(Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)
It’s well-documented that social impact organizations led by homogenous and majority-white staff and boards do worse than organizations led by more diverse workforces that include individuals affected by the issues being tackled.
Indeed, they may do more harm than good.
While race, ethnicity and gender may be the types of diversity that first come to mind, they’re not the only ones, and we’ve covered other groups in need of equal employment throughout our hiring month — returning citizens, those with intellectual disabilities (including autism), homeless Philadelphians. Nonprofits and for-profits alike are considering the nuances of insuring that workplaces are able to create and retain staffs from a variety of underrepresented backgrounds.
Marta Rusek, communications manager at Quaker organization Friends General Conference (FGC), had a role in her organization’s efforts to support neurodiversity in the workplace. Rusek was diagnosed with autism as an adult during her time at FGC.
“[Getting diagnosed] was a long process, and I don’t think I would have attempted it had I not been at FGC. I didn’t tell many people about my suspicion that I had Autism, but the ones I did tell were FGC coworkers,” she recalled in an email.
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Nonprofits and for-profits alike are considering the nuances of insuring that workplaces are able to create and retain staffs from a variety of underrepresented backgrounds.
“Before coming to FGC, I struggled with social interactions and had trouble holding down a job,” she said. “I was gradually becoming aware that these struggles (among other symptoms) were indications that I may have Autism, but the fear over how my life would change if I got diagnosed prevented me from confirming it for years.”
Rusek credits the supportive environment of her coworkers and supervisors with not only supporting her in her diagnosis, but with changing her role in the workplace: Since then, she said, “I have developed strategies that have made me a better communicator and leader.” After receiving her diagnosis while serving as an intern at FGC, she’s since moved up to her current role as manager.
So, what are some strategies for preparing for these conversations and setting an organization up to be in the ideal place to confront these issues?
Equal Measure is a consulting organization with a goal to support nonprofits, foundations and organizations through these questions, centering diversity, equity and inclusion at the base of their work. Founded at Wharton over 30 years ago, its goal is to help those who “do good” do better. Clients include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Philadelphia Youth Network and Penn’s RISE for Boys and Men of Color, among others.
Vice President Renée Byng Yancey said Equal Measure is able to have both a national and local perspective on diversifying needs because of its range of clients, and cautions that each organization will have its own challenges: “Our clients are in varying places as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion, and we often use the phrase, ‘When you’ve seen one foundation, you’ve really only seen one foundation.'”
Byng Yancey cited Equal Measure’s own diversity, equity and inclusion statement, crafted during a revisioning process in 2015, as guiding the organization’s ability to support its clients in incorporating these values.
"We’ve made a number of internal investments in diversity and inclusion with the intention of identifying equitable outcomes."
“We’ve made a number of internal investments in diversity and inclusion with the intention of identifying equitable outcomes,” said Byng Yancey. “But that includes not only our hiring, but also once individuals are hired, ensuring there are good coaching models, apprenticeship models, policies internally that align with the aspiration of diversity and inclusion so that your systems are working in tandem and in support of retention of team members.
“What we have found as well, our clients want to understand that we’re actually ‘walking the walk’ or practicing what we preach,” she said.
And, said Seth Klukoff, Equal Measure’s senior director of communications, “how I think Equal Measure is walking the walk when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion is making sure that it’s woven into essentially all aspects of what we do.”
How can this be translated into actionable items? Byng Yancey and Klukoff offered some insights.
- Be prepared for change — While Byng Yancey said she sees the work Equal Measure has done internally on diversity as helping their work, she also emphasized a need for flexibility and a willingness to keep doing the work. “For certain, having systems already in place [is important],” she advised, “but being willing to adapt systems as the needs of the organization and individuals within the organization shift as well.” She encouraged organizations to welcome feedback and challenge from employees and board members as the changes take shape.
- Center intentionality — Byng Yancey says that conversations around diversity and inclusion have gained new language and direction in recent decades, and with that, most of their clients “realize where they are in their journey and wanting to push themselves to improve and to grow.” Added Klukoff, “now, the question seems to be how [to move forward] instead of why.”
- Support from the top down — Leaders who are willing to understand the experiences of their employees of different backgrounds are pivotal to making the change happen. “There is a deeper understanding across leaders, not just within Equal Measure but I think across the country and within the Philadelphia region, that we are so multidimensional as individuals,” said Byng Yancey. “So I may not only identify as a woman of color, I may also identify with other intersections of my life. Say I’m a working parent: That’s not something that I leave at the door when I leave my workplace into the broader community. I bring a richness.” That understanding, she said, is necessary to create space for staff from different backgrounds.
- Align policy — Klukoff encouraged organizations to work on crafting shared definitions of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the organization, not just from those at the top, to “make sure everyone who works at the organization [has a role and] ultimately [feels invested] in those definitions,” he said. “Because if you’re going to truly commit yourself to diversity, equity and inclusion as an organization you have to be able to understand those definitions and you have to be able to live with them and really weave them into your organization.”
While these ideas are oriented around bringing on more staff, it’s important to make the connection between hiring and retention — without systemic change within the organization, those new hires won’t want to stay. Byng Yancey and Klukoff said they consistently return to Equal Measure’s own diversity, equity and inclusion statement as their guidance externally and internally to changing the organization as a whole and in their work supporting other organizations.-30-
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