As the world focuses more on diversity, inclusion and equity, many nonprofits are turning a keen eye to how their services are doled out. Foundations are analyzing grantee practices and associations are providing diversity and inclusion (D&I) resources for their member groups. At the same time, it’s critical for organizations to consider their own internal culture, how inclusivity factors into culture, and what steps can be taken to improve culture for everyone.
Below, we have outlined five steps that organizations can take to create a culture conducive to diversity and inclusion. If you’re just beginning your D&I journey though, first check out The National Council of Nonprofits’ article Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matter for Nonprofits.
#1: Start Talking About Diversity and Inclusion
Silence around important D&I issues has resulted in the needs and perspectives of minority groups being overlooked for too long. Though it may be uncomfortable, or you may not know exactly what to say, the first step to creating change is to begin talking about D&I issues. One starting point could be discussing and reviewing current recruiting practices with management team members. It is also crucial to consider what spaces are available for minority employees and what blind spots or biases your organization may currently have.
#2: Appoint One or More DEI Ambassadors
Once you’ve started the conversation, you’ll need leaders who can champion diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI). Without an organizational leader championing the cause, individuals from minority groups may find it challenging to voice their DEI concerns. These individuals may fear that their concerns are ignored, or, worse, that they will be classified as a problem. To ensure that minorities are heard at your organization, appoint one or more DEI ambassadors who have authority and are passionate about advocating for cultural changes.
#3: Adjust Decision-Making
Historically, nonprofits have had a top-down leadership structure which means decision-making is riddled with exclusivity. To foster an inclusive culture, your organization should consider whether the decision-making process itself needs more collaboration with representatives from minority groups. Diverse perspectives can foster internal innovation, and drive new idea generation. Consider ways to encourage diverse team members to speak up and share their perspectives and needs. For example, a male leader who is part of an organization’s dominant group can help foster diverse perspectives by giving female employees the resources and spaces to design their own maternity support program, with resources such as a lactation room for nursing mothers.
#4: Evaluate Current Barriers
There are inherent barriers in the workplace that create challenges for diverse members of non-dominant groups. Inclusivity relies on the removal of these barriers with a careful understanding of what they are. So, while you’re talking about it, consider what training, leadership, educational, or social barriers there are in your organization that keep minority team members from reaching their full potential. Not only do these barriers include overt racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia, but they can also be more subtle barriers relating to areas like fair performance evaluation or access to networks. If you are having a hard time knowing where to start, running an internal audit can help uncover experiences of your team that you are currently unaware of.
#5: Foster Compassion and Empathy
None of the above steps matter if this last step isn’t a staple of your culture. Compassion is likely why you’re in the nonprofit industry: helping others because they need it; because they are human, and they deserve better. The same is true internally. Your workers want to work for an organization that cares about the community, but also cares about them. To create a more compassionate culture toward inclusivity, take a page from the book of improvisation. Instead of saying “no, that can’t be,” say, “Yes, and…” With this trick, whatever the problem is, you begin from a place of belief and positivity, and then you can move toward a solution.
As the nonprofit sector seeks to make the world a better place, it is also important for organizations themselves to seek to make the workplace better for all employees. While the nonprofit sector has considerable room for progress, starting a conversation about D&I, appointing DEI ambassadors, adjusting decision-making, evaluating current barriers and fostering compassion are all crucial steps to start improving organizational culture. Above all, through these five steps, organizations can strive to create a more inclusive and equitable future for all.