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4 Steps For Bringing Up Equity and Inclusion At Your Nonprofit

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More and more, the nonprofit sector is having conversations about equity and inclusion. Conference keynotes, webinars and trade publication articles are prompting fundraisers to broach the subject within their own organizations.

In a recent Bloomerang webinar, I touched briefly on the topic, and in the chat one person wrote:

“I’ve tried to talk to my boss about the systems of oppression within our org and the need for IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access) initiatives, but she views it as an attack on her role as director. How would you suggest approaching her about this again?”

Maybe you can relate with the experience of being the person who points out the problem, only to hear the suggestion that you are the problem.

If this never happened, there would be no problem! Clearly!

Extreme Example:

You say, “Help! I’m on fire!”

They say, “I don’t think you are, actually. I checked my own self and I’m not on fire at all.”

Real-life extreme example:

You say, “I see systems of inequity playing out as our entire board is older white men. Could we include some people of color and women on our board?”

They say, “Do you have something against older white men?”

So what do you do when someone does not get it?

It’s hard to help someone – who has no reason to empathize with you – learn how to emphasize with you.

But first, you have to emphasize with them.

Here are four steps you can take to do just that:

1. Establish rapport with open ended questions.

Here’s how you start. Ask the person, “What do you think of when someone says equity? Or, what does diversity mean to you?”

When you start to get into what the person really believes, you’ll start to understand their basic biases around what is super important to you. Not everyone has the same definitions, or emotional response to diversity.

For some people from the dominant culture, even just saying the word racism makes them think you are calling them a racist.

This fragility is hard to establish rapport around. So, getting clear on definitions is a good first step. It’s a chance to correct assumptions before having larger conversations.

Once the person does share their definition of equity, you can ask, “Is there something you feel I’m not understanding about equity?”

This encourages them to open up to you even more.

2. Repeat the last thing they said, to show you are listening.

For example, if they say, “I love equity, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it encourages quotas, and ultimately I think those are unfair.”

You might say, “Unfair…” and then let them continue.

They might say, “Yeah, because the person who is best at the job should get the job, not someone who is just a person of color.”

And you might rephrase that and say, “Sounds like you feel like this system is biased against people who are best at their jobs,” and the person would say “Right” and then continue.

So, do this as long as you can stand it, as you continue to develop rapport.

3. Find common ground.

Do your values match in some ways?

After they say, “That’s right” because you have now aligned yourself with them, and shown that you’ve heard them, you can say:

“I hear that these words can be challenging. It’s hard to talk about equity and diversity sometimes.”

Then, say:

“Let me ask you this: Do you think it’s important for us to stay relevant?” Or, “Do you want more donors? Do you want a stronger team?”

They should say ‘yes’ to this. Then you can say:

“Due to the changing makeup of our society, our supporters will be over 50% non-dominant culture in the next 10 years. Do you think it’s important to engage with only 40% of the US population, or do you feel like we should try to speak to everyone, equally?”

“Diversity, equity and inclusion on our team is a way to get there. Opening a dialogue together at work and in the community can help people trust us, and stay longer, and make our workplace more productive.”

“Would you like to increase trust in people, and/or make our workplace more productive?”

If they say ‘no’: then after all of this work, you know you’re not going to change anything there, and the best thing for you to do might be to find a better place to work.

If they say ‘yes’: Here’s what you do! You can say, “OK. Let’s work on this together.” Then you can elicit some of their ideas for how to be more open and welcoming, while offering some of your own.

Ultimately, you’re paving the way for you to come back and say, “I’ve been thinking about your ideas, and I’ve been able to incorporate some of them into this new plan. I’d love to get your feedback on this. I’ve also showed this plan to four other team members, and they are excited about it. How about we talk about it at the staff meeting next week?”

4. Finally, hire someone to help you.

What would a better more inclusive workplace look like?

It’s different for every organization. But you don’t have to do this alone. Now that your boss agrees it’s important to stay relevant, you could have a budget to work on this!

For tough topics, hire a professional to help you! This is not a quick fix, it will take time to change organizational culture, and you need someone willing to work with your boss over a period of months, to help change views at the senior leadership level.

Check out some folks who specialize in IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity Equity and Access)!

  • Lynette Barksdale
  • LaJuana Johnson
  • Project 986 Consulting
  • LaKaya Renfrow

They can help you make a plan to get your boss to make a better working environment for everyone.

What do you think?

Have you broached this subject before at your organization? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below!

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