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

Why Should Nonprofits Invest in Diversity & Inclusion Work? Arguments for the Budget

pencilsI’ve been worried about the diversity problem in my nonprofit organization for a while.  I’m the #2 person, my Executive Director is a little aloof about these issues – he’s ultimately worried that our white, wealthier donors and board members will see this work as “fringe work” and may think we’ve strayed from our mission.  And he’s right, to a certain extent.  How can we justify spending time and resources on internal diversity and inclusion when we have so little resources to work toward our primary mission?
Add to that the fact that I’m also the go-to person for all human resource complaints.  I’ve been trying to keep a lid on things, but I know unless we do some serious work, we’re going to lose people.  We’ve already lost good people and there’s some in-fighting among staff, although the ED is quite insulated from that.  We have some staff well-versed in diversity and inclusion who are all but calling others out on the carpet for their lack of awareness.  Others are really well-intentioned, but get beat over the head by other staff when they make mistakes out of ignorance.  I’m just not sure what to do, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to manage and if I don’t move the organization on this, I will feel like a hypocrite.
 I know we need to make changes, but how do I make the case to invest in this?
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s not unusual.  Many people in what I call historically white organizations have a primarily white leadership tier with more diverse hires at lower levels within the organization.  Well-meaning and well-intentioned leaders struggle with how to proactively improve diversity and inclusion within their nonprofit organizations.  They struggle with how to communicate urgency about this work, how to make a case for investing time and resources in it when both are already coming from overdrawn accounts.
Let’s cut to the chase.  Even though nonprofits are mission-driven, change-making, people-focused organizations, they are still in it for the money.  Not to make a profit, but to fund the work toward their mission.  It’s the reality.  And yes, there’s a much more compelling, human reason for diversity and inclusion at your organization, but that may not be the argument your stakeholders need to hear right now.
If you’re looking at it from a purely dollars-and-cents perspective, consider these facts:
1. The cost of replacing a staff person can cost an organization anywhere from 50% to 200% of that person’s annual salary according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
And diverse staff are much more likely leave organizations they find unfair.   The 2007 Corporate Leavers Report found that people of color are three times as likely to cite workplace unfairness as the only reason for leaving their employer.  Gay and lesbian professionals said workplace unfairness was the only reason they left their employer.  Where does that 50% to 200% come from?  Consider these factors:
  • HR Staff time (exit interview, payroll administration, benefits)
  • Manager’s time (retention attempts, exit interview)
  • Accrued paid time off
  • Temporary coverage – paid and “unpaid” where another staff full-time member assumes responsibilities.
  • Reduction in program delivery
  • Disruptions to team
  • Hiring activities (job posting, resume reviewing, interviewing, HR hiring functions, orientation & training)
It’s even more expensive to replace those who have been on the job less than a year because in many jobs, an employee is not fully productive for many months. This Compensation Today article highlights the costs of employee turnover.  A high turnover rate in the first year can be extra costly for the organization.
2. Failed diversity & inclusion initiatives are expensive.
Many organizations start their efforts with diversity training.  In recent years, research has shown that some of the traditional models of diversity training actually have an adverse effect on an organization.  In the 2012 Harvard Business Review article Diversity Training Doesn’t Work, Peter Bregman shows how rather than improving appreciation for difference, many trainings have the effect of heightening and polarizing difference, leaving people feeling defensive and cynical about training efforts.  The cost of these failed efforts equals not just the cost of the training itself but also the cost of fixing the mess – which includes bringing in better, more effective training, managing the increase in the staff retention costs (itemized above) and possibly lawsuit expenses.
Organizations should start with assessing what their training needs are.  One way to go about that is to use the Intercultural Development Inventory.  It’s a research-based assessment grounded in a developmental model that is non-judgmental and offers specific training objectives based on an individual and group’s intercultural awareness levels.  Most recently, the diversity and inclusion field has been abuzz about the effects of unconscious or implicit bias – prejudices that go unnoticed by the holder.  There are new trainings specifically designed to get at these unconscious choices we make – a critical consideration in the hiring process.
3. In ten years, if you’re not diverse, you will likely find that your grant-funding options will decrease. This is already true of major urban cores and is expanding out to more rural parts of the country as well.
The D5 Coalition is a national group of philanthropic organizations that have come together across the country to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in philanthropy.  They have four main priorities for big sector changes for 2015, one of which is to increase funding for diverse communities and ensure that foundations offer all constituencies equal opportunity to access the resources they need to thrive.  Another priority involves better data collection – including greater transparency of diversity demographics of organizations funded.
In October of 2014, GuideStar, the nation’s leading nonprofit reporting group, announced that it will begin collecting and publishing demographic information about nonprofit board, staff and volunteer diversity.  This will be an incredible tool for philanthropists to access when considering their giving choices.
So let’s tally up our expenses.  While the following exercise won’t be a perfect fit for your organization, you can certainly plug in your own numbers to estimate the cost for your particular organization.
  1. Lost retention of two professional nonprofit staff members: $60,000 (based on annual salary of $45K, plus benefits = $60K x 50% = $30,000 x two people)
  2. Failed Diversity Training = $10,000 (or much more, depending on how much you spend…)
  3. Fewer grant prospects = $50,000 (5% fewer grant prospects= 5% of $1mill budget = $50,000)

$125,000 – TOTAL SAVINGS
By engaging in strong internal diversity and inclusion work, the average one-million-dollar nonprofit has the potential to reinvest a considerable amount of its resources into its mission, build a strong and diverse staff team, reduce turnover, improve service and strengthen its organization.
It’s a new year and time for a new way of thinking.  Let 2015 be the year you decide to do something different.


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

Nonprofit Diversity Recruiting – Who’s in Your Pool?

swimmers“The truth is, when it comes down to hiring,  people tend to hire the people they want to spend time with, regardless of who applies for the job and often those people are people they share common interests and experiences with, people who tend to come from the same background. ”  

There are a number of common suggestions for recruiting for staff diversity:  listing job postings with diverse job boards, networking with culturally diverse organizations, connecting with HCBUs, participating in diverse job fairs, etc.

According to a study by Lauren A. Rivera in a report put out by the American Sociological Association, the truth is when it comes down to hiring,  people tend to hire the people they want to spend time with – regardless of who applies for the job – and often those people are people they share common interests and experiences with, people who tend to come from the same background.  If your personal networks are people who all look like you, you’re still going to have a problem, and we’re not even talking retention yet – we’re just talking about getting people in the door.

This New York Times article details how many of today’s top employers rely extensively on internal referrals.  And it makes sense – you want to hire someone good, someone who will do top notch work and help your organization rise – you want someone with a known track record. It makes sense to hire people you know or that come from a trusted referral.

So, who’s in your pool?  

According to the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2013 American Values Survey, the degree of diversity in one’s personal networks vary greatly based on race.  For the average white American, 91% of their personal network is also white – with 1% each of a number of different races and ethnicities.   For 75% of white Americans, their entire network is white.  For historically white organizations, personal networks are key.  If your circle is homogeneous, your short-list of preferred applicants will be too.

The ASAE Center recommends strategies that get at this personal network issue – get people in the pool before you need to swim.  This is absolutely true for small and mid-sized nonprofit organizations who may rely extensively on internal networking due to the availability of fewer HR resources.

How do you get new people in your pool?

One way is to expand your own personal network.  Even better? Encourage all staff and board members to expand their personal networks too.  Expanding these networks not only results in greater diversity among potential candidates, but has several valuable (and free) benefits:

  1. Broad-based diversification of personal networks. It deepens the awareness and education of each staff/board member regarding the critical issues facing that community while also reducing cultural assumptions based on lack of knowledge.  A key element in reducing unconscious bias is the building of personal relationships with those different from oneself.
  2. Deeper organizational connection to and with specific communities. The relationships that develop can create valuable programming partnerships, cross-issue advocacy, and expanded resource options.
  3. Better outreach. It raises the public profile of both organizations who are working together to achieve a greater common good and extends each organization’s marketing reach.

Once community partnerships are formed, the relationships have greater potential to last beyond individual leadership changes because they are entrenched in the organizational DNA.

When we worked on a racial inclusiveness initiative at Affirmations, Metro Detroit’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center, a group of staff and community members came together to brainstorm actionable and measureable ways to make this happen. Since Affirmations was struggling with having a largely white board and staff, specific encouragements were provided for both staff and board to help them build their own personal network and subsequently make more diverse referrals for open positions.

Recommendations for expanding your nonprofit’s pool:

For the board of directors:

  • Ask all board members to participate in 4-hour diversity and inclusion training within first 6 months of service (offered monthly).
  • Encourage board members to build a relationship with one organization serving a community different from their own and annually attend their events and network with members.
  • Invite board members to participate in a community leaders forum that included board members from other nonprofit organizations serving diverse constituents.
  • Ask all board members  to recommend one person of color for board service each year. This last item was supported by the work of the first three items.

For staff:

  • Require all staff to participate in 4-hour diversity and inclusion training within the first 90 days of employment.
  • Encourage staff members to build a deeper relationship with a “sister” organization serving a more diverse constituency – learn from that organization’s best practices, offer support in areas of expertise, build relevant and effective programming partnerships and join together on mutual advocacy issues. Have each  identify and network with a contact at each agency to support and encourage the establishment of deeper relationships among individuals at each organization.
  • Encourage every member to refer one person of color to the organization for hire each year.

Together, these ideas aimed at deepening cross-cultural relationships, fostering strong organizational partnerships and driving organic cross-cultural learning and thinking. Expectations for making referrals is paired with actions each person can take to successfully build and diversify their own networks.  They say “it’s all about relationships” – deepening relationships among people across cultural differences is key to arriving at that interview comfortably and confidently – for both the interviewee and interviewer.

Part 11: Why Should Nonprofit Invest in Diversity & Inclusion Work?  Arguments for the Budget


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 led a broad-based racial diversity and inclusion initiative.  For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at