Communications Essentials for Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives

communicate-sqGood communication is essential for growing an inclusive organization.  Communicating throughout your process will keep people informed and energized about the work and provide transparency for the process – which builds trust. Attention to internal communications also provide your organization with a precious opportunity to practice messaging before communicating externally.

If you’re about to embark on a diversity and inclusion expansion effort at your organization, the process will be much more smooth if you lay out a communications plan in advance of engaging in the work.  But don’t worry – you can easily adapt this if you have already begun your diversity and inclusion efforts. Below is a list of 5 key places along the way where you should pay special attention to your communications:

1. Leadership

There is nothing more important than having your top leadership be fully in support of your diversity and inclusion efforts.  This is not about saying the right words – they should say it in their own words – and they must walk the talk. It comes down to integrity – having a strong belief in the value of inclusiveness, speaking one’s beliefs about that value, and modeling actions based on that value.  If your CEO or Executive Director is questionable on this, your efforts will be seen as false and unsafe – for with one quick decision, s/he could end the whole effort. This is so important that the Denver Foundation, one of the premier organizations involved in nonprofit inclusiveness, states that if you don’t have this support, you should not engage in the work at all.  You can take a readiness survey here to assess your organization’s readiness to engage.

2. Diversity & Inclusion Committee Formation

Forming a committee that will guide your organization through the assessment and recommendations process is essential.   It can also be a painful process if not well thought-out.  Consider answering the following questions below before launching the Committee.

  • What’s the purpose of the committee?
  • What is the intended end result of the committee’s work?
  • How long is the committee’s work intended for?
  • Who gets to be a part of this committee?  Is there a selection process?  Are there clear criteria for selections?  Can people volunteer to serve on the committee?   Who makes decisions about committee participation?
  • What’s the “job” description for committee service?   What’s the time commitment?  What’s the expectation of supervisors of staff who would like to participate?
  • How will people be involved who do not serve on the committee?

3. Regular Committee Communications

Diversity and inclusion efforts can quickly become subject to rumor in an information vacuum.  Our country’s history on inclusion has left an imprint on people – when they don’t hear about positive movement forward, many people will assume no movement – especially those who have been subject to past failed initiatives.  It’s critical that your committee make a plan for regular updates about progress and next steps.  If you’re in the assessment phase, something as simple as a quarterly update that includes a map with where you started, where you are and where you’re going is quite helpful. If you’ve completed your plan and are in implementation phase, this should be a regular report on progress – where you started, what your targets are and how far you’ve come on reaching your targets.  It also provides everyone in the organization with valuable information about the process so they are not left uninformed in the face of outside questions.  You are equipping your staff and board with the proper tools to talk about the initiative and it’s purpose.  It’s also a long-term investment in the shaping of your internal culture, providing people with ample opportunities for practice.

4. Report Sharing

Are you collecting information as part of an assessment process? [if not, you should be – how else will you track your success?]  Are you collecting information along the way on progress toward objectives?  You absolutely must share these results with your stakeholders – especially your staff and board.   You can share all manner of aggregate data.  If in the assessment phase, be careful about protecting the confidentiality of your information sources and avoid individual finger-pointing – keep your data and reporting in aggregate form with a focus on the future and who you’d like the organization to become.  Sharing your results serves two key purposes:

  • Your stakeholders feel involved.   They have access to the reports driving your initiative.  They can see the process unfolding and have likely played a part in contributing their thoughts during your assessment phase.  They have ownership.
  • Your stakeholders are engaging in a process of change themselves.   By reading about the process, engaging in thinking and reflecting with their peers, and seeing the collective landing places, they will understand how and why you land on final recommendations – before you get there.  In essence, everyone is traveling the road together and although some may be at the head of the pack and some near the back, all will move forward together.

5. Input Gathering

Communication is a two-way street.  You must engage your stakeholders in this work, not tell them how it’s going to be.  In order to do that, you must seek their input, weave that input into your assessment and planning processes and then show people how their input is involved.  This builds credibility and legitimacy while also strengthening collective involvement and engagement.


 


If you’re just getting started on your diversity and inclusion work, click here for articles and information about first steps.  Running into some problems?  Here are some trouble-shooting articles to help you get back on the path again.

Kathleen LaTosch, MSW, specializes in working with nonprofit organizations to help them improve and expand their diversity and inclusiveness.  Read more here about how a consultant can help you optimize success in your efforts.

I’ll Show You Mine: Transparency in Diversity & Inclusion Work

truth“The first step is admitting you have a problem,” so goes the old Alcoholics Anonymous adage.  In diversity and inclusion work, it’s important to not only acknowledge this truth internally, but publicly as well.

Disproportionality in hiring practices, promotional opportunities, services delivered – all of these imbalances are obvious to those getting the short end of the stick.  People of color and other historically marginalized populations have gotten short shrift for all of U.S. history and easily recognize it – and the truth of it happening is rarely talked about or acknowledged by those in the majority population, those in charge at most organizations.

Google just turned that on its ear and was then quickly followed by Yahoo just last week.  Google publicly released their admittedly dismal diversity and inclusion metrics because they acknowledged that in order to fix a problem, the problem must first be measured.   Google is the first tech company to publicly acknowledge its poor record of recruiting, hiring and developing women and people of color with 70 percent of its workforce being male and 61 percent white.  Their transparency on this means that their books are open and the public is free to scrutinize – this holds them to a strong measure of accountability.  A secondary roll-down effect is that now all of Silicon Valley is challenged to follow suit and many do not even collect the data systematically.

Public transparency in diversity and inclusion work is key to making genuine, measured change. In a white paper by the Global Diversity and Inclusion Foundation, A Look at Transparency in Sharing Diversity and Inclusion Practices, they assert a number of key areas to consider when considering how to be transparent about diversity and inclusion efforts:

  1. General philosophy on diversity and inclusion
  2. High level overview or listing of programs
  3. Detailed information about workforce inclusion programs
  4. Detailed information about supplier diversity programs
  5. Detained information on efforts in diverse communities
  6. Information on awards won
  7. Demographic information on workforce composition
  8. Demographic information on board members
  9. Sponsorships or partnerships with diverse organizations

At Affirmations, a nonprofit human service agency serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities of Southeast Michigan, our transparency efforts started at the beginning of the initiative and included providing information publicly on all of these areas, except supplier diversity programs which did not apply.  Our transparency efforts began when the Multicultural Advisory Committee was formed and when community members were invited to be a part of the effort.  Further, it contained a number of on-going transparency steps throughout the process, including some of the following:

  1. Public Launch.  At the outset, it was important not to mince words on why the committee was being formed.  Affirmations simply stated, “the Multicultural Advisory Committee at Affirmations was established to address historic racial divisions within the organization and establish best practices for diversity and inclusion.
  2. Regular Progress Reports.  Once formed, the Multicultural Advisory Committee wrote quarterly press releases which were published in Michigan’s LGBT community newspaper, Between The Lines, featuring accomplishments, setbacks and providing information about who was serving on the committee.  Regular progress reports were also provided internally at staff and board meetings.
  3. Ongoing Community Input.   One year after the launch of the initiative, the MAC invited all community leaders to a meal and public forum where members of the MAC presented on progress to date, plans for next steps and invited public commentary on the process.   The public commentary yielded important results, including suggestions related to the city environment in which Affirmations existed:
    1. Do local businesses welcome and support patrons of color or do they drive them away?
    2. Does the local police harass and racially profile people of color?
    3. Consider hosting a town hall meeting with the city to address these concerns as they may be reasons why people of color are less likely to come to Affirmations for services.
  4. Publicly Released Final Report.  In October of 2012, the Multicultural Advisory Committee publicly released the final report – providing printed copies to the community, making electronic versions of it available via the internet and inviting the public to a presentation of the final recommendations

Remember that transparency does not end with a report or recommendations.  Diversity and inclusion work is an ongoing process, not one with a final end point.  Continuing to report out publicly on progress toward meeting goals is crucial to showing continued commitment and dedication to building a truly diverse and inclusive organization.

Read Part 8: Diversity Recruiting Strategy – First Steps

Update: Microsoft releases its diversity stats.  Biz Women Journal, Jan. 4, 2015.

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This is one post in a multi-part story documenting one historically white organization’s journey toward becoming racially inclusive.  The series seeks to document the challenges and successes faced along the way in an effort to provide a learning tool for other nonprofit organizations who wish to do the same.  For a complete copy of Affirmations’ “Blueprint for Change” visit www.GoAffirmations.org and click on About Us.Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012 
 
Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion planning for nonprofit organizations.  She worked at Affirmations, Michigan’s largest LGBT organization, from 2002-2011 and served as Chief Administrative Officer from 2007-2011.  While there, she was responsible for facilitating a broad-based racial diversity and inclusion initiative.  For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at gmail.com

Beyond Diversity Programs: Planting Seeds for Systemic Change

planting seedsHow do you take something from a diversity “project” to becoming integrated into the everyday workings of an institution?   Systemic change is at the heart of true diversity and inclusion work –

– to get to a place where you no longer need an initiative, where the culture of the organization supports a genuine and positive curiosity about difference, and authentic inclusion becomes a reflex for the organization. While many agencies start with an initiative, leaders of such efforts don’t have to wait until completion of the project in order to begin planting seeds for systemic change. The time to start is now.

Procedural changes do not require multiple levels of approval and they don’t need to cost a lot of money to implement, as long as the initiative leader has the authority or support to make such changes and has a measure of respect and credibility among his/her staff members.

To plant the seeds for institutional change and a cultural shift, everyone must be touched by the conversation.  When we began our racial and ethnic diversity initiative at Affirmations, led by the Multicultural Advisory Committee, we immediately began implementing strategies internally that would shift the organizational culture on diversity and inclusion – well before any recommendations came down the line.  By the time the recommendations arrived, they were welcomed with open arms in an intentionally fostered organizational climate.

Here’s what we did:
  1. We were specific and intentional in our messaging.
  • We posted our specific values statement on inclusion, called the Statement of Inclusiveness Principles, at our website and on large poster paper at every entrance to the building, along with the Code of Conduct.  The Statement of Inclusiveness Principles clearly outlined our values on inclusion while the Code of Conduct outlined behavior standards connected to those values.
  • We sent regular updates on the work of our diversity and inclusion initiative to our constituents through the website, newsletter and major media outlets.
  • We attached the Statement of Inclusiveness Principles to all job postings.

This was an easy, yet critical step to setting expectations within the organization and for new people arriving to their roles as board members, staff, interns and volunteers.  In fact, we regularly had people comment upon arriving, “I applied for the job because of the Statement of Inclusiveness Principles – it told me this was a place I wanted to work.”   Further, it clearly set the tone for new people on the values of the organization around diversity and inclusion.

  1. We enhanced existing orientation procedures – for board, staff, interns and volunteers.
  • We added an oral review of the Statement of Inclusiveness Principles and Code of Conduct at orientation for all board members, staff, interns and volunteers.
  • We required everyone to complete a 4-hour basic diversity and inclusion training within the first 90 days of service and we offered it on-site monthly.

Viewing our human resource pool as including all board members, staff, interns and volunteers was critical.  Volunteers greeted visitors at the front desk; board members represented the organization at a variety of internal and external functions; staff members coordinated teams of community members; interns often delivered service directly to clients – all were ambassadors of the organization and all needed to have the same foundational dialogue on diversity and inclusion.  In order to get full buy-in on the training time commitment from board members, it was helpful to have them formally approve the work of our diversity initiative first.  In fact, we didn’t initially make the training mandatory for board members.  The subsequent culture shift provided peer encouragement for all to complete the training until the board itself decided to make it a requirement of service later on in the process.

  1. We identified a cost-effective approach to providing diversity and inclusion training.
  • We contracted with a local third party respected provider of diversity and inclusion education, The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, to create a customized training for our organization, then trained a core group of staff to become trainers.
  • Once an internal training team was ready, we offered the training on a monthly basis, rotating between Saturday mornings and weekday evenings to accommodate a range of schedules.  We initially trained a team of five diverse and committed staff members, who rotated as co-facilitators depending upon their schedule availability.

It was important to outsource the initial training for a number of reasons.  First, they were an impartial third party with a distinct and credible reputation in the community on diversity and inclusion training – it lent public legitimacy to our efforts.  Second, they could use tested tools and approaches to create a custom training suited to our needs.  Third, it relieved the time resources that would have been required to create the training using internal staff resources.  And last, it eliminated conflicts of interest and power dynamics among staff related to program content, training models and effectiveness.  As an organization that prided itself on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender diversity, many people in the organization were already well informed on diversity issues; outsourcing it took the pressure off of “being right.”  Adding a train-the-trainer component allowed the organization to continue offering the training in-house for many years to come at no cost.

These were critical first steps in planting seeds for building inclusiveness into the organizational DNA.  After just 12 months, we saw a noticeable change in attitudes, beliefs and expectations.  A learning philosophy had begun to uproot a somewhat blaming culture.  There was also a shift in board, staff, intern and volunteer confidence in handling racially-charged situations which frequently came up between people participating in programs at the center.  One unexpected benefit – our monthly trainings were offered to all who needed to take them, which resulted in a mix of staff, volunteers, interns and board members at each.  Due to the intimacy of the experience, many formed lasting bonds with those with whom they had attended the training and this was often times a cross-role relationship with staff and board members mixing with volunteers and interns.  This cross-relationship building only further solidified and strengthened the inclusive culture that was taking root.

Read Part 7: I’ll Show you Mine: Transparency in Diversity & Inclusion Work

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This is one post in a multi-part story documenting one historically white organization’s journey toward becoming racially inclusive.  The series seeks to document the challenges and successes faced along the way in an effort to provide a learning tool for other nonprofit organizations who wish to do the same.  For a complete copy of Affirmations’ “Blueprint for Change” visit www.GoAffirmations.org and click on About Us.Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012 
 
Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion planning for nonprofit organizations.  She worked at Affirmations, Michigan’s largest LGBT organization, from 2002-2011 and served as Chief Administrative Officer from 2007-2011.  While there, she was responsible for facilitating a broad-based racial diversity and inclusion initiative.  For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at gmail.com