How to Create a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy at Your Small Non-Profit – Part 1

Photo: Toronto’s Don Valley, November 2018

If you’re like me, you work for a small non-profit organization where the lean realities of funding mean that there are limited resources to devote to diversity and inclusion (D&I) work.

It’s not the easiest kind of work but I believe that diversity and inclusion work is some of the most rewarding work an organization can invest in. Not only are there numerous studies and reports that prove diversity in staff leads to more productivity, but organizations that live the values of inclusion, and do the work to redistribute power and privilege to more people, become better equipped in every way. One recent study suggests that inclusive organizations make better decisions as much as 87% of the time, and at twice the speed.

Most meaningful, to me, is that inclusivity is a practice that aims to encompass the full and expansive range of human diversity in the workplace, including ability, language, culture, gender, sexuality, age and class. It moves away from the traditional, corporate model that is based on a top-down model of authority, as well as on a socially conservative mindset that tends to favour binary thinking (e.g. white/not white, male/female).

In this three-part series, I’d like to share insights I’ve gained from developing a D&I initiative which will result in a customized training session for staff conducted by a local facilitator. As I lead my organization through the process, I hope to share what I’ve learned.

In this part of the series, Part 1, we’ll review the planning stages of a D&I strategy.

1. Is there organizational readiness?

Having great ideas only gets you halfway there. Before you make that pitch, take stock of where the organization is. Are there signs that leaders and colleagues would be open to D&I and already know why it’s needed? Have efforts already been made to address issues of inclusion in your programs? You need to know that others already get the basic concept of systemic and organizational bias and are ready to take the next step.

2. What kind of initiative is most needed in your organization?

Diversity and inclusion can be, at first, an abstract concept that can seem difficult to translate into concrete action. Here is a list of the types of practices that larger organizations with formalized programs have adopted:

  • Recruitment techniques for diversifying staff
  • Anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies
  • Accommodation policies to support health or other needs
  • Unconscious bias and allyship training
  • Pay equity audit
  • Mentoring programs for diversity groups
  • Disability access initiatives
  • Respect for religious observances

3. One size does not fit all, a.k.a. try not to Google it.

When I started this process, I reached out to an established gender equity consultant for her advice. She convinced me that the delicate nature of the work means that you cannot simply apply a “best practice” model. Changing workplace culture means examining the specific legacy of your organization and then considering the unique mix of people who each bring lived experiences to bear (also see #5). What works for one organization shouldn’t necessarily be replicated in another.

4. You’re in the business of changing culture, which means changing minds.

It’s not going to happen overnight or with one day of training. It’s a process. Approach it with patience, perseverance, lots of optimism and compassion for people (even yourself!) who may find the process challenging.

5. Be collaborative.

You need buy-in from colleagues as well as folks in leadership positions. It also seems obvious to mention, but yes, you need to have an inclusive process as you work towards inclusion! Seek input from staff at every level in order to design a program that, most importantly, involves the people who will essentially be doing the work, and isn’t following a cookie-cutter approach—or worse, is seen as a top-down, make-work project. Ground yourself and others by asking the question: why this group of people, now? And tie it to the organization’s vision or priorities to maintain clarity around the outcomes.

6. Consider how best to seek input.

Another D&I consultant I spoke with advised me that staff may withhold certain feedback if it’s a colleague that they are sharing the information with—even if they have a great relationship with that person. This withholding may result from the assumption that the feedback is being shared with leadership.

You might consider sending an online survey that guarantees anonymity, for instance, and allow individuals to have the option of following up in person with you—or have a D&I facilitator handle this stage for you if it is prior to a course of training. Ask open-ended questions, such as “What would make this a more inclusive workplace for you?” and piece together common themes that emerge from the answers.

In Part 2 of this article series, I will list five more steps to a successful D&I strategy. These include how to navigate difficult conversations; how not to publicize your D&I program; and more.

Thanks for reading.

Caroline Chan
Senior Development Manager, Canadian Art
2019 Fellow, AFP Fellowship In Inclusion & Philanthropy