Six Strategies and Concepts for Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

AFP-NYC Educational Program
By Susan Fields, CFRE
Almost everyone who has worked in a business setting will agree that organizational culture is enormously difficult to change. Because culture is a complex mixture of deeply-embedded beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, it often contains elements which are both subtle and illusive. So when we speak of creating more diverse and inclusive practices in staffing our organizations, it is important that nonprofit leaders understand the nuances and steps in implementing change.  

"We need to ask how we can bring ourselves to the table with vulnerability and authenticity.”

Tanya M. Odom,  EdM
Consultant, Writer; Thought Leader
"People with multidimensional perspectives can be highly successful in working together for the greater good.”
PI-ISIS S. Ankhara
President and Founder, P.S> 314
"Consider the culture of your organization when planning to bring more diversity and inclusion to your staff.” 
Raul Argudin
HR Consultant, HR Force NY
"When recruiting staff, reflect on the perspective of the community your nonprofit is seeking to engage.”
Shijuade Kadree, Sr. Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center
If your nonprofit is seeking to recruit and retain a more diverse professional staff, it might be worthwhile to consider the following ideas, concepts, and strategies:
1.  There is a distinct difference between diversity and inclusion in a work environment. While the former refers to the wide range of human differences your workplace brings to the table, the latter is the practice of welcoming and valuing these various perspectives and abilities in a way that encourages equal participation. If certain groups feel they are regularly excluded from contributing their experience and abilities, it is likely that they will seek employment where there is greater opportunity for professional growth and advancement. 
2.  Diversity comes in many forms. When we use the term diversity, we often think of racial and ethnic differences, however, there are many combinations of characteristics that make all people unique. In fact, even a seemingly homogenous work environment contains a wide variety of other differences including: gender, sex, education, intellect, religion, sexual orientation, physical appearance, disabilities, personality styles, and unique skills and talents.
3.  Determine your goals. Is your nonprofit seeking to become more diverse or does it need to become more inclusive of the diversity that already exists within its workforce? Once you have decided which category your organization falls into, it will be necessary to garner the support of your board, current staff members, and other individuals who play key roles in your organization. This will require providing solid data regarding the benefits of “stepping up” your nonprofit’s efforts to become more diverse and/or inclusive. 
4.  Make a commitment to change.  At this stage the board will probably decide to appoint a special committee to spearhead the project which might require the assistance of a consultant to examine the current organizational culture and feasibility for change. Whether your workplace has a “family style” manner of operation or is a corporatized environment will determine how long the process will take as well as the obstacles that might stand in the way. 
5.  Create a plan. Instead of attempting to overhaul the entire culture of your organization, begin with measurable changes related to empowerment for all employees. Examples might include reorganization of office space, encouraging team projects, broadening participation in meetings, increasing access to information, simplifying the decision-making process, and opening opportunities for all employees to move to higher levels of responsibility. 
6.  Expect and embrace resistance. People do not like or appreciate change, especially when it requires that they share power and privileges. Ironically the harder organizational leaders “resist the resistance”, the more difficult moving forward will become. Conversely it is more likely that staff members will embrace the evolution of their workplace once their concerns have been addressed. Incorporating change gradually is also key in gaining staff support and allowing for alterations as the process moves forward. 

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