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.

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

Lessons from the Mayor of Ferguson for White Leaders

Mayor-Ferguson James Knowles

The images and stories emerging from Ferguson have been shocking.  What is also shocking is to hear the Mayor of Ferguson confidently proclaim that his city does not have a racial divide, and further, that nearly all of the residents of Ferguson, 67% of whom are African American, agree with him.  In reality, proclamations like Mayor Knowles’ are repeated every day – people in the dominant culture simply don’t see or recognize problems related to race and they minimize issues that arise.  The Mayor’s interview with MSNBC reporter Tamron Hall is a perfect example of these phenomena.  The old adage, “you see what you want to see,”  applies here.

On Monday, the Pew Research Center released results from a poll that found 80% of blacks said Ferguson events raised important racial issues.  Only 37% whites said the same.  Three out of four blacks found the police response to be over the top.  Just one third of whites said the same.

Each group has a completely different take on the same situation, and each group believe that they are in the right.  Sadly, the battle over determining absolute truth becomes the goal, instead of learning about the variance in perspective, instead of focusing on expanding knowledge and awareness, and instead of coming together as a community.

Let’s take a closer look at the Mayor of Ferguson’s behavior and remarks in his recent interview.  Qualities of the interview included bold statements of denial, defensiveness, and assurances that no problems exist – in the face of days of strife and turmoil within the city of Ferguson.  Denial, defensiveness and assurances that there are no problems (or fewer problems than others have pointed out) are a common response to allegations of racial disparity.  However, as long as leadership maintains that defensive mode, there will be no path to learning, no attempts to gather valid information about the situation, and no movement to explore change options.

Here’s what Mayor Knowles said when asked about racial issues in his city:

  • “There’s not a racial divide in the city of Ferguson.”
  • “That’s the perspective of all residents in our city, absolutely… most African Americans are happy in Ferguson.” [referencing above quote]
  • “This has affected about a half-mile strip of street in our community.”

The statements above first reflect denial; perhaps personal denial and definitely public denial.  Then the Mayor circles the wagons and attempts to show how his view has support – stating that he is not alone in this belief and that there are many others – strength in numbers.  He also makes a very common assertion – that the current complainers are a small vocal subset of the larger group affected: “Most African Americans are happy…”  Lastly, he minimizes the geographic impact the current crisis is having.  All of these statements reflect denial and minimization; none reflect an openness to learning about the problem, gathering more information and moving towards a collective resolution.

Let’s take a step back now.  This is actually not unusual behavior in situations involving race.  What’s happening in Ferguson right now is an extreme example of something that happens every minute of every day in smaller ways.   Perhaps you have a Mayor Knowles in your organization, business or community.  Perhaps it’s even closer to home; perhaps you are the Mayor Knowles in your sphere.  Perhaps you have been told that your community, business or organization has an issue with race and you don’t see it or don’t believe it.  You may be doing much the same thing as Mayor Knowles.  It’s quite common and you may be the person who needs to read this.

When a person of color has stated that he or she has been mistreated based on his/her race within your organization, do you think or say any of the following:

  • “That can’t be true – we don’t have a race problem here.” [denial]
  • “I’m sure the person of color misinterpreted the situation. Whatever happened wasn’t intended that way; they’re just being over-sensitive.” [blame the victim]
  • “That guy is a little rough around the edges, but he’s like that with everyone, not just people of color. It’s not a race-thing.” [denial]
  • “It’s just one instance. I’m sure it’s an isolated occasion.  None of the other people of color have a problem here.” [minimization]

In the case of Mayor Knowles, his claims are so outrageous that his assertions have lost any sense of credibility.  But in most cases, the response to allegations of racism is much more subtle and understated.   And they are so commonplace, that their use has become normal and comfortable.  They can feel true to the white person in a leadership role.  They are also often based on our own lived experiences.

We all live different lives based on our personal identities (which include race, gender and many other characteristics).  All of the ways in which we make sense of the world – ways we determine what is true in a given set of circumstances – are shaped by the experiences we have as we walk through this world in our skin.  We all have lived truths.

I don’t doubt that a white person could genuinely have a difficult time believing that someone they view as a “fine upstanding citizen” could treat another person, a person of color, in a racist way.  That white person hasn’t had a negative experience with the person in question.  That “fine upstanding citizen” may even have received awards for good deeds.  When asked about the situation, that “fine upstanding citizen” claims they were put in a bad position; they had no choice; that the other person was actually in the wrong.  Who are you likely to believe?

The truth is, white people won’t have the same experience that a person of color does.  In order to bring about real change, we need to try to understand those experiences that are different from ours.  The real work begins when we seek to understand the experiences and truths of others, our impact on them, and the ways in which we can work together to grow caring, connected communities.


Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012Kathleen LaTosch is a diversity and inclusion consultant specializing strategic planning for organizational change at nonprofit organizations. She works in Michigan and nationally, assisting organizations in making systemic and lasting change.  For more information, visit