How to Create a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy at Your Small Non-Profit – Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about how to plan a diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy at your non-profit. In Part 2, I’ll continue with the next step: implementation. My goal is to share what I learnt when I organized a day of training for the staff at my organization.

7. Choosing a facilitator

D&I facilitators can be an invaluable resource, bringing expertise and an objective voice to the process. A facilitator can help to address recruitment policies or conduct staff training on concepts like unconscious bias and allyship, and any number of D&I initiatives (see Part 1). For a small organization, finding the right facilitator is a critical step that deserves time and attention.

Over a four-week period, I interviewed four facilitators; each had a different approach to the topic and the fees ranged widely. You’ll want to choose someone who can customize their approach for small organizations. Organizational culture has vastly different dynamics whether you have a staff of 200 or a staff of 20. In a small non-profit, the hierarchal structure is more flat, so interpersonal dynamics have the ability to affect more individuals.

Seek a facilitator who is curious about your organization’s specific issues, rather than one with a boilerplate presentation more suitable for corporate clients. Find someone who will spend time learning about your organization’s culture and recent practices to unearth where conversation is needed.

8. Practicing good listening

During the process of interviewing colleagues or conducting training, you may hear of experiences in the workplace that caused discomfort. It’s important to listen with intent and care, and to validate what you’re hearing. Think of how best to reflect this feedback and ask your colleague what they would be comfortable sharing. Just in case it’s needed, become familiar with existing whistleblower or harassment policies as well. You don’t want to circumvent an existing process, and should be able to direct your colleague to the appropriate supportive channels, if it’s appropriate to do so.

9. Rooting out white privilege and colonialism

The path to an inclusive and equitable workplace takes a great deal of care and attentiveness. What aspects of your culture might need to change, in order to become truly inclusive? How do you run meetings and who gets to set agendas or take up space? Does the organization reflect an authoritative or participatory decision-making model? Because systemic bias is hidden, it is expressed in the workplace in surprising ways.

Try to identify the ways in which the organization is unintentionally replicating the legacies of white privilege and colonialism. The following are some examples of how people can be excluded from the conversation:

  • Implementing projects in a top-down way
  • Allowing only certain people to voice opinions
  • Being intolerant of the different ways people respond, and of the different opinions they express
  • Diminishing the emotions of those who may be sharing difficult stories that make others uncomfortable
  • Placing the burden on marginalized people to edit or censor their views in order not to upset non-marginalized folks

These types of exclusion can increase tension and conflict by encouraging “us vs. them” thinking. You can help by reminding your colleagues that creating an inclusive workplace, where individual voices are respected and heard, is something everyone will benefit from.

10. How not to go public

D&I work can lead to visible changes in your organization, and you may consider how to communicate these changes to your constituents and stakeholders. It’s a good idea to think carefully before making public announcements about your work to promote equity. If the changes are meant to address an organizational imbalance (and many efforts to increase diversity are), then you could be taking credit where it is not due—and replicating colonial behaviour in the process.

Take the recent example of Starbucks, which was thrust into the spotlight last year when two Black customers were arrested while waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia store. It was a clear example of racial profiling, and the company responded by announcing that all 175,000 employees would undergo unconscious bias training, closing more than 8,000 stores across the US. As far as publicity stunts go, it was a singular and sweeping act. But many people questioned just how much lasting change could occur in just four hours of training. In the end, the costly campaign was interpreted as a symbolic gesture at best, empty of the meaningful change that would lead to more a genuinely equitable space for both employees and customers.

This case raises the question of why organizations release public statements about equity initiatives. They may anticipate a positive shift in public opinion or the benefits of a brand lift. But should they take credit for creating a more diverse or inclusive organization if this change replaces a policy that marginalized others? This kind of PR strategy is less common in the non-profit sector, where publicizing diversity initiatives could be seen as self-congratulatory, but all organizations must nonetheless take care to avoid promoting diversity initiatives in a way that ultimately undercuts the effort itself.

All this to say, there is no easy answer to the question of how best to communicate or publicize equity work. For my organization, it wouldn’t be beneficial, but for others, it might be.

This nuance is inherent to D&I work and is what makes it challenging. As with any potentially ambitious project, we narrowed it down to smaller, bite-sized ideas that made it feel more achievable, and gave ourselves a generous time frame, which allowed for slow and deliberate consideration of the issues.

To be honest, I was not always able to clearly distinguish what we wanted from what we could realistically do—there were many possible directions to pursue. In the end, it was through a collaborative process of listening to and folding in others’ ideas that drove the process forward.

I believe that those of us in smaller organizations have the opportunity to lead the way to social justice through diversity, equity and inclusion. We already have many of the skills required to navigate the challenges.

Small non-profits are already accustomed to change as a part of our internal culture. We’re nimble, entrepreneurial, collaborative and receptive to a more inclusive workplace that respects everyone’s roles and opinions. All these reasons make change not only possible, but palpable.

Caroline Chan
Sr. Development Manager, Canadian Art
2019 Fellow, AFP Fellowship in Inclusion & Philanthropy

Questions/comments: [email protected]

To learn more, I recommend reading Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them by Shakil Choudhury.