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.

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


Perception Vs. Reality: Seeing through racialized lenses

eyeHow to Create a Plan for Racial Inclusiveness: One Nonprofit Story [Vol.2 | 12-4-13]

By Kathleen LaTosch

On November, 18, 2013, video clips of certain Grosse Pointe Park, MI police officers were discovered.  The clips showed the officers ordering men of color, who had been pulled over, to perform demeaning acts such as singing and dancing on demand in front of the officers.  The videos were then allegedly shared by the officers with other officers on the force over personal cell phones and emails.  When a local reporter came across the videos and contacted the police department, the Captain insisted that such an incident could not and would not occur in his department.

After verification of the authenticity of the clips, the story aired on a November 19th Craig Fahle Show on American Public Radio where online comments about the now-public video clips were discussed.  What was most striking was that the online comments did not uniformly condemn the officers’ actions; rather there was a strong and vocal collection of commenters who supported the officers and their conduct.  Comments such as “they [the men of color] didn’t look too offended, some even looked like they were in on the joke” or “I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be racist…” were prevalent.

This “blind eye” is a common theme and frequent observation among those engaged in racial inclusivity work.  The majority population often minimizes the experiences of racist treatment directed at people of color or even expresses disbelief in a person’s experience of racism or racist treatment.  We’ve seen this play out numerous times over the past year across the United States.  In November, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen was perplexed at how people found his statement of ‘interracial couples triggering a “gag reflex” among conservatives’ to be racist.  In October, numerous stories headlined individuals dressing up in blackface for Halloween, all of whom failed to acknowledge the negative impact upon people of color or the history of degradation from which the practice of “blackface” stemmed.  And most recently, after years of ignoring and overlooking allegations of racist “shop and frisk” practices, several department stores, including both Macy’s and Barney’s, were forced to acknowledge such practices after being caught on film.

These examples all highlight situations where the offender does not recognize an activity as racist but where the receiver of the treatment does.  I remember the first time a black staffer at Affirmations told me s/he never felt taken seriously by white people at the center.  I asked for examples and heard things like, “I walk into a room and am completely ignored,” or “no one even makes eye contact with me” or “one time, when I was new on staff, I was even asked to leave a table because I was perceived as ‘not belonging.’”

And then another African American staff member shared a very similar experience.  And then another.  And then, only when I knew what I was looking for, did I see it happen.

It was an awakening for me as a white staff member of a historically and predominantly white organization.  This disbelief or inability to see the experience of people of color is what keeps many organizations paralyzed from becoming more inclusive.  This disbelief was at the root of staff leaving Affirmations in 2006, citing a hostile work environment for people of color.

Once those staff members left, it was up to those left behind to make sense of what had happened and make sure it did not happen again.  Very quickly, a clear distinction and division in perceptions emerged.  There were three primary perspectives among Affirmations’ board and staff, a mainly white group of people, about how to interpret what had happened.

First, there was a strong group who did not believe the situation had any racial characteristics at all, other than the fact that those who left the organization happened to be African American.  When local community members rallied around those who had left, validated their experiences and called upon Affirmations to change, this strong group suggested they were a small yet vocal minority  that did not represent the opinions of the larger African American community.  While this group expressed agreement that the HR situation had not gone well, they suggested that perhaps those African American staff members had been overly sensitive and quick to pull “the race card.”  A different perspective of remaining board and staff agreed with those that left, saw staff treatment as inequitable, and either worked to make change or also eventually left the organization.  A third perspective was akin to a deer caught in the headlights, where people stayed stuck in the middle and remained silent on the controversy.  Regardless of where people stood, it was clear that change was needed.

The organization decided to form an internal Race Relations Team to get to the root of the problem and make recommendations for change.  At an early meeting in February 2007, three main perspectives regarding potential root causes of the situation were identified:

  1. It’s not racist – it’s all perception: the organization is not racist, intentionally or otherwise, but others perceive it as racist so we need to change community perceptions;
  2. Yep, it’s racist: the organization operates with intentional or unintentional racism which is combined with a disinterest in changing; and
  3. We don’t know what we don’t know: the organization takes actions that are perceived as racist by others, without intending to and without realizing their offensive nature.

This perception vs. reality conversation was pivotal and decisions could not be made without processing perspectives from all three camps.  Another critical conversation point came up around intentions.  The three perspectives all clearly articulated whether or not intention was a part of the equation.   In fact, there was a deeply emotional reaction for white people if they were regarded as acting intentionally racist.  Further conversation included questions such as: 1) are we racist?  And 2) if we are, is it intentional or unintentional?  And lastly 3) if unintentional, does that still make us racist and what should we do about it?  It was important to discuss the relevancy of intentional vs. unintentional racism for members of the organization and to understand that regardless of intention, the impact upon people of color remained.  It was through these open and honest conversations about intentionality and impact that the team was able to move forward and make recommendations to address the concerns.

After exploring these perspectives and gathering input from staff, board and volunteers via anonymous surveys, the leadership at Affirmations decided that it did not matter if a hostile working environment existed or if it was perception alone, whether it was intentional or unintentional.  The fact that people perceived Affirmations as having non-inclusive (at best) or racially inequitable (at worst) policies and practices was incentive enough to invest in making change.

While these questions may seem somewhat elementary to the experienced diversity and inclusion practitioner, they were critical process points for a historically white nonprofit human service organization struggling to understand the nature of its own lack of inclusion.  The reality vs. perception debate often had by people of color and white people, respectively, is a very real conversation and can be a critical step for an organization to successfully begin effective inclusion work.  The intentionality of racist behavior and practices is likewise a critical discussion point for white people.  It is through these conversations that a deeper understanding and awareness of the complexities of institutional and structural racism is revealed and opens the door for deeper and longer-lasting systemic change.

Read Part 3 here.


Author’s Note:

For readers interested in learning more about the concept of unintentional racism, the diversity and inclusion field now has several articles under the search terms of “unintentional bias” or “implicit bias” that explores the neuroscience of racism as wells as other forms of unintentional bias usually held by those with a majority or mainstream identification such as white, Christian, adult, able-bodied, etc.  Staff training is now available to help organizations recognize these biases and become more aware of them to support an inclusive workplace culture.

Read more on this concept here:

Sharp Racial Divisions in Reactions to Brown, Garner Decisions, Pew Research Center, 12/8/2014.

Whites Think Discrimination Against Whites is a Bigger Problem Than Bias Against Blacks, Washington Post, Michael Fletcher, 10/8/14.

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