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Why workplace diversity is pivotal to your organization and five strategies for getting there

   /   Jun 7th, 2011News

Most organizations these days strive for racially and ethnically diverse workplaces and recognize the value that diverse employees can bring. But few, it turns out, successfully embody those values. A recent study conducted by  Commongood Careers in partnership with the Level Playing Field Institute found a disconnect between the intentions and actions of nonprofit organizations when it comes to promoting staff diversity.

According to the survey of 1,638 nonprofit professionals, 90 percent of employees said they believe their organization values diversity, but 70 percent of those respondents also said their employer does not do enough to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. (For the purposes of this study, Commongood Careers chose to focus on diversity as it pertains to race and ethnicity.)

James Weinberg, the founder of Commongood Careers, says the extent to which an organization embodies diversity not only affects its ability to remain competitive but it also plays a role in fulfilling its founding mission. “In the nonprofit sector, most organizations are in the business of helping people,” says Weinberg. “You run into a particular set of challenges when you run an organization that is not representative of the community you’re serving, and that opens you up to being disconnected to the nature and challenges of those in the community.”

According to the survey results, 64 percent of the respondents who reported that they left an organization because they experienced a lack of diversity or inclusiveness were people of color. Additionally, the cost to organizations to recruit and fill a vacancy can range from 30 to 150 percent of an employee’s salary – a much bigger loss for the big picture, the report indicates.

“In our experience working with the organizations who prioritize diversity and have a fundamental understanding of the full benefits of diversity and the costs that they incur if they don’t, is what separates a successful organization from those that aren’t,” Weinberg says. “This is a mission critical core value that is vital to organizations and it’s that perception shift that we really need to encourage in the sector.” As part of its mission to help innovative and entrepreneurial organizations recruit top talent to their organizations, Commongood Careers has included 5 Key Strategies in its report for how to build diverse and inclusive workplaces in the nonprofit sector. For more in-depth explanation of the strategies, read the  full report.

1. Have open conversations that lead to clarity, consensus, and commitment.

While conversations about race can be difficult, a productive exchange of ideas and openness can occur when a thoughtful process is implemented. One strategy that has worked for organizations to get a conversation going is to form a staff committee that is charged with organizing trainings, structuring settings for staff conversations, and reporting on results.

2. Communicate effectively about diversity commitments.
This means creating an organizational diversity statement and plan in order to have a way to communicate with current and future employees, constituents, volunteers, and stakeholders about your beliefs and practices. The diversity statement should clearly explain how the organization defines diversity, what its goals are related to diversity, and what strategies it uses to pursue those goals.

3. Develop partnerships and networks that facilitate effective recruiting.

Many nonprofits don’t properly take advantage of the pipelines available for recruiting diverse candidates. Nonprofits should look at other organizations that represent the communities they’d like to target, such as professional associations, educational institutions, alumni networks, cultural societies, listserves, etc. in order to expand the possibility of locating a more diverse candidate pool.

4. Ensure hiring processes that are equitable and inclusive.

It is important for organizations to take thoughtful steps to ensure that unintentional bias doesn’t affect hiring processes, and to conduct an audit around hiring-related policies for subtle cues that could be interpreted as biased, unfair, insensitive, or offensive. One suggestion is for hiring managers to focus on a candidate’s core competencies – their skills, qualifications, and personality attributes required to do the job. Weinberg also suggests involving diverse individuals in the design and implementation of the hiring process. The organization should also make sure that it is clear on its messaging about diversity throughout the interview process.

5. Embrace, develop, advance, and retain employees.
Simply succeeding in hiring diverse employees is not enough to constitute a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Preventing employee disengagement and turnover requires a nonprofit to actively work on activities that promote diversity. One way to help employees feel valued and supported is to make time and resources available for mentoring or coaching. Additionally, organizations must demonstrate a commitment to diversity throughout all the ranks, while also ensuring that diverse employees have opportunities to advance to senior leadership positions.

Follow Dowser @dowserDOTorg and Tamara Schweitzer @tschweitzer on Twitter.

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