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Nonprofits Can do More to Promote Diversity

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For years, Fortune 500 companies have been lambasted in the press for their lack of attention to issues of diversity for people of color. Large tech companies sued the federal government to block access to their demographic data, knowing that it too would tell the same story.

But nonprofit organizations surely must be doing better, right? Actually, not really. Not according to a new research report put out by Commongood Careers and the Level Playing Field Institute, "The Voice of Nonprofit Talent: Perceptions of Diversity in the Workplace."

Without drawing the similarities between nonprofit and for-profit companies, the report brings to light the disconnect between what nonprofit organizations say about diversity within their organization with what they actually do to promote diversity on their staff. A demographically diverse sample of more than 1600 current or former nonprofit professionals indicates:

"While almost 9 out of 10 employees believe their organization values diversity, more than 7 out of 10 believe their employer does not do enough to create a diverse and inclusive work environment."

This results in a vicious cycle where people of color leave the sector or plan to leave the sector (when the economy improves) due to hollow diversity statements without real action, thereby making it even more difficult to recruit diverse employees. Having spent the last 10 years in the nonprofit sector, I know we can do better. Many nonprofits, in fact, are doing much better and it behooves all others to get on board.

The organizational missions of nonprofits are usually challenging enough. When such organizations cannot attract and retain people of color, especially those whose experiences help them relate to the target population of the nonprofit, attainment of the mission becomes that much more difficult. Diversity of thought benefits all organizations, for-profit and nonprofit alike. The best way to create diversity of thought is through diversification of the workplace and then by creating a culture that truly values and rewards such differences. Rather, what we find is that organizations blame a lack of "cultural fit" which further codifies a homogeneous staff by creating insiders and outsiders. The outsiders will usually leave.

"The Voice of Nonprofit Talent: Perceptions of Diversity in the Workplace" is unique in that it presents qualitative and quantitative data from nonprofit employees. It also highlights what it will take for nonprofits to be more thoughtful in removing bias and barriers to full participation. From recruitment, to the interview process, through on-boarding, training, support and evaluation, the most successful nonprofits are viewing this not as an issue separate from their mission, but one critical to its attainment.