5 Steps to Implement a Diversity and Inclusion Plan at your Nonprofit

Changemakers 2016 retreat

Demographic trends point to the United States population fully transforming into a multi-racial majority by 2044 (United States Census Bureau). Non-profit organizations face the same challenge that corporations, businesses, and the federal government face — to evolve to better meet the needs of new audiences, new clients, new board and staff members, and new ways of collaborating in a society where no one type of person holds dominance.

Where are we at?

  1. Savvy teams engaging with, employing, and supporting stakeholders in a workforce environment fulfill the dreams of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and don’t discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  2. Federal laws protect individuals based on age, disability status, genetic history, pregnancy status, or veteran status (U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission)
  3. State and local governments continue to expand individual protections based on sexual orientation/gender identity.

Your organization evolves for the better when you invest time, energy, and resources into your diversity and inclusion plan.

Diverse teams perform better — companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have returns above national industry medians (Fortune), and the fastest growing startup companies are 75% more likely to have a female founder (Forbes).

What initiative exists for addressing diversity and inclusion at your own not-for-profit or community-based organization?

Follow these suggested steps as your team builds a plan: engage with staff, identify a lead responsible party, publish your code of conduct, offer training and support, and collect survey data.

1) Engage with staff

Address your intentions clearly

For staff, board, consultants, and advisors, if channels do not yet exist, determine which communications methods best address your concerns. Offer feedback methods between staff and leadership as you develop your programs: for example, implement an internal newsletter or recurring e-mail from your executive team with regular open Q&A sessions, designate a Slack channel, use discussion boards, foster existing Microsoft Office Groups or Google Groups discussions, or put small group sessions into rotation on a calendar.

Listen and learn

Do issues already exist? Are ad hoc whispers happening behind closed doors? Determine an appropriate way to listen and truly hear what your staff has to say. Schedule listening sessions, facilitated discussions, or open conversations about diversity: ensure that executive leaders show up and remain present with respect to potential criticism, harsh opinions, or overwhelming feelings. Topics to begin discussion may always begin with examining your organization’s stance on current issues such as Black Lives Matter, police and criminal justice reforms, voting rights, immigration, paid parental leave, wage transparency, women in leadership, gender awareness, harassment prevention, affirmative action, LGBTQIA policies, and more.

Lead with fortitude

Discussions about diversity in today’s America often surface hidden assumptions and bring up strong emotions. Leadership teams signal commitment to the importance of diversity and inclusion when the President/CEO messages all staff with an invitation to scheduled in-house meetings and also offers a follow-up plan — including clear opportunities to give feedback and get involved — for all employees.


2) Identify a lead responsible party

Demand accountability from leadership

Setting a team or committee works; however, designating a senior leader within the organization as acting or titled head of diversity/inclusion efforts makes a difference in signaling the importance of the topic within your organization’s culture. Invest this leader with a team and power to write and implement policies, allocate resources, and investigate issues. Cultivate participants from across the organization to advise the team.

Formalize how individuals will reach out

Reduce exposure and encourage greater transparency by determining, and clearly stating, how staff may communicate their concerns. Let all parties know what to expect regarding any stated issue and its documentable response within a pre-arranged specified timeframe. Leadership teams demonstrate their awareness of the seriousness of potential issues when they clarify processes across the organization, address concerns in a responsible and orderly manner, and follow up continuously.

Assign an ombudsperson

In cases of conflict, an ombudsperson approach may work for your organization, where a neutral third-party is tasked with investigating, collecting documents, interviewing, and presenting personnel issues to leadership. Cases of harassment, bullying, and intimidation require swift review.


3) Publish your code of conduct

Clearly define expectations of workplace conduct

What does your organization expect? A published code of conduct makes this clear. When all parties may reference a code of conduct that expressly states desired behavior and consequences for inappropriate or wrong behavior, misunderstandings or obfuscations immediately clear up. Consider publishing your code of conduct publicly (Alphabet aka Google code of conduct) for greater accountability to staff as well as funders, investors advisors, the media, and communities served.

Clarify actions to be taken in any investigation of harassment

Harassment requires special mention and guidance (EEOC). Here are checkpoints in a reported case of harassment: a) investigate immediately, b) the inquiry must be prompt, thorough, and impartial, c) interview targeted individuals, offending individuals, and witnesses, maintaining written documentation of all discussions, d) communicate with targeted individuals regarding steps taken, and e) check in to ensure that negative behavior has ceased. Furthermore, if investigation reveals that harassment has occurred, take steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment, prevent harassment from recurring, and prevent retaliation against targeted individual(s) or complainant(s). Legal counsel will assist with developing overarching policies for the organization.


4) Offer training and support

Require continuous education

Every individual at the organization, at all levels, deserves an opportunity to continuously learn. Consider integrating bias training (Facebook online training), mentoring, or coaching into ongoing efforts. Paid time off or in-service days to participate help everyone in the organization get on the “same page” about the presented materials.

Support employee resource groups

Employee-led groups formed around common interests, issues, or background may be a positive way to create a healthy work environment and increase recruitment and retention at your organization. Support these groups with budget and assistance in setting a charter, determining the mission, vision, and values, and infrastructure.

Implement feedback loops

Designate multiple ways to give feedback, both anonymously as well as named, and determine your team’s stated timeframe and methods for responding. Give your staff and clients a mechanism to surface complaints, suggestions, or issues and ensure that your staff knows that raised points will be reviewed, addressed, responded to, and potentially incorporated back into daily practice.

Update the hiring process

As part of your hiring, review your job descriptions, expand your hiring sources, and implement the Rooney Rule. For job descriptions to comply with federal regulations, explain open positions in neutral language and only document: essential job functions, any required knowledge and skills, physical demands of the job, environmental factors, ADA and/or Occupational Safety Health Act (OSH Act) requirements, and additional information to clarify job duties, responsibilities, or supervision. Consider expanding your hiring beyond employee referrals (where people instinctively recommend others similar to them) — find additional sources by searching for “disability+jobs” or “vets+jobs.” Make efforts to abide by the Rooney Rule when interviewing, to give multiple qualified candidates opportunities to compete for open positions.


5) Conduct baseline surveys

Collect and publish data

You only improve what you measure. Understand your baseline so your team better identifies achievable goals and adequately tracks progress over time. For example, use a survey to query existing staff satisfaction, approval of leadership efforts, intention to stay for the next 12–18 months, Net Promoter Score, and/or demographic data. How well does your team fulfill the workplace needs of individuals living with disabilities, veterans, older adults, women, and minorities? You’ll find out when you ask. Consider circulating reports internally, or publishing your data widely (TechCrunch diversity report) for additional accountability.

Match your population

Review your board and leadership makeup — does your organization match the population you serve? If not you may already be “out of touch” with what your audience demands. When any published list of board members, staff, or special supporters appears culturally homogenized, donors and supporters may take pause. When you primarily serve a particular clientele, make sure your public-facing staff represents that audience and speaks to, resonates with, and is sensitive to, your client needs.


Conclusion and Further Reading

Commit to supporting diversity and inclusive practices across your organization. When staff members belong and contribute to a unified, dignified, modern team, the board remains relevant, and clients/supporters/donors believe in your work as a 21st century organization, benefits accrue to all involved.

Want to learn more? Here’s a collection of links relevant to ongoing work to implement diversity and inclusion practices into organizations nationwide.

Published as course reading for the NTEN.org Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate https://www.nten.org/education/professional-certificate/

Monica S. Flores (@monicasflores) builds digital products to support a socially just, environmentally sustainable, and equitable society. She works in the technology space to support communities, dreamers, and doers who make a positive difference. Since 2004 she has worked with US-based and global membership groups, non-profits, public agencies, and startups to best reach their online communities through her consulting practice, 10K Webdesign. She also leads and manages large-scale web development projects, including redesign, refactoring, and digital platform buildout for organizations such as Green America, Ashoka Changemakers, and the GIST Network, a project of the U.S. Department of State. Monica’s focus is to build community, foster connectedness, and use her technology skills to make a better world. She is passionate about sustainability, social justice, diversity, entrepreneurship, education, and science/tech for positive social change.