Different colored paper cutouts representing diversity
Talent Published Date, 2021

Diversity Should Be A Leadership Priority, Not A Human Resources Function

Created By: Shaby T. Rosales
July 27, 2021

The business case for a diverse workplace has been made beyond any shadow of a doubt. A quarter of a century ago, David A. Thomas and Robin J. Ely argued in the Harvard Business Review that the benefits of diversity “go beyond financial measures to encompass learning, creativity, flexibility, organizational and individual growth, and the ability of a company to adjust rapidly and successfully to market changes.” These benefits have been proven again and again over the past 25 years, in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, but the shift from recognizing the potential of diversity to realizing it has come much too slowly.

In my experience, the organizations that “get it” don’t relegate diversity to the human resources department. Their leadership teams take on the difficult, uncomfortable, necessary work of eliminating inherent biases in their cultures and confronting systemic oppression in the world at large (read more: Rethinking “Cultural Fit” In Advancement Recruitment by the Aspen Leadership Group).

Coming out of the global pandemic, nonprofits are rebuilding, rehiring, and rethinking their workforces, so this is a crucial moment to finally get it right. Below, we share some recommendations for nonprofit leaders as they work towards greater representation.

  • Reframe your picture of an ideal candidate. Let’s say you’re hiring a Major Gifts Officer at your arts nonprofit. What attributes do you have in mind? What assumptions are you making about how your major donors will relate to the person in this position? If you don’t pause to question those assumptions, you might fall into the trap of limiting yourself to people with previous experience raising money for arts organizations. There will be a certain sameness in the resumes you review and in the candidates you interview, which may feel reassuring in some ways, but is severely incomplete. Somewhere out there, there’s a dynamic retail professional with a knack for understanding what motivates high-net-worth individuals. An entrepreneur who built their own business from the ground up and is ready for a new challenge. A barista, violinist, or retiree with an infectious passion for the arts.
  • Delete the job description boilerplate and start again. First impressions count. Do you want potential candidates to peruse your job description and see a tired, run-of-the-mill nonprofit, one that doesn’t welcome or value people like them? Chances are, if you’re describing your organization the same way in 2021 as you did in 2019, you’re relying on stale text. Consider one of the many augmented writing tools for rooting out charged or biased language. Rather than asking for 10+ years of experience in fundraising, why not ask for evidence of persuasiveness, tenacity, or effectiveness? Seeing these requirements, potential candidates might realize their experience fits the bill. Transferable skills, not job titles, are what matter.
  • Look beyond LinkedIn. Believe it or not, there are great people out there without any social media presence! LinkedIn has revolutionized hiring, but it has also helped to reinforce existing biases and blind spots. Big Tech algorithms have been shown to yield candidates within a narrow range of educational and professional backgrounds. Don’t forget, there’s a whole world beyond LinkedIn—including affinity groups, alumni networks, and faith-based organizations on- and offline. If you’re truly committed to a diverse workforce, consider expanding your network.
  • Get up to speed on equity practices. We’re so accustomed to many of our most deeply ingrained hiring habits that they have become invisible to us. And that’s what makes them so dangerous. Equity practices in hiring—and not just in hiring, but overall—will give everyone a chance to shine and to contribute to organizational impact. Focusing on skill, behavior, and culture rather than “relatability” requires adopting practices that might seem unconventional at first. For example, some organizations have taken to standardizing interview questions to reflect actual job duty requirements. (See this great list of equity practices from CauseArtist for more.)
  • Commit to transparency. Recently, the Association of Fundraising Professionals mandated that all job posts include salary ranges. President and CEO Mike Geiger has defended the practice, writing, “It will help the field take a critical step toward achieving gender and racial pay equity and, in turn, assist nonprofits in finding the widest pool of diverse candidates best equipped to serve their organizations and communities.” Transparency goes beyond salary. Open up about benefit offerings, work-life balance, pressure and realistic expectations. Frank conversations where you expose your vulnerabilities, and respect others for exposing theirs, can foster incredibly strong work partnerships.

The results are worth the effort. Build an environment where people thrive, and there’s nothing you can’t achieve.

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