Don’t Check the “Diversity Box.” Be Inclusive.

Right now, “diversity” is a buzzword in my world, and the timing is apropos. I’m a member of Leadership Denver ’15, and our topic this month was inclusivity. Overall, the day was empowering and thought-provoking. And it struck a cord.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has recently had a series of opinion articles focused on diversity. In her piece, “Need for Diversity at Nonprofits is More Vital After Garner and Brown Cases,” Ann Lehman Lehman suggests that nonprofits turn to the business world to demonstrate the value of diversity. While there are some leaders in the private sector who have truly valued diversity and inclusivity within their business, more often that not, companies have policies that simply require HR to “check the box.” Lehman points out that if the leadership of an organization makes diversity a priority, and has a diverse board of directors, there is better likelihood that this value will be instilled throughout the company culture.

Christopher Corbett responded to Lehman by sharing “Simple Steps to Promote Diversity at Nonprofits.” He suggests that organizations promote diversity by incorporating such priorities into a nonprofit’s bylaws, led by the nominating committee. While I agree that this is a potential tactic, it doesn’t nearly go far enough. Let’s move beyond diversity in a “check the box” kind of way, and focus on inclusivity.

We can all agree that having a diverse group of stakeholders working together to solve a problem, sell a product or service, or develop a creative communications plan leads to richer conversations, a deeper understanding of the needs within a community, and better changes for achieving success. But the key question is HOW are we engaging our diverse stakeholders? This is the definition of inclusivity. Think beyond the benefit to the organization (which, more often than not, allows the nonprofit to inform their funders that they are, in fact, “diverse.”) When inviting diverse stakeholders to participate in your work, do they benefit in any way? Do they feel valued? Does the community benefit? How do we know? How do we measure that?

It’s not easy. This is complicated. Lehman points out that “what gets measured, gets done.” Measuring inclusivity is subjective. It means asking if all the voices are at the table. It means doing more to ask for opinions and advice. It means listening carefully. Nonprofit organizations are already overwhelmed. Their intentions are good, but the ability to incorporate inclusivity in a meaningful way is limited. But if funders begin to ask about inclusivity – rather than diversity – nonprofit organizations will begin to approach the subject differently. Don’t “check the box.” Value your diverse, engaged stakeholders.

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