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How Will You Achieve Diversity in your Organization?

Nadia Prescott

Most nonprofits recognize the importance of, and need for, diversity on their board and staff. But they aren’t always sure how to achieve it. Cultural competency is at the heart of managing diversity. According to BusinessDictionary.com, Cultural Competency is defined as “a set of behaviors, policies, and attitudes which form a system or agency that allows cross-cultural
groups to effectively work professionally.”

Many people have a natural ability to work across boundaries and in different cultures. It is easy for them to listen, watch, read, and learn about other cultures and their norms. While I’ve had the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures, it wasn’t until I was fully immersed in a community in St. Lucia that I recognized how many questions I needed to ask to fully understand another person’s perspective. In fact, I’m still learning as I go.

Other people may not have an opportunity to travel or live in another country. They may also have to overcome personal biases and opinions that, through no fault of their own, have been ingrained for years. Addressing diversity is not simple. The term can trigger many strong reactions, and discussions about diversity can be uncomfortable. They bring up complex emotions and frequently, very differing opinions.

Why is diversity so important? A diversified board and staff will provide insights that will be beneficial. Organizations become stronger through a diverse combination of culture, race, ethnicity, age, and gender. Understanding the goals of your diversification policy and the changes they will bring to your culture is imperative.

How Should You Define Diversity?

Organizational diversity has different dimensions. Demographic characteristics are often based on ethnicity, age, gender, disability and location, but should also be based on the specific characteristics of your organization. Attaining diversity will be reflective of what your organization is trying to accomplish. Success requires being deliberate about what will best serve your organization. For example, organizations for differing causes, such as women’s rights, immigration, or religious groups may choose to stay mission-based and have a board that reflects their constituents. It would be a concern, for example, if an organization that primarily serves immigrants has no immigrants on its board.

Who will express their point of view?

How can organizations diversify successfully?

First, your board and staff members must have an open discussion about the current culture, what diversification means, and the business reason you want to move in this direction. Second, leadership must identify potential roadblocks, and what you can do as a group to manage them.

You can then formulate a strategy. If you are an all-female board or an all-white, middle-aged board, how will you reach out and find African-Americans, men, or women? How will “you be” at your next board or staff meeting if, for example, you have hired just one person from a new demographic? More importantly, how will they feel as a sole representative in your organization? What is the process your organization will adopt to address these questions?

I have spent time in a community in which I was the only white person. It was humbling to think that my African American friends must feel as isolated and alone as I did, but on a regular basis. It was a process for me to finally begin to feel comfortable which, thanks to my friends, I now do. It took a conscientiouseffort to want to learn, keep an open mind, and be mindful of my own internal
biases.