Fumbling Towards Equity: Increasing Diversity at all Levels of the Talent Pipeline

Written in collaboration with members of Equity in the Center’s Partner Organizations:
MacArthur Antigua, Senior Director, Alumni Engagement and Cross-Sector Partnerships, Public Allies
Ben Duda, Co-Executive Director, AmeriCorps Alums
Ericka Hines, Director of Diversity , Equity and Inclusion, ProInspire
Monisha Kapila, Founder and CEO, ProInspire
Kerrien Suarez, Director, Equity in the Center

We believe that the nonprofit sector needs diverse leaders at all levels in order to better achieve organizational missions, as well as reflect the communities in which they work and serve. Currently there is a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the nonprofit sector:

  • 82% of the U.S. nonprofit workforce is white, compared to 65% of the overall U.S. workforce. In addition, people of color are expected to be 50% of the U.S. workforce by 2039.
  • Nonprofit organizations that serve children and families lack diverse leadership: 89% of nonprofit CEOs are white; 80% of board members are white.

  • Social outcomes differ based on race and ethnicity across multiple indicators. For example, the overall poverty rate in 2015 was 13.5% of the U.S. population, yet for Blacks it was 24.1% and for Hispanics it was 21.4%.

So what often holds people back from addressing this issue? Our work has identified three key barriers:

1. Creating a more diverse and equitable social sector is an adaptive challenge.  Oftentimes, nonprofits approach diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work as a technical issue that can be solved with a precise formula and tested strategies. Yet the work is as much an adaptive challenge as it is a technical one. It requires a strategy on both fronts to build inclusive and equitable organizations and work cultures that help move our missions forward. Adaptive challenges require trial and error and a willingness to iterate to find the right solutions. Meeting this type of challenge also requires a shift in mindsets and behaviors to confront the influence of implicit and unconscious bias on the behavior and practices of individuals and organizations.  

2. Organizations lack understanding of how to change talent management practices — and the patience and commitment to do so. Successfully managing talent through recruitment, selection, advancement, and retention is an important part of any successful DEI effort, but it is only one area that requires organizational focus. Organizations that want to become more inclusive must also focus their energies on building trusting relationships with their employees, broadening external networks, and cultivating work environments that ensure employees feel safe, heard, valued and included. What’s more, organizations cannot expect a ‘quick fix’ on their diversity and inclusion challenges. A successful effort requires time, patience and commitment.

3. Individuals who are motivated  to make a difference need support systems and peers to help them create change in their organizations. The work around diversity, equity, and inclusion involves highly sensitive topics that  speak to the core of individual identity. Leaders need to bring highly attuned emotional intelligence to the work of adaptive change in order to respond to and guide their staff as they engage in DEI work. Additionally, it is imperative that both vision and long-term commitment guide these efforts at the leadership level so that staff and stakeholder momentum is supported and sustained throughout the work.  

Moving the Field Forward
Is your organization ready to place a racial equity focus on its work ? Does your organization have some basic talent management practices in place around diversity, but doesn’t know how to advance to the next level of change? Our research and experience suggests that many social sector organizations lack an understanding of how to make the management and cultural changes necessary to become equitable and inclusive. We also find organizations that are engaged in this work enter these efforts in different places. Our current hypothesis is that leaders move through this adaptive change work along a continuum that moves from Beginning (“Awake”), to Disrupting (“Woke”), to Sustaining (“Work”) stages. Equity in the Center is developing an Equity Continuum to better define the progression that organizations experience in moving towards a racial equity focus. As a leader prioritizing this work, we encourage you to think about the stage in which your organization currently operates, and reflect on the challenges you face as you engage in the difficult but critical work of creating a racially equitable organization.

The Equity Continuum, to be published later this year, is one part of a more comprehensive approach. Equity in the Center, a field-wide initiative to influence the social sector leaders to shift  its mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial and ethnic diversity for the benefit of their organizations, our communities, and society.  The initiative has three primary goals:

  • Educate and increase awareness for leaders of organizations at the Beginning or ‘101 Level’ — those whose strategies encompass the practices and tools that measurably advance progress to improve racial disparities in their organization, but don’t focus on changing the culture of the organization to support individuals from different races.

  • Accelerate the pace and effectiveness of leaders and organizations as they move from ‘201 Level’ strategy to ‘301 Level’ strategy, by collaborating with aligned programs and lifting up models for the field.

  • Sustain leaders, capture learnings, and identify opportunities for collaboration to expand impact in the field.

We look forward to sharing more about our efforts, hearing from you about your organization’s successes and challenges, and partnering with you as we move ahead towards a shared vision of an equitable social sector where difference is valued and encouraged.

About Equity in the Center
Equity in the Center is a collaborative initiative that influences social sector leaders to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial and ethnic diversity at all levels in the social sector. The initiative was created by ProInspire, Public Allies, and AmeriCorps Alums in 2016, following a year of work together as part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Social Sector Talent Pipelines Learning Lab. Lack of equity and inclusion in the nonprofit leadership pipeline is a problem that requires long-term, sector-wide structural solutions that move beyond diversity. The long-term goal of Equity in the Center is that all U.S. non-profit organizations are racially diverse and are actively participating in, defining, and advancing equitable opportunities. Equity in the Center’s work is made possible with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the American Express Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, with ProInspire serving as fiscal sponsor and backbone for the initiative. Additionally, an Advisory Committee comprised of expert practitioners, thought leaders, and capacity builders will support Equity in the Center in defining strategies to achieve sector-level impact.