Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – What Can We Do?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – What Can We Do?

At a recent joint meeting of Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Alliance, members heard from peers on how their organizations had taken action on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Read more here.  (link to part 1)

Attendees spent the second half of the meeting in discussion at their tables, sharing what they have already done, what obstacles they face, and what ideas they have.

What is underway

Common ways that GPP and NPA participant organizations are already working on DEI include:

Statements – Several organizations had approved a statement of some kind, such as a hiring policy, a values statement emphasizing diversity, equity, and/or inclusion, or an alteration to the vision or mission statement.

Training and education for staff or board members, formally or informally, was cited by many, ranging from local sessions with Shine the Light, workshops offered by national affiliates of local nonprofits, or in-depth programs like the Racial Equity Institute or Race Forward.

Recruiting more diverse staff and board members – This was mentioned by many, but most also qualified their statement by saying how hard it is to do this well and that efforts thus far hadn’t been very successful or well-executed.

Looking at data either within their organization (for example, of service recipients) or at the community level

Taking the first steps of an organizational assessment or establishing a committee

Many said they were still really working to understand and embrace the “why” of DEI.  As one participant said, “If this is a race, we are just now looking to buy our sneakers.”  There was great desire to “take on” DEI and a strong recognition of its importance, but a lot of uncertainty around how (or how to find the resources to do so).

What is holding us back?

Common obstacles were cited by many in the room.

A lack of understanding prevents people from getting started, which could be disagreement that inequity is a problem (a view most often held by those with privilege).  But it could also simply be  unfamiliarity with terminology and a framework for thinking and talking about DEI.

Organizational culture and lack of readiness – including the ability to have brave conversations and an openness of leadership, coworkers, and board – is a concern.

Uncertainty about what to do and how much time and money it will take is a hindrance.  “It’s easy to talk, but hard to take action,” said one participant.  Who will own it?  What should we do first?  How do I find resources to help?

The board’s lack of support or awareness of the issue – particularly when board are not diverse – was cited by many.

Practical aspects of recruiting new, diverse staff when a staff is already in place are obstacles.  And more deeply, when nonprofit work is so demanding but also usually pays less, it means either that people of privilege are more able to take the jobs or that people without privilege can’t access economic mobility through nonprofit work (in a way that’s often counter to the nonprofit’s mission).

What could help?

The funders and nonprofits gathered brainstormed things that could help them look at DEI in their organizations.  Their comments had several consistent themes.

More education and training – Participants wanted training they could attend and that they could bring onsite.  They were also interested in trainings segmented to different audiences (e.g. board, staff, volunteers) and topics (e.g. blind spots, unconscious bias, terminology, and the how-tos of policy change).

Support for engaging leadership – Many wanted an outside party (for example funders or peers from other boards) to put pressure on their CEOs or board chairs for why DEI is important.

Structure and a plan – Is there a “how to” manual, or at least a suggested list of best practices that organizations could follow?  Could trainers or coaches be made available to help organizations in their journey?

Cohort model or “equity buddies” – Several felt that going through the process alongside other organizations would be helpful to share what has and hasn’t worked, create accountability and encouragement, and practically to simply share resources.

Specific tools and resources – Many wondered if a recommended reading, movie, podcast, and other resource list could be created.  Specifically, assistance with recruitment of diverse candidates for board and staff was desired. Click here for some of the resources already mentioned.

One size does not fit all – Some of the organizations are large and others are a one- or two-person shop.  How these resources could be modified to context is important to consider.

Overall, the funders and nonprofits gathered emphasized that they understand diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to fulfilling their organizational missions.  But acting on them can be another matter.  There is great interest in how GPP and NPA can offer support to members as they go through their DEI journey.

A famous quote on inclusion and equity from Lilla Watson, indigenous Austrailian artist, academic and activist captures it well: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  Our community’s future is bound up in us getting this right, and in doing it together.

If you’re interested in participating in future discussions or planning or have additional resources to offer, please contact Catherine Puckett with the Nonprofit Alliance or Katy Smith with Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy.