Diversity – Where Are You?

I must admit, one of my greatest frustrations with working in the Community Change (non-profit) sector is our repeated attempts to “find” diversity and our repeated “failures” in “finding” it.

I’ve sat in many rooms with many great leaders of some pretty awesome organizations and listened to the conversation about how our boards don’t “look like” or represent the clients we serve and our staffs don’t either.  Many times the conversation has gone to the fact that those in administrative positions may “look like” the clients but those in decision making roles do not.  After all this talk has occurred, I can generally feel eyes in the room glance at me, as if I – the single Black woman in the room – might have THE answer. I don’t.

I don’t know why many of our organizations sit around the table at strategic planning meetings, board meetings, staff meetings and hiring committees and ask this question. I don’t know.  I deleted the line in this post about the reality that people have mounting student loan debt and can’t afford a life in the non-profit world, that’s a fact. I also deleted the line about people finally “making it out” and wanting to make the kind of money they never had before.  I have to respect both positions, but I don’t think the answer is there.

I think the answer is so much deeper than that.  I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to my friends about the work I do and they say, “oh, you are doing your non-profit thing”, as if one day I’m going to snap out of it and pursue a real career.

I think the world needs to start talking about our sector differently.  I happen to feel I’m having a greater impact on the lives of many more people doing my “non-profit thing” than some of my banker friends who “have arrived” because they are making huge paychecks.  Wouldn’t it make sense for us to swap salaries and I make the fat paycheck for changing the world? I’m speaking candidly, but we need to be bold about the work we are doing and the REAL change we are impacting.  To me it is not about dollars but it is about a respect for the work and not just from those of us within the sector.  If society placed the same value on real community change as it does on making a lot of money, I think more and more people would desire to work in our sector.

This change is community change. It is social change in the way our work is viewed by everybody.   As my friend and collaborator Ericka Hines says:

“That takes thinking about our work from a 35 k foot level, repackaging it and send it back to us.”

To this I say, let’s go to the mountain top and repackage it ourselves.

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4 responses to “Diversity – Where Are You?

  1. Tanisha Carpenter

    What an awesome position!
    I agree with you whole heartedly! However, I also see in those same meetings and board rooms and hiring committees that there is an unwillingness to even give those minority candidates a chance! Why is everyone so hard on the minority candidate? Why don’t we see many quality candidates on interview when they are prevelant in the application pools? These are questions that I can not answer, but something has got to give because the Community Change sector (I really like that) needs it!
    Thank you for sharing this position! I agree and hope there are solutions out there!
    🙂

    • Tanisha,

      You bring up a very valid point. My focus in this post was on changing the way we on the outside view the sector as a whole, so that more people from diverse backgrounds would desire to work in the sector. Your argument places us in the position to challenge ourselves because THERE ARE qualified candidates of diverse backgrounds in the applicant pools, but hiring committees for one reason or another are not interviewing them, let alone hiring them.

      Makes me wonder if we are only playing lip service to our value on diversity.
      Something to think about.

  2. Raquel Gutierrez

    Really great posting. For me this is all about alignment. Do our organizations through our org culture actually demonstrate the values of inclusive social change? This extends from how our staff and board reflect the community we serve to how people are treated within and outside the org. Alignment, coherency, walking the talk. A first step would be just being honest about how we do and do not…really.

    • Raquel,

      I love that you mentioned org culture. This issue is so vital to our sector. To be quite frank, I often have sat and thought about do we reflect internally what we are practicing for externally for our clients? Does our work really matter if we are projecting a certain image externally, but internally we don’t really practice what we preach. I’ve heard of one too many people leaving the sector because they thought their experience would be different. It had nothing to do with the money, but they didn’t expect the org culture to be like it is in the private sector. How can we do such great work for others and not be good to each other?

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