How to Lose/Retain Diverse Leaders in 365 Days

Mar 1, 2019 | Woke @ Work

Written by Leniece F. Brissett, Kerrien Suarez and Andrew Plumley

Photo Credit: WOCinTech Chat

Organizations have a feverish obsession with getting diverse talent in the door. In the past year, Guidestar and NonProfit Quarterly published pieces underscoring the importance of recruiting leaders of color to the non-profit sector, but little has been said about retaining leaders of color, and even less about why so many leaders of color leave.

It turns out there’s a secret to losing diverse talent.

It takes daily effort, but with consistency, incorporating these seven components within your organization will send leaders of color packing (depending on what you do or don’t):

1. Tokenism


Spotlight stories like “The Secret to Retaining a Diverse Workforce” that tokenizes a Black leader by focusing on his athleticism as a basketball player (no, we’re not making this up) while diminishing the hard work it took for him to earn an offer at your firm.


Apply insights from Building Movement Project’s Racial Leadership Gap reports so leaders of color aren’t unwittingly used as “props” for photo ops, PR or HR benchmarks, but genuinely leveraged for the unique insight, talent, and skills they bring.


Look at the level of transparency Annie E Casey Foundation and Ford Foundation use in talent data analysis, and apply a similar lens in your work. Review and integrate insights from the Association of Black Foundation Executives’ Exit Interview, which outlines why Black staff leave grantmaking institutions, into your organization’s plan to build a more inclusive culture.

2. Assimilation


Complain about a narrow talent pipeline while expecting “unicorns of color” with a newscaster dialect and degrees from select academic institutions to conform to white dominant culture.


“Inclusion, not assimilation” as powerfully stated in New School’s Venture Fund’s study, Unrealized Impact:

An inclusive workplace culture is characterized by the full integration of a diverse set of staff members into an organization with a climate of respect and positive recognition of differences. In contrast, organizational cultures that require assimilation open their doors to people of color without shifting away from white dominant culture, policies, norms, decision-making, communication, or power structures…increasing diversity while still requiring assimilation into a white dominant culture does not achieve the organizational benefits of diversity.

Do the hard work of identifying and acknowledging systemic bias that perpetuates the non-profit racial leadership gap to develop a Race Equity Culture.


Do a staff engagement survey to assess the level of inclusion staff experience at your organization. Fund the People has an equity and inclusion toolkit for nonprofits and foundations. Assess your organization’s culture using Crossroads’ Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization.

Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy’s Dissonance & Disconnects: How entry and mid-level foundation staff see their futures, their institutions, and their field examines perceptions of inclusion and equity in the workplace, including alignment between institutional practices and staff values.

Move from an assimilation mindset to a participation mindset (immigrant context specifically). Understand that if you’re not open to shifting the dominant way of thinking, talking, behaving, and dressing at work, you’re probably asking the people of color in your organization to “cover” aspects of their identity and assimilate to white culture. If your team has already developed a shared language on race and privilege, use this