What’s Up With The Lack of Diversity in Nonprofit Staffing?

white handsThe nonprofit industry is just as bad as corporate America when it comes to diversity.  It actually feels more paternalistic and colonialistic when you know that over 82% of nonprofit employees and 93% of nonprofit leaders are white, while according to Annie E. Casey Foundation at least 60% of nonprofits serve primarily people of color.  My friend and nonprofit colleague Vu Le wrote more extensively about this in his post “Waiting for unicorns: The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion“.

Like Vu, I’m constantly asked by my white colleagues for help diversifying their staff and sometimes their board.  I’ve stopped doing it for the most part.  I just can’t anymore because it feels like folks are looking for a magic bullet answer that won’t require them to do or change much.  I did make an exception last week by giving advice to someone I consider a really good friend, because she has been working really hard on what she needs to do to make her team as diverse as she wants and needs it to be.  She is making great strides and hasn’t given up on a a process that does take time.

So here is why I stopped:

  • Lack of intersectionality – I’m sick of programs that are targeted towards women, yet they somehow forgot to include women of color until they got called out on it. In the near future, I’m writing an entire post on this called “Ain’t I a Woman?”
  • Diversity is not a skill – People think having a little diversity training will magically get people of color to apply to their job openings and be happy working at their nonprofit.
  • It’s an inconvenience – Often folks talk to me about diversifying their workforce as if it’s some kind of inconvenience for them, but a necessary evil so they can get more donations by appearing to be diverse.
  • No applause warranted – Some people actually expect a pat on the back when they suddenly realized their staff should represent their constituents. Prime example is this blog post in Huff Post by the founder of TechBridge, a program that serves girls of color. All I could do is shake my head, not clap my hands.  Don’t get me wrong, we should encourage awareness, but really did it warrant national recognition when it’s something she should have so obviously considered when the org was started?
  • People of color can play many roles – When there are openings and diversity is the goal, it’s often for low-level job or for jobs with titles like “Community Outreach Coordinator”, “Diversity Coordinator”, etc.  People of color can be directors, VPs, ED, CEO, COO, CIO, CFO, etc.  We have a variety of skillsets to bring to the table.

There’s more, but those are the main reasons.  So what does one do to diversify their workforce then you ask? Here are some thoughts:

  • Check yourself (and your current team) – Do you really want to diversify your workplace?  Why? What needs to change in you?
  • Your culture needs to be welcoming – Getting people of color in the door is called “diversity”.  Keeping them and making them feel like they belong and contribute is called “inclusion”.  Diversity is easy relative to inclusion.  If you recruit people to an environment where they cannot bring their full selves, see a way to contribute to the work, have a clear path for advancement, etc., then they will leave as soon as they can find another place to work.
  • Having an advanced degree isn’t everything – I know quite a few really good nonprofit professionals of color who don’t have advanced degrees and they routinely get turned down for even an interview because of it.  Many non-degreed people have enough on the ground experience which in my mind trumps the newly minted college graduate.
  • Get to know your current staff of color – If there are people of color in your nonprofit, find out if they are happy. This could be tricky and require an outside source to moderate the discussion without you in the room.  Most candidates for open jobs come from referrals.  If your current staff of color are not happy, then you will not get referrals.
  • Go beyond your typical job posting places – If you’re posting on Craig’s List or your local professional association’s site, you are in the wrong place. There are numerous social media groups on Facebook and Linked In that cater to people of color.  Post there.
  • Hire people of color at high levels – Nonprofit board members, next time you’re looking for a new ED or CEO, thing about your constituents and what message you’re sending.

This is a very big topic that warrants more than a blog post and a few diversity workshops, but I hope it at least gets some important dialog and subsequent action going.  You can start that dialog right here by commenting (and throw out a few suggestions) if you’d like.

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