Making the Case
Too often, the systemic injustices of our society show up inside even the most well-intentioned organizations. Throughout the nonprofit sector, decision-making positions have been disproportionately held by highly educated, straight, cis-gendered, older white people from affluent backgrounds. This is beginning to change in organizing and movement-building organizations, thanks to inspiring leadership from younger activists with historically marginalized identities.
Every one of the problematic practices laid out in the other 9 Key Areas disproportionately harms people of color, women, working-class people and/or LGBTQ+ people, so moving towards sustainable practices will boost DEI as well.
We believe organizations should aspire to remove all societal injustices from their internal workings. Here are some recommendations that we believe will help nonprofit organizations reach that ideal.
This section is not meant to be used as a checklist that will ‘solve’ all inequalities and exclusive policies and culture at your organization. Making your organization a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place requires ongoing commitment. These principles are dynamic and ever-evolving, so workplace policies and culture should be as well.
Spectrum of DEI Commitments
Is DEI work in your nonprofit seen as…
Valuable to the mission?
DEI is seen as helpful to organizational impact.
Central to the mission?
DEI is seen as important for organizational success.
Essential to the mission?
Since the organization’s purpose is to improve life for diverse people, success requires effective DEI work.
Thanks to D5 for inspiring this chart
A healthy organization continually works towards not just diversity but also cultural belonging, dignity and fairness for those with one or more of these 6 identities:
Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and Immigrants
- Accepts that the responsibility for creating and maintaining an anti-racist organization falls first on the leadership.
- Avoids placing all the DEI effort and emotional labor on BIPOC staff only, and fairly compensates those who are doing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work.
- Institutes a hiring policy that requires outreach until there’s a racially diverse pool, AKA ‘affirmative action’.
- Has hiring managers and supervisors who are trained to be aware of implicit racial biases
- Treats bilingual language skills and bicultural knowledge as valuable job skills, and compensates accordingly.
- Supports immigrant staff in seeking statuses they want, such as sponsoring someone for a green card.
- Doesn’t reject job applicants due to criminal records for crimes irrelevant to the job responsibilities.
- Learn more about addressing racism in the workplace and making the organizational culture more inclusive for all.
“Historically when people of color have been in leadership positions [in our organization], they usually quit within 6 months.”
- Considers staff’s family responsibilities when setting policy on healthcare and benefits including childcare, and when making decisions on remote work and flexible hours;
- Includes family planning and reproductive care in health coverage.
- Creates a family-friendly workplace, welcoming children if possible and providing childcare during off-hour events.
- Has a strong policy against sexual harassment, with a fair process for hearing from accuser and accused and explicit consequences for violations.
- Intentionally supports the professional development of women, especially those with interest in traditionally male roles.
- Has a culture that discourages mansplaining and men interrupting women and taking credit for their ideas.
- Consistently evaluates pay scales to ensure gender equity in comparable jobs.
- Learns more about addressing sexism in the workplace
Even though the nonprofit sector is predominantly led by cis-gendered women, don’t presume that therefore they face no sexism.
LGBTQ+ and non-binary people
- Sets policies inclusive of many types of families regarding healthcare, family leave and flex-time.
- Includes gender-affirming care in health coverage.
- Invites (but don’t require) pronoun and gender identity disclosure during meeting introductions.
- Provides adequate gender-neutral bathroom facilities.
Working-class and persistent-poverty-class people
- Focuses on skill and experience qualifications in job notices, not unnecessary formal educational requirements; disregards the relative prestige of job applicants’ colleges.
- Briefs hiring managers to avoid classist biases (e.g., against local working-class accents; against smokers).
- Doesn’t make assumptions about employees’ access to transportation, money, professional clothes or technology or internet access at home, but enables access for all staff.
- Regards roots in the base community and sharing their class, culture and/or speech style as a positive job qualification.
- Avoids or defines jargon terms and acronyms typically learned in college or in professional workplaces.
- Creates supportive spaces (such as classism workshops by Class Action) for staff and board to voluntarily share their class backgrounds and current class and to discuss class-DEI implications for the organization’s work.
- Ensures that all DEI trainers and facilitators include classism in their intersectional analysis and in their curricula.
People with disabilities
- Makes the process for requesting disability accommodations clear and accessible for new and current employees.
- Provides an ADA-compliant accessible workspace, including bathroom facilities and any needed adaptive equipment.
- Considers disabilities when making decisions about benefits and medical leave.
- Treats mental illness and neuro-atypical conditions as respectfully as physical disabilities in hiring and in making accommodations.
- Makes sure that all DEI trainers and facilitators include ableism in their intersectional analysis and their curricula.
- Follows guidelines from disability advocacy organizations.
“Working a lot more hours than 40 in a week while dealing with a disability that requires doctors visits caused some burnout last year.”
Muslims, Jews and other stigmatized religious minorities
- Has a flexible holiday policy to allow staff to take off religious holidays, as well as other times needed for religious observance or indigenous traditional practices; puts all holidays on the organizational calendar.
- Is inclusive of all faiths when planning invocations or choosing music for special events.
- Puts a religious tolerance policy in writing, and models respect for all religious and non-religious people.
- Makes sure that all DEI trainers and facilitators include religion-based oppressions in their intersectional analysis and their curricula.
Questions to consider when moving toward equity goals
- Are decision-makers disproportionately from privileged social categories, or are people in marginalized identities at the center of decision-making?
- Is there a racial pattern (or another identity pattern) in turnover and retention? Do staff of color or others feel enfranchised in an inclusive culture, or alienated by the organizational culture?
- When equity is discussed, are any identities, such as social class, left out of the discussion?
How to address diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace
Sustainable and aspirational solutions to problematic practices
No DEI policies; or policies exist but are not practiced.
DEI programs are led by untrained, inexperienced contractors, and sometimes backfires; or staff with marginalized identities are pressured to take on extra unpaid responsibilities and emotional labor.
Lectures and films are sometimes used as a quick-and-dirty substitute for participatory, change-oriented workshops and processes.
Every organization needs to have clear antiracist and other anti-oppression commitments, on website and in orientation packet.
Create regular spaces to review the policies, to reflect on implementation progress and to learn from mistakes together.
Regular high-quality DEI workshop series are facilitated by qualified outside contractors, and are embedded in an overall DEI change plan.
Ground-rules for meeting process include respect for everyone of all identities; ground-rules are reviewed and revised regularly and agreed to by all participants.
Large organizations should hire staff DEI coordinators. Staff who put in extra time on DEI work should be compensated for it.
Before hiring, research the efficacy of various models of DEI training to avoid methods shown to be ineffective. One-shot workshops have the weakest track record, so if possible, fund longer, more intensive interactive processes.
Some staff feel unsafe or unwelcome because of microaggressions (incidences of unwelcome focus on their marginalized identities).
Have written policies and training on avoiding microaggressions. Name specific common offenses such as touching Black women’s hair; unwelcome focus on national heritage like “where are you really from?”, and questions like “Have you had surgery?,” “Why do you need that [mobility aid]?,” etc.
The training should support staff to build the muscle for courageous conversations, to learn how an offending action or phrase may have caused harm, and to offer repair.
Oppressive jokes and comments pass without comment; or, worse, others laugh or chime in; or the offensive speaker is berated (‘called out’) with harsh personal attacks.
Cultivate an organizational norm of speaking up immediately and vehemently (about the offensive contents, not against the speaker as a person). Then follow up later with the speaker for private consciousness-raising conversations (‘calling them in’ rather than ‘calling them out’). Plan some educational programming with the whole staff on the issue, if needed.
Strengthen staff capacity to speak up with ‘upstander training’.
Accusations of bias incidents and microaggressions are swept under the rug, or, worse, reporting leads to retaliation;
or the converse: accusations get quick, punitive over-reactions without investigation.
Policies aren’t made explicit until they are breached.
Explicit definitions of discrimination, bias, sexual harassment, etc. are set and reviewed with all.
The designated DEI team uses a process, clear to all staff, for investigating complaints that includes hearing from accused and accuser, and lays out consequences for serious offenses, including who and how to repair any harm done. Base decisions about consequences on the facts of the case, combined with an awareness of oppressive patterns in society, not on popularity, fear of retaliation, fear of emotional reactions or fear of bad publicity.
Aim to make each incident an opportunity for learning, healing, trust-building and organizational growth.
DEI coordinator(s) on staff work to deepen the staff’s, board’s and stakeholders’ understanding of multiple systems of oppression and how a more diverse staff would contribute to advancing the organization’s mission and operations.
DEI coordinator(s) set up regular, mandatory all-staff trainings and convenings and facilitate goal-setting sessions for best DEI practices, with systems for tracking progress and accountability.
During conflicts or accusations of bias, emotional expression of accusers or accused is shut down as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘unprofessional’.
Conversely, managers sometimes give in to someone just based on their strong emotions.
Emotions, including anger, are welcomed in internal discussions of organizational practices, as long as no individuals are berated or bullied.
Resolve conflicts and incidents by the facts of the situation, not by who is more emotional, who is more or less oppressed, or who is closest to the facilitator or decision-makers.
During hiring processes, the excuse is often used that “none of ‘them’ applied” (referring to a social identity underrepresented in the organization, most commonly people of color). Hire after hire reinforces the lack of staff diversity.
Set an organizational policy that no hire will be completed until there’s a diverse pool of qualified applicants – and stick to that commitment even when time and money are short.
Go beyond specific hires to proactively create a pipeline of diverse qualified applicants in your field.
Staff of color and working-class-background staff are often concentrated at the bottom of organizational hierarchies.
Nonprofits sometimes use ‘window-dressing’ (e.g. spotlighting their rare staff of color in website photos) and tokenizing to project a false image of diversity.
In setting diversity goals, pay attention to rank within the organization.
For Black, Indigenous and people of color, working-class people, LGBTQ+ people and any other underrepresented identities, set goals not just of numbers, but of positions of power, such as board members, managers and technical positions. Proactively offer leadership opportunities and support.
Ensure internal career ladders offer opportunities for growth and leadership to meet diversity goals at all ranks. Set goals and incentives for achieving staff diversity and career advancement, and measure progress over time.
Staff in underrepresented groups are sometimes spotlighted and asked to speak for their entire identity group, or pressured to share their life experiences.
All sharing of identities and identity-related perspectives and experiences should be voluntary.
Invite staff members to name their own identities (e.g. whether ‘Latinx’ or ‘Hispanic’; whether ‘gay’ or ‘queer’), or to decline to self-identify.
Cultivate safe spaces that provide spaces for people to share cultural norms and experiences related to their identities
Staff in underrepresented groups feel isolated and wonder if others share their concerns.
Support staff who want to gather by identity for mutual support and empowerment; allow gatherings during work time.