Demonstrating Diversity: 5 tips for inclusiveness

I once heard a story about Stephen Lewis, who when being asked to sit on a prestigious nonprofit board, responded that they didn’t need ‘another old white guy’.  Wow, what a challenge to those directors to diversify their board, and to our nonprofit leadership in general.

I have the privilege of being paid to work towards a more just, informed and healthy world. I recognize and celebrate this, and yet when I look around I see that we social change workers are generally a pretty privileged lot – we tend to be a largely white, straight, middle-class, able-bodied bunch. Living in Toronto, it can be a stark difference between the inside of our organizations and the communities that we seek to communicate with and support.

Many of us in the social change sector have hiring and anti-oppression policies in place. Yet, as a recent study out of the US found, our policies don’t seem to be put into meaningful practice:

“While almost 9 out of 10 employees believe their organization values diversity, more than 7 out of 10 believe their employer does not do enough to create a diverse and inclusive work environment.”

This report goes on to highlight some research on these disconnects between our non-profit diversity good intentions and the reality:

“it is nearly 2-3 times as difficult to recruit people of color in fundraising, program and other functional areas.”
“many employees of color experience the presence of bias and unfair treatment in the workplace”
“up to 84 percent of nonprofits are led by whites, and 9.5 out of 10 philanthropic organizations are led by whites.”


These failures impact individual leaders, communities and organizations – from tension and distrust, to high employee turnover rates and lost productivity, nonprofits cannot afford to undermine their/our future change leaders of colour.

What can we do to address this privileged reality in our organizations? This study recommends that we:

1. Have open conversations about diversity, guided by professional facilitators, within our organizations.

2. Commit to clear goals and strategies that operationalize our vision in the form of a diversity statement.

3. Work with partners and networks that will support us as we do our diversity homework, help us to understand the communities we are reaching out to and facilitate an effective, targeted recruiting strategy.

4. Adjust our hiring processes to create thoughtful questions and get meaningful feedback from interviewees.

5. Once we successfully hire diverse staff, mentor them by offering meaningful opportunities to succeed and offer coaching from internal or external leaders that share their experiences or background.

These approaches will help us not only become more multicultural, but ultimately more inclusive of various communities that are currently underrepresented in our nonprofit world.

Has your organization struggled or succeeded with becoming more inclusive? Do you have other tips for leadership starting out on this organizational change?