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
 

What Does Getting Commitment from the Top Look Like?

Denied-Approval-small

Perhaps one of most pressing questions from people who are working on best practices for diversity and inclusion is “what if we do all this work – collecting information and making recommendations for change – and nothing happens?”  For volunteers and staff who are members of diverse groups, this means, “hey, if you want me to put a lot of time and energy into this, I want some reassurance that the organization is actually going to implement the recommendations once they are made.”  There’s a fear, usually based on one’s real, lived experience, that suggestions and recommendations for change will not be heard or prioritized by organizational leadership.

And they’re right.   Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes the best laid plans are all for naught.  There’s a reason people are fearful.  Sometimes, when push comes to shove, organizational leadership deems the recommendations too difficult or time-consuming to implement.  They might say, “Why should we prioritize this issue – we need to focus on raising money.”  Or, “We have a mission and that’s our priority.”  Or even, “Isn’t this just catering to ‘fringe’ groups?”

The last thing you want to happen at your organization is for these fears to be realized.  Not only could it undermine the whole process, but it will damage your organization’s reputation on diversity and inclusion.  It will make it much tougher to successfully do this work in the future.

It’s important to set the stage early, before you do the work, to ensure commitment from each critical person whose approval will be required to move the recommendations forward once complete.  In the case of a small nonprofit organization, this means securing commitment from the board and staff, at a minimum.  It could also include key volunteers – people who will be charged with implementing action items.

Within Affirmations’ Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC), the group had established a base trust and had identified a solid model from which to work – the Denver Foundation’s Inclusivity Project.  Once the committee laid eyes on the 300+ page guidebook, there was a pause.  No one was ready to commit to that depth of work without ensuring that the board and Executive Director would back a completed plan 150%.   This was stage two of building trust – asking the leadership of the organization for a commitment to accountability, in advance of doing the work.

It was an important step and solidly prepared the way for future work to be completed.  The Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC) asked the Board of Directors to make a formal resolution supporting its work.  In a May 2009 meeting, the Board acted on that request, putting the resolution in writing, documenting it in the public minutes of the board record.  That resolution was then brought back to the MAC at their next meeting and presented to the full committee by the President of the Board of Directors.  This record was kept in the committee and board member files.

For groups that come together from a painful experience, this action provides a much-needed support and trust base from which to work.   This may not be the case for all organizations, and not all organizations may feel they need to gain this level of formality around their efforts, but it can also be a preventative step that protects the work from being derailed in the future.  This formality provides a measure of organizational accountability when board members or Executive Directors leave the organization and establishes a measure of expectation for their replacements.

After working diligently for two years, during which time there was  a whirlwind of change at the organization including the 10-month appointment of an interim executive director and the hiring of a new executive director, doubts arose about whether or not Affirmations should finish the work of the Multicultural Advisory Committee.  The board resolution and the Statement of Inclusiveness Principles (which will be discussed in the next blog) were the two documents that kept the work moving forward.

Read Part 6: Beyond Diversity Programs: Planting Seeds for Systemic Change

More articles on getting commitment from the top:
Expanding Diversity Requires Executive Commitment, Speakers Say.  Jeff Elder, Digits Tech News (Dec. 10, 2014)

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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

Building Trust after Trust is Broken

trust

Picture this: You’ve had concerns brought to you about the diversity and inclusion within your agency.  Some of the concerns run deep; they may even be open wounds and you know you need to address them.  You’ve gotten people to the table to talk, even those who felt reluctant to share, people who may have wondered aloud, “Are you really going to do something about this, this time?” or “How are you going to be any different from the last one [director/officer]?” You’re committed, you’re resolute… and you’re a little nervous.  Where do you go from here?

One of the very first steps is to establish trust among and between your committee members.  That’s not an easy task if people have had negative experiences with your organization or with past failed initiatives.  Choosing the right person to facilitate the process is important – s/he needs to have enough authority and influence within the organization to effect changes and commit the organization to them, be steadfastly dedicated to diversity and inclusion, be a respectful communicator and skilled conflict negotiator, and be open and willing to learn from committee members.  If outside facilitators and consultants are chosen to serve in this role, then the committee will still need someone of organizational authority to participate on the committee in a leadership role to ensure commitment to making changes.

When Affirmations formed its Multicultural Advisory Committee, it was designed to address a recent transgression that was rooted in a history loaded with structural and geographic racial inequality.  Those who came to the table were reasonably skeptical of the outcome of any planning meetings.  Trust was a difficult thing to establish.

Everyone’s heard the old phrase, “he can talk the talk, but does he walk the walk?”  Is it all talk, or is there any action behind those words?   In Jocelyn Giangrande’s book “What’s in Your Sandwich?” she interviews Bob Riney, President and Chief Operating Officer of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan.  When asked about reputation, he said, “to rebuild a tarnished reputation, it requires 100% ownership.  It helps to go public, stand up and apologize by admitting wrongdoing… it requires your reputation to be more consistent.”

A key element here is “go public, stand up and apologize by admitting wrongdoing.”  So many leaders within organizations refuse to acknowledge any role in creating the circumstances that led to the transgressions.  Paralyzed by fear, public admonishment, and perhaps possible legal recourse, they skip this step and move right into action planning. They avoid taking responsibility and consequently damage their ability to build trust within the community.  In some cases this is a fatal flaw in the process.

Have you ever felt like someone wronged you?  Have you had someone make an honest mistake but with good intentions?  Ultimately, you just want someone to own that.  To say, “Yes, this was wrong.  I did this and let’s make a plan to change it for the future.”

When Affirmations’ Multicultural Advisory Committee began to meet, the pain among community members was palpable.  People needed to be able to voice their hurt, have that pain heard and have leadership acknowledge the truthfulness of that experience.  The committee planned an off-site gathering, in a community member’s comfortable living room, with a potluck-style meal.  For three hours, people shared their hurts and their experiences and Affirmations’ leadership acknowledge the reality and truthfulness of those experiences.

Sitting with people and hearing their lived experiences provides one of the best solid foundations upon which to build.  The fears and pain are real and when fully understood by those in leadership, can provide a substantive base to inspire next steps that are thoughtful, caring and relevant to the concerns that are being shared.  It was only the first stage of building a solid trust base within the Multicultural Advisory Committee at Affirmations – there would be many more to come. But without a solid base, all future efforts would be weak.  This early step in Affirmations’ process was critical in creating an environment of mutual respect, caring and honesty and set the stage for even deeper, equally as honest conversations about transparency and accountability that would come up in future meetings.

Read Part 5: What Does Getting From Committment from the Top Look Like?

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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