Nonprofits have long supported underserved communities and done great things for communities in need. And while that work continues, there is a change that needs to be made. Nonprofits need to hold up a mirror to themselves and take action around diversity, equity and inclusion in their own organizations. DEI is no longer just a nice-to-have. Research has confirmed there is an increased level of innovation and better outcomes when you have a diverse team working together.
Day in and day out, nonprofits are behind the scenes making people and communities feel dignified and deserving of basic human rights. They focus on creating awareness of the beauty all around us. They make our communities better. And yet, sometimes they forget their own employees. Especially in this time when work looks and feels different. When the work of nonprofit has had to evolve to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and broken systems that have been in place for years, there needs to be an intentional approach to making internal teams better and creating safe spaces for diversity to shine.
For the internal team of nonprofits, all focus, energy and time goes to the communities being served. Sometimes, this leads to systemic bias, discrimination and lack of diversity on the team. We know this is not the intention of the nonprofit, so how do we fix it?
- Engage in a dialogue around diversity, equity and inclusion language being used to create an agreement among the whole team.
- Create a safe place for everyone to share their ideas. Even if the idea seems outside the box, let the ideas flow so everyone can contribute and be heard. This can lead to some amazing innovations in the way work gets done.
- Listen and learn from your team members, the communities you serve and the communities you don’t serve. You may learn something you didn’t know from another person’s perspective or lived experience.
- Look “around the table” at who is on your team. If you don’t have diversity on your team today, look at your recruiting and hiring practices to figure out how you might be able to drive more diversity. This is tough when you have small teams, but it’s even more important that you truly consider and act intentionally every time you add a new team member.
- Say thank you to your team members (peers should do this, too). This can go a long way to feeling valued and heard.
- Engage with experts to decrease bias and increase inclusion on your team.
A lot of boards have struggled with creating diversity in their ranks. This is not limited to nonprofit boards. In the fo r-profit sector, certain jurisdictions have signed laws to create gender equity on boards. This is a good first step, but focuses only on gender. When boards are recruiting for new members, they need to truly look at the communities they serve. This is true in the nonprofit sector, too. Nonprofit boards need to take an intentional approach to board recruitment and selection.
Some questions you can think about when adding new board members include:
- Take stock of your current board. Do you have representation from the communities you serve?
- Is there a gender balance (including non-binary folks, too)?
- Is there representation from for-profit companies that can help to drive innovation?
- Is your board entirely white? In Arizona, more than 32% of the population is Chicano/Hispanic and 5% of our population is Indigenous Peoples. Is that reflected on your board?
- What other historically underserved communities would be good to add to your board?
The key to the evolution happening on nonprofit teams and boards can be started by taking an intentional approach. Yes, it takes time, but the benefits are truly amazing to see!
Katee Van Horn is DEI strategist for VH Included Consulting and Coaching