It seems that every day there are media stories about challenges Silicon Valley continues to face regarding the diversity of their workforces.  While these technology CEOs have pledged to increase ethnic, racial and gender representation, data shows there has been little to no progress.   More troubling, the flood of sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other men in positions of power has further eroded the credibility of any leader who says they are truly committed to diversity and nurturing inclusive workplaces.

Which is why companies like Google, Apple and LinkedIn are redoubling their efforts because they know winning the war for talent depends on it.  In today’s polarized environment, stakeholders want proof that an employer not just talks the talk, but walks the walk.  Organizations who have successfully earned their trust and brand loyalty have three things in common:

  • Authenticity:  Their actions in the workplace and in the broader community demonstrate a consistent commitment to their core values of respect for the individual and diversity and inclusion (D&I).
  • Transparency:  They openly share information about their goals, objectives and progress with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Accountability:  They assign responsibility for achieving outcomes, which influences annual performance reviews accordingly.

As I reported in my June blog, the attrition of women and people of color in Silicon Valley is due in large part to workplace environments that remain toxic because managers do not hold employees accountable when they violate workplace conduct guidelines.  While much has been written about how failing to deliver on the D&I value proposition negatively impacts a company’s bottom line (e.g. lower market share, higher attrition, loss in productivity), there is mounting evidence this is a problem facing the nonprofit sector as well.

The Nonprofit Business Case for Change

In January 2017, Dr. Rohit Varma was named Dean of the medical school at the University of Southern California (USC) after his predecessor was fired for inappropriate behavior involving alcohol consumption and aggressive behavior towards co-workers.  Current and former were quick to express their concern with USC leadership when they learned he was appointed despite having been reprimanded by the university in 2003 for “inappropriate and unacceptable” behavior involving a female colleague.

It was only when details of this previous incident were about to be made public that USC leadership announced they had fired Dr. Varma because they “lost confidence in his ability to lead the medical school.”  Why the change of heart?  Maybe it was because USC realized their inaction could have negative ramifications in the form of students choosing not to apply, candidates rejecting job offers and funders terminating financial support.

Current data suggests nonprofits need to be taking diversity and inclusion more seriously.

  • The Institute of Public Relations reports that 47% of Millennials consider the D&I of a workplace an important criterion in their job search.
  • Research by Community Wealth Partners indicates that while people of color represent 30% of the American workforce, only 18% of non-profit staff and 22% of foundation staff comprise people of color.
  • According to BoardSource’s Leading with Intent study released earlier this year, people of color and ethnic minorities have never represented more than 18% of board membership going back to 1994 when they began tracking diversity data.

Unfortunately, there are indications most nonprofits are not focused on bridging the diversity gap.  The BoardSource report also shows that while a majority of nonprofit chief executives and board chairs are dissatisfied with the level of racial and ethnic diversity on their boards, only one quarter of boards report placing a high priority on demographics in board recruitment.

Even worse, according to the 2017 Nonprofit Employee Practices report from Nonprofit HR 64% of nonprofits don’t have a formal talent acquisition strategy to make compete against traditional companies, a concept so foreign that many had no idea if it was an existing practice or not.  And, only 35% of these organizations have formal diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, which would likely limit their ability to attract a diverse talent pool.

Determining what your organization’s D&I strategy should look include is the easy part.  There are many resources available that define proven best practices such as The Diversity Collegium’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarks.

The hard part is gaining consensus of the nonprofit executive team and their board as to how and why D&I helps the organization achieve its overall goals.  Without it, the likelihood of attaining success is low.  As nonprofit leaders begin the process of developing their 2018 strategies, it is imperative they understand the link between D&I and their ability to attract/retain talent as well as raise money to fund programs.

Lessons learned

The good news is nonprofits can leverage lessons learned from companies like Intel, Accenture and Marriott who have consistently been recognized as best in class for diversity and inclusion.  Here are five important lessons nonprofits should keep in mind when charting their path forward.

Involve stakeholders when setting priorities:  Eager to demonstrate progress, leaders have assumed relying on a small group of individuals to develop the strategy accelerates the pace.  While many of these efforts have good intentions, this top down approach can miss the mark because it does not incorporate feedback from relevant stakeholders throughout the process.  Forming a working group that reflects both the diversity of background and perspectives among your together with representatives from operational functions most impacted will help gain alignment on the strategy’s mission, vision and goals. This will also create a set of champions to assist management with the implementation.

Make sure people know why they should care:  Experts agree that organizational change projects are never easy and more likely to succeed when the approach addresses the fear and uncertainty those impacted will experience.  This starts by creating a sound business case and clearly communicating with stakeholders what the problem is, why change is needed, how you plan to get there and what success look will look like.  Given the emotional response D&I generates among employees, stick with the facts to separate fact from fiction data, secure buy-in and stay focused on the task at hand.

One size does not fit all:  Context matters especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion strategies.  Reaping the benefits from D&I a best practice involves making adjustments that reflect an organization’s unique culture.  This was an important lesson I learned when designing an unconscious bias training program for a client.  Even though they had success in the past using off-the-shelf content, participants felt the session missed the mark.  This could have been prevented if we conducted a pilot first with a smaller group before rolling it out.

It takes a village to create a culture of inclusion:  Core values are supposed to express the beliefs and principles an organization stands for as well as set the standards for all employees as to what defines acceptable behavior.  In other words, follow the rules or face the consequences…unless you happen to be someone like USC’s Dr. Varma.  Inconsistent enforcement signals that respect for the individual is not really a priority.  When leadership clearly communicates what the values are, how they contribute to overall success and that everyone will be held accountable for noncompliance, this helps bring them to life.

Be honest about what you don’t know:  One of the biggest mistakes I see clients make is underestimating the complexity of the task at hand.  Embedding diversity and inclusion into operational strategies often requires a team of individuals who have knowledge and experience designing, developing and implementing diversity and inclusion activities across a range of functions.  Be willing to look outside the organization to find resources capable of producing results.

At a time when 35% of Americans polled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy said they had little or no confidence in charities, there can be a steep price to pay for getting it wrong.