The majority of children born in 2011 were children of color, born into a world that less than 50 years ago granted their parents equality on paper. But non-whites are born to a world of intersecting oppressions that will, most likely, greet them with lower pay, more surveillance, harsher punitive assessments for actual and perceived infractions, and limited health and educational outcomes. The majority of children born in 2011 were born into a world that has built a legacy of racial and gender oppression that, in practice, holds more weight than the U.S. Constitution. If the legacy of disparate outcomes outweighs the power of the Constitution, then intentional and collective efforts are the most viable recourse. Otherwise, we run the risk of reinventing apartheid.
Many businesses and organizations have responded to the need for diversity and inclusion through diversity training. These trainings have often adopted the perspective of benevolence without introspection. Simply, the call to action has been understanding and acceptance. While well intended, this perspective is short sighted. A lack of diversity does not happen through the efforts of those who have historically been excluded. A lack of diversity in professional and educational settings is the result of a legacy of discrimination. Therefore, diversity efforts should seek to include the historically excluded, while recognizing and minimizing practices and policies that are the source of exclusion.
Training must recognize ways in which bias may be embedded in recruitment, hiring, promotion and cultural environments. Modules for implicit bias have been relatively successful in meeting this objective. Unfortunately, training has traditionally stopped at the point of recognizing that a hypothetical problem may exist, rather than creating the analytical tools to recognize existing bias, dismantle policy and practices that contribute to exclusion, and create intentional efforts to cultivate diversity and create an inclusive culture. This necessary and comprehensive objective is not something that can be done in a single session. The one and done model for diversity and inclusion training is ineffective and is only capable of meeting self-fulfilling objectives.
To be effective, diversity and inclusion must exist within a strategic plan and therefore be sustainable. Processes that engage organizational growth, expand networks, and extend the reach into a potential hiring pool or client base, must also consider diversity and inclusion. To recruit diversity and practice inclusion requires the building of capacity to cultivate creative strategies to bring in talent, as well as capacity building to cultivate an inclusive environment. These processes require steps that have to be generated with consideration to the current work environment. This means that strategic plans must be willing to take risks and invest in things that may not seem to have tangible benefits.
What does sustainable diversity and inclusion look like? There needs to be context as to its importance by considering what is at stake if it does not happen. That context can then be used to develop initial training similar to implicit bias. From that point, organizational structure and processes must be designed and exercised with the intention to create a diverse population and inclusive environment. This transformational stage includes training that builds capacity beyond initial training to achieve explicit benchmarks. If phase 1 training recognizes implicit bias, phase 2 may identify exclusionary practices and processes. While those are reflective, phase 3 must be corrective in implementing diversity and inclusion standards into a strategic plan.
After training leads to the articulation of a strategic plan, iteration of the above-mentioned process will lead to sustainability. Once standards are achieved, new standards must be articulated in a way that transcends the original mission. If you are successful with recruitment and creating an inclusive environment, that will create new opportunities to build relationships outside of the existing sphere of influence, share knowledge, and expand the original mission. This is what sustainable diversity and inclusion looks like: it is constantly evolving.
Devon Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, specializing in Africana Studies at Virginia Tech. His research studies the historical development of Pan-Africanism in Belize and current realities grassroots organizations with similar principles face. As an Africana Scholar, Devon practices scholar activism and reciprocity by working closely with grassroots organizations.
This article is reprinted from Issue #8 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
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