Diversity Challenges Nonprofits Face And Overcoming Them

The lack of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in corporate leadership is now a common topic of debate. Although there has been less public criticism of the nonprofit and foundation sector’s lack of leadership diversity, these organizations are far exempt from the problem. Battalia Winston analyzed the leadership teams of the 315 largest foundations and nonprofits in the US and found that these organizations also suffer from homogeneity. While 42% of nonprofit organizations have female executive directors, 87% of all executive directors or presidents were white, with only minimal representation of African-Americans, Asians, or Latino individuals. It’s already known that diversity helps for-profit organizations to be more innovative, creative, drive growth, and boost the quality of decision making. Having a workforce and a leadership suite that mirrors the population your organization is serving, is equally important for nonprofits and foundations.

There are several best practices that nonprofits and foundations can implement that can help make them more attractive to (and maintain) diverse talent:

Educate Your Leaders

Your organization’s leadership suite will be instrumental to your D&I efforts. “At the end of the day, it’s the leader who’s on the front line with our employees,” says Dianne Campbell, vice president of global diversity and inclusion at American Express in Washington, D.C. Leaders at every level should undergo training in unconscious bias, which occurs when individuals make judgments about people based on gender, race or other factors without realizing they’re doing it. This training helps make people aware of this form of bias and emphasizes the importance of modeling inclusive behavior such as engaging in active listening and encouraging different points of view—in meetings, performance reviews, and other interactions. Some organizations define diversity on broad attributes such as gender and race which are all intertwined when discussing diversity, there are more dimensions that should be included in a truly diverse work environment such as background dynamics, life experiences, educational experience, and welcoming unique perspectives. This is essential for leadership to understand. Social dynamics research has shown that people inherently understand when they are not supposed to speak. Even if an organization’s formal policies promote inclusion, the interpersonal dynamics in meetings can send a different message. This reinforces the status quo, implying who is authorized to be on the playing field. Remind yourself that every person has value (regardless of organizational level) and be prepared to listen with an open mind.

Elevate the Benefits of D&I in the Workplace

An organization’s success and competitive advantage depend upon its ability to embrace D&I and realize the benefits. According to a study done by McKinsey & Co., racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 35%. That means if you want to raise more money or achieve any type of results-based goals; you will do more and better with diverse teams. Studies show that teams with and equal division of labor across genders, earn 41% more in revenue. If you have been wondering why your fundraising goals have plateaued over the years, it might not be because your donors are simply not interested.

Identify High Potential Talent

Nonprofits should view differences as an asset and look for candidates that will add a different perspective that is not currently represented within the team as a hiring criterion. A candidate that brings something different to your team in ethnicity, race, gender, socioeconomic background, hobbies or interests allows you to build an multi-functional organization. Nonprofit organizations should also be aware that as baby boomers retire in larger numbers, they could be leveraged as a diversity resource toward  the tail end of the employee lifecycle. Leadership can use those transitions to engage in a succession-management process, asking soon-to-depart employees to sponsor and mentor potential leaders inside the organization, prepare them for promotion, and encourage diverse candidates to express their interest in moving up.

Commit to D&I in the Workplace

Attracting and hiring talented individuals is just the beginning. To support, retain and develop employees’ full potential, D&I must be a part of the employee experience at all levels. Think about how to mitigate bias and maximize the equity in everything from employee reviews, professional development, promotions, compensation, meetings, and more.