people of color.
o Zero leads of finance were people of color.
o Zero leads of development were people of color.
o Zero out of 5 foundation program officers that I partnered with over the last several years have been people of color.
So, yay DEI efforts, but…
Then I see and hear about unfulfilled DEI statements, DEI efforts gone wrong, and people thinking that DEI work was just a fad in our sector.
I’ve got to be honest, as a person of color, all of this stings me to my soul. In fact, I have had to take an intentional year off from formal DEI work to reset and heal.
During this year of reflection, I have some thoughts to share on how to attract, retain, and celebrate diversity within your organization.
1. Invest in your current staff and future incoming leaders. This can be investments in everything from salaries to professional development. At the board level, who are you inviting to join and how is your board seeking future diverse board leadership? If we are going to change stats, we need to realize that we are all responsible for building the future pipeline of diverse leaders in the nonprofit sector.
2. Share your networks with your team. This is one important way to share power. It can be as simple as taking staff to attend meetings with partners, pitches to donors, taking them to conferences, or recommending staff to serve on partner boards. Then take some time to scan your own network and ask yourself these questions: Does everyone in my network have the same type of roles as me? Do they all look like me? And what new relationships can I invest in to invite more diversity of thoughts or approaches into my network?
3. Take time to really get to know your staff and new hires as people. The members of your team are human. They are not just the work they are responsible for in their positions. Once you have developed these relationships, take the time to maintain them and remember real relationships come with ups and downs.
4. Pull the curtain behind your DEI statement and define what it really means in action. Do your policies and practices support action beyond this statement? How are you measuring these actions to see progress? What is your plan if you are not seeing progress?
5. Leaders can no longer just wing DEI efforts. It takes learning, skills, practice, focus, intentionality, being authentic and vulnerable and requires buy in from others. Ask for professional help when you or your team needs it in the DEI space.
6. DEI work is not a linear process and there are no shortcuts. This work will not be comfortable to anyone and there will be times you feel that you are moving backwards. Sometimes you need to move backwards to move forward.
7. Dominant subgroups are not take-down targets. Trust me, you are going to need everyone advocating for the changes we are looking for in this space. At the same time, dominant subgroups should be accountable for doing this work and be champions for it.
8. DEI work cannot be a standalone. Instead, it must be part of the fabric of your organization. I have watched too many folks create DEI committees at the staff and board level or hire a DEI focused position and put all the weight for change on them. To move forward in the DEI journey, it is going take everyone in an organization being committed to this change and doing the work. Create a culture where it is the norm, not a standalone.
9. Bonus bullet point. While this post has mainly focused on racial diversity and inclusion, do not just stop here. Focus on all marginalized populations and forms of diversity. Your DEI journey needs to be inclusive also.
There is a lot to think through here and I am okay if you need to “poke a hole in it.” While your wheels are spinning, please free to share your thoughts through Race to Lead’s survey that is open until the end of the month.
My hopes are that the stats I shared at the beginning will be a thing of the past for all of us soon. I continue to be excited about a more diverse and inclusive nonprofit sector. Wishing you well on your DEI journey and see you down the trail.