diversityLast year, the United States experienced protests across the nation once again exposing the racial tensions that exist underneath the surface in the country. Many social enterprise and nonprofits deal with the issues of diversity every day from wanting to ensure their boards and staffs and the people they serve represent various backgrounds.

Social enterprise and nonprofits are very well positioned to lead the dialogue on diversity. In the near future, nearly half of individuals entering the workforce will be people of color. Hispanics represent the fastest growing minority group in the United States. LGBT groups are redefining the discussion about sexual identity and a majority of states have changed their laws and permit same-sex marriage with the Supreme Court likely to make it the law of the land at some point.

The melting pot that is the United States may have moments where it ignores diversity issues, but they always rise to the surface because they are critical to a cohesive society. Corporations, businesses and nonprofits that are thought leaders take very clear and intentional steps not only to ensure diversity, but also inclusiveness, which allows for diverse people to fully participate.

Social enterprises and nonprofits can help to ensure they are modeling good diversity and inclusion practices in the following ways:

  1. Make a commitment – In order to be fully diverse, there has to be a concerted commitment at the board and senior level for diversity and inclusion. As was evidenced by last year’s demonstrations about race, very difficult conversations occurred between people. Diversity and inclusion are ongoing efforts and in order to achieve and sustain full diversity, there will be pain. Instead of fearing tough conversations, organizations should provide a clear commitment to the cause and create a safe environment with opportunities to speak about topics such as race, culture, gender, sexual identity, religion, etc., as it relates and impacts the organization.
  1. Evaluate – Organizations do still exist that lack any or sufficient diversity. But, once an entity has made the commitment to diversity and inclusion, it should look at itself first and determine who is looking back in the mirror. Do people of different races, faiths, men and women, young and old, represent the organization for example? Is this diversity, or lack thereof, something that is seen at all levels of the organization? For instance, are board members and senior management heavily representative of a certain background?
  1. Begin the process – Once an organization makes a serious commitment to diversity, it should ensure that this is communicated throughout on a consistent basis and in different ways. If necessary, hire outside counsel to help the enterprise create and implement a diversity and inclusion plan. Outside counsel can sometimes help facilitate the tough conversations. They can also provide expertise and case studies about other similar types of organizations that have embarked on the same journey, which may help provide information about potential challenges and pitfalls that get in the way of success.
  1. Recruit for diversity – If you discover that your organization has gaps with respect to diversity or inclusion, make a notation of the holes. Then, develop a plan to address it. If you need to diversify the board, create a profile and recruit for open positions with that profile concretely in mind. If there is a lack of diversity at the staff level, make a concerted effort to recruit for open positions in ways that will provide you with candidates who represent different backgrounds. Good resources are job banks in different associations. For example, if you need to recruit more qualified women, check into women’s associations.
  1. Evaluate – Regularly evaluate organizational performance with respect to diversity and inclusion. Ask for feedback from all levels within the organization. Become aware of progress or lack of progress and see what has worked and what can be improved. Reach out to experts and peers who are committed to diversity and ask for advice and counsel if there is a particular challenge where you need fresh thinking and ideas. Finally, be flexible to make adjustments as necessary.


© 2015 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.