Nonprofits Must Monitor Diversity Opportunities

Nonprofits Must Monitor Diversity Opportunities

By Eugene Fram

Diversity on the boards and staffs of nonprofit organizations is no long a choice; it is a mandate. American demographic trends are clear. The US population is rapidly becoming more diverse, and increased global migrations will require nonprofits and NGOs to serve broader populations. In a 2011 analysis, two Harvard professors have made the following observations:

• Many workplace policies governing issues of race, gender and sexual orientation come out of traditional studies that focus on discrimination, instead of positive aspects of diversity.
• Because these policies are too often borne of pressures or fear, they often yield damaging consequences, such as a situation in which a manager is afraid to give constructive criticisms to a minority employee for fear of legal retribution or being labeled a bigot.
• A positive approach to diversity (at the nonprofit board level)…
may lead to workplace policies that focus on the positive aspects of diversity. *


• Planning – Proactive boards, under the leaderships of the chairs, first need to review the organization’s diversity levels with regard to gender, demography and minority participation. Where are the gaps? Are there sufficient numbers of directors with either for-profit or nonprofit board experiences? What traditional skills, such as marketing or finance are needed? What recruitment changes are needed to achieve a blend of expertise and diversity? While answering these questions for the board, the process for a staff diversity review should also be begun. Tokenism is not the answer!

• Reality of Diversity – The rapid societal changes of the past decade call for a better understanding of the broader community. For example medical personnel in the US are being challenged linguistically by the diversity of patient languages they are now Boards need to establish new hiring employment policies that may assist staff personnel in addressing these challenges

• Cross-Cultural Relationships – People of unlike backgrounds working together for a common purpose can make a greater impact on a community, whether the organization is a charitable one, a professional group or a trade association. Too often nonprofit boards perpetuate similarity of class and culture when recruiting new leadership. In choosing new candidates for board positions, there should be a concentrated effort effort to identify candidates who are able to bring different insights and experiences to the table.

• Stereotyping – All individuals are subjected to a multitude of identities, for example, wife, grandmother, attorney and baseball fan. Nonprofits, through their focus on diversity efforts, can make significant contributions to reducing negative stereotypes that have prevailed for decades and, at the same time, improve the nonprofit’s community image. Diversity efforts, over time, then can be measured for time and effort expended .” **

*David Thomas & Lakshmi Ramarajan (2011) “Taking the Fear out of Diversity Policies” HBS Working Knowledge, January 31.

** For details, see: Jerry Talley & Eugene Fram (2010) “Using Imperfect Metrics Well: Tracking Progress and Driving Change,” Leader To Leader, winter, pp. 52-58.

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