Starting Diversity & Inclusion from Within: Mentorship Programs

movie mentorsRecruiting is not the only way to build a diverse and inclusive staff – and it’s not necessarily the best way – especially if your new recruits enter a team that’s not inclusive.   Unless you’ve committed to assessing your existing organizational culture and making necessary changes, you could be setting new hires and your organization up for failure.

One way to assure your existing organizational culture will support a diverse staff is by developing your existing team – starting with providing targeted support and mentorship.

Employees from marginalized communities typically have a very different work experience than those from the majority population.   In order to support your existing staff, it’s helpful to know what it feels like, to the extent possible, to walk in their shoes at work.

What’s it like to be the person who’s the “different” one?

  • I’ve felt highly prized for being black in a sea of whiteness, yet I’ve felt token and dispensable.
  • My concerns must always be carefully framed to avoid being viewed as “black and angry.”
  • As an Asian American person, I have a lot of anxiety about fitting in. I feel like I’m often excluded from client relationship building and assigned to an office counting numbers.
  • As a disabled person, I’ve been insulted to my face and behind my back on the job; I get excluded from critical work meetings and social gatherings all the time.
  • Being the “only one” is a balancing act that takes practice. It leaves you without a witness if anything happens.
  • I have to perform twice as well as my peers and look twice as good doing it. And always with a smile and flair.  It exhausts me.
  • I feel like I have to lie about who I am [LGB] or risk my career or job.
  • People don’t know what to do with my gender, so they avoid me or tiptoe around me.
  • I feel like it’s expected for me to speak for and on behalf of my people everywhere; I’m always asked to be on diversity committees, or to chair them.
  • I feel like I’m either labeled as an overachiever or a slacker, there’s no in-between “normal.”
  • I never feel like I’m doing enough.
  • I often feel unappreciated, undercompensated and overworked.
  • I always scan new groups, searching for people like me.  Searching for someone else who will understand what it’s like, hoping I’m not the only one.


The word encapsulates the feeling of being someone different in a majority-dominated work environment.  Breaking the isolation requires breaking through societally-fueled stereotypes and intentionally and proactively building supportive cross-cultural relationships.

One sign that things aren’t working at your organization?  High turnover rates for certain groups.  At Affirmations, when we looked at retention data for employees in 2008, (Diversity Recruiting Strategy – First Steps) we found that white staff stayed with the organization an average of five years, but people of color had a shocking average of less than one year.

How do you break the isolation?

Many organizations are successfully employing mentorship programs which help address the unique challenges faced by people of color and non-majority groups in the workplace.  A number of research studies have shown mentorship programs result in higher levels of mobility on the job, recognition, promotion, and compensation (Reference for Business: Mentoring Program Webinar:

Mentoring programs:

  • Provide career development with coaching, encouraging challenge, increasing opportunities for visibility, and protecting protégés from adverse forces.
  • Provide psychosocial support, personal friendship and support, acceptance and role modeling.
  • Reduce staff turnover.

Research on mentoring programs confirms that mentees report higher levels of pay, career satisfaction, organizational commitment and lower levels of employee turnover.  Mentors report higher levels of personal satisfaction, and job commitment and renewal.  Reverse mentoring provides an opportunity for the mentee to teach the mentor about cultural life experiences, enabling the mentor to be a better ally for the mentee and many others.  It’s a win-win.

Also, when you’re thinking about how you’re supporting your existing human resources, don’t forget about volunteers and interns.  Many nonprofit organizations hire “from within” and classify “within” as including volunteers and interns.  These are people who already have basic training on your organizational day-to-day functioning and can hit the ground running faster than an outsider.  Think about how you’re fostering relationships with the whole pipeline.

Developing your existing team is key.  Mentoring works.  Recruiting may be your first step if you’re trying to grow a more racially diverse staff from an all-white one, but you don’t have to wait for a position to open up to start becoming more diverse and inclusive.

For Further Reading:

6 Steps to Executing a Successful Mentoring Program:

Starting a Mentoring Program:

How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program:


Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012
Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion planning for nonprofit organizations.  For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at

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


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 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

The Cost of Diversity Without Inclusion

Part 3 of One Nonprofit Story on Creating a Plan for Racial Inclusiveness

By Kathleen LaToschNoEntry

More and more these days, organizations are joining the chorus to become more diverse and inclusive.  The private sector is abuzz with discussions of “return on investment,” while  nonprofit organizations often start the conversation with a visual audit of board and staff members and a quick acknowledgement that “we need more diversity.” Experienced diversity professionals know there is a significant distinction between being diverse and being inclusive.  And diversity without inclusion is costly.

As noted diversity expert Andres Tapia states, “many companies have gotten comfortable with the idea of bringing in people who look different.  The problem is if those people start to act differently, they get told, ‘We don’t do it that way here.’  And so the person says, ‘I thought you wanted me because I was different.’ And the unspoken answer is, ‘We like the fact that you look different, but we don’t really like the fact that you think and behave different.’”   In fact, this was exactly the issue facing Affirmations, Metro Detroit’s community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In the years leading up to 2006, Affirmations had committed to developing a diverse staff and had begun the process by actively recruiting and hiring racially diverse candidates.  One new hire was charged with the responsibility of being Outreach Coordinator.  The plan was flawed on several levels.  Not only had no work been done to create an inclusive culture at the organization, the Outreach Coordinator was charged with both reaching out to communities of color and designing and implementing diversity training for the agency staff.  In essence, the responsibility for diversity and inclusion was being siloed on the shoulders of this lone staff member.

As someone who was on staff and a member of the interview team at the time, I distinctly remember when our proudly Afro-centric potential staffer turned to me and said, “Kat, are you sure Affirmations is ready for this?”  I nodded emphatically, ignorant to the kinds of micro-aggressions that people of color often face when joining a primarily white staff.  No work had been done internally to shift organizational culture.  Styles of communication, dress code policies and layers of unconscious bias created a work environment that left people of color, especially African American staff, feeling isolated and undervalued.  When staff left in 2006 citing a hostile work environment, it was these experiences they voiced publicly in the media.

The damage done by attempting to diversify without making the necessary organizational culture changes led to a significant back-step and resulted in our community being painfully torn apart.  Not only did it negatively impact staff diversity, it affected the diversity of people participating in programs.  Many people of color no longer felt Affirmations was a support or resource for them.  When the stories of a hostile work environment surfaced, African Americans boycotted the organization and stopped attending programs.  Historic racial wounds were ripped open and Affirmations was faced with a much larger, more difficult problem.   The only real solution that would have lasting results was to work toward healing, which meant inviting a reluctant community to sit down with us at the table and embark upon the journey together.

When we began this process at Affirmations, we didn’t have a roadmap to guide our work.  The Race Relations Team, which had been formed internally following the public walk-out of African American staff in 2006, wasn’t sure which way to turn.   We knew we needed to bring the community together, we needed to acknowledge the pain and own the cause, and we needed to work together to create a plan for change.  We decided to create a very special committee called the Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC).

The team discussed critical ingredients for the committee’s composition, agreeing that success would require several key elements:

  1. The committee needed the voices of those wronged.  Concerns about Affirmations’ history had become stories passed from community member to community member, mainly within the LGBTQ African American Community.   The stories were so prevalent that even those who had never been to Affirmations now avoided it.  We needed to get at those concerns and bring those voices to the table to have solid input on making change.
  2. The committee needed more voices of color than white voices.  Affirmations, as the largest LGBT organization in the state, had a significant presence within the community and it had been led and operated out of a mostly white culture.  White culture often imposes its own normal as the normal for all and from that perspective sets the standard for everyone to adhere.  It was important to ensure that the white constituency on the committee did not comprise too great a percentage of participants so as to frame normalcy.  They could not dominate the conversation.  As we frequently talked in jest, “we’ve never had a shortage of white people; what we really need is diverse voices at the table.”
  3. The committee needed to be broadly diverse.  Although the race concerns tended to be framed largely in a black-white context, the Race Relations Team knew, even at that early point in the process, that other groups were missing from the conversation.  If we were failing the African American LGBT community, how were we doing with other communities?  So the team went about ensuring that several of the most populous communities of color were at the table.  For the Detroit area, that included Arab Americans and Latino/a Americans, specifically.
  4. The committee needed key community leaders.  Although we also wanted a community-wide invitation, encouragement to participate amidst the backstory meant we needed community leaders to model participation.  Leaders within each community of color were personally invited in order to ensure accountability from the group itself and also to encourage other members of each community to participate.

Once these priorities were documented, the Race Relations Team requested formal approval from the Board of Directors to establish a Multicultural Advisory Committee under these terms.  The approval and public announcement of that approval provided a measure of accountability to those who committed to serve on the MAC.  With two staff, two board members, and eleven community members, the Multicultural Advisory Committee held its very first meeting at Affirmations in May of 2008.  It was tasked with creating a set of recommendations for racial inclusion at Affirmations.

While not all organizations will begin a racial inclusivity effort under these circumstances, many will attempt to diversify their staff or board without making the necessary organizational culture changes for successful inclusion.  In a sense, Affirmations was lucky that a few very vocal African American staff shared their concerns publicly.  In so many cases, people simply walk away from an agency, sharing stories in their communities and neighborhoods, discouraging future participation.  Agency staff may never realize why they just can’t seem to be successful at their diversity efforts.  In our case, we were able to listen to the concerns and work with the community as a whole to create and implement the changes necessary to truly become a diverse and inclusive organization.

For a complete copy of Affirmations’ “Blueprint for Change” visit and click on About Us.

Read Part 4: Building Trust After Trust is Broken

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 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