(Photo by Christopher Wink)
We often hear about the need for “diversity” in our organizations. But it can be hard to know how to put the term mean into practice.
Two experts in the subject spoke about it at Generocity’s February meetup on Wednesday night. Kelly Kroehle is the director of The Bryson Institute, which facilitates workshops about best practices for working LGBTQ individuals and is a subset of the Attic Youth Center, a center for LGBTQ youth. Marc Coleman is the president of digital agency The Tactile Group.
“Diversity” is tricky, Kroehle said, because “the goal of diversity should be to eliminate the need for diversity.” If an organization’s staff, its board and the people who are spearheading its diversity initiatives are all white or straight, then those people need to examine their privilege of how they got to be in those positions, she said.
Coleman shared his best practices for maintaining a diverse staff. You must hire for skill set first, he said, but if two applicants have the same skills, the person who adds diversity to the pool should get the position. However, your hire needs to be the person who is going to make your culture more diverse and better overall.
“Right now, I need some straight white men” because he happens to not have many on staff right now, he said.
Both speakers warned against tokenism.
“Sometimes people will just pick someone [to join their organization] to check the box off,” Coleman said. When he realizes he’s the only person of color on a board, “I make sure my voice is heard. You need to make sure you’re adding value to whatever community you represent.”
Kroehle urged that organizations not think of diversity individually, but institutionally, because one person won’t diversify the core of an organization: “When you say, ‘We have two people of color on our board,’” she said, “you’re saying your board is 82 percent white.” It can become a counting game.
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"It takes a much more concerted effort to have a diverse workplace."
What if you wish your workplace were more diverse but your boss doesn’t think diversity is important?
If it’s a big company, “that’s something that can be addressed at the C-level suite” or with a department designated to handle those concerns,” Coleman said. But if it’s a small organization, “you’re in the wrong place, because those decisions from a small amount of people” who have chosen not to make it a priority.
In education or nonprofit organizations, Kroehle said, you can argue that diversity adds efficiency because it’s better for your clients. “Your work is going to be better when the folks doing the work are reflective” of the population being served,” she said.
If you want organizational diversity but aren’t receiving applications from a more diverse pool, Kroehle recommended deliberately reaching out to networks where different types of people might be. Consider hiring for life experience rather than educational background. “‘Master’s degree preferred’ can be a big barrier,” she said.
“It’s about being very clear about the culture we have in the organization rather than the salary,” Coleman added — if you present yourselves as a welcoming organization, more people will apply.
Though eliminating the need for diversity is the ultimate goal, Coleman said we’re not quite there yet as a society.
“It takes a much more concerted effort to have a diverse workplace” than to not, he said. “We still have a lot to make up for.”