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

Diversity Recruiting Strategy – First Steps

who-what-where-when-why-howMany diversity conversations start with the question, “how do we recruit more people of color (or more women or more ________ people)?” and while recruitment is certainly a worthy area to address, it’s helpful to take a step back and look at the inside map of your current staffing patterns first.

Getting a good handle on what’s happening right now will help you pinpoint specific areas for improvement and it’ll help you avoid common pitfalls and missteps.  For a working example of looking at existing staffing patterns, let’s use racial diversity.  Some key questions to be asking include the following:

  1. What racial demographics are you targeting? For nonprofits, this is sometimes answered, “representative of our region” or “representing those we serve.”  If this is your case, you need to gather baseline data on the racial demographics of your region or your constituency.  For the former, this is easily found through Census Data; for the latter, you’ll need to collect your own data on your constituents.  Keep in mind that even if you have a sense of where your target should be, laws govern the setting of written targets – you’ll need to consult an attorney on this one.
  2. What are the current racial demographics on your staff? A simple breakdown will suffice only if you have a very small organization.  Otherwise, for medium- to large-sized organizations, you need to break down the racial demographics by hierarchy.  If your staff is 50% people of color, but white people make up 90% of your leadership positions, that’s an area for concern and you’ll only be able to look at this if you gather the correct information.  A couple of other considerations:
    • You may want to look at payrate and race together, to get a sense of how equitably your pay structure is playing out. Are people in the same levels getting paid equitably?  If not, this could be affecting both your retention rates and your recruitment efforts.
    • Look at your staff racial demographics by department. Are some departments noticeably more or less diverse?  Why might this be?  What are the causes and what are potential solutions?
  3. How did your current staff come into their jobs? This is an especially important question for strategic recruiting.   Were they “warm” leads from friends or colleagues?  Were they promoted from within?  Were they former volunteers or interns?  Were they purposefully sought out?   Did they come in cold from a job posting?  Where did they find out about the job?  Look for trends and patterns broken down by race.  This will provide valuable information to direct your future recruiting efforts.
  4. How long have people worked at your organization? Look at this question in terms of racial demographics and also check for promotion/demotion history.  If there are race-based patterns, this provides for further areas of exploration.

This blog is based in part on a four-year racial diversity and inclusion initiative at Affirmations, Metro Detroit’s community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  In 2009, we took a close look at all of these questions and uncovered key areas requiring specific attention:

  • While the staff was relatively diverse (64% white; 36% people of color), leadership positions were held mainly by white people at the time (80%-20%). People of color were primarily employed in positions with less authority and were more likely to hold part-time or hourly positions, as opposed to full-time salaried positions.
  • Retention data was alarming. The average white person stayed on staff more than 5 years.  The average person of color stayed on staff less than one.  We were recruiting and hiring, but people weren’t staying.
  • Even though a small organization, programs were nearly always more heavily populated by staff of color, as compared to development or administrative positions.

Gathering this information was crucial to forming a solid recruitment strategy and for informing our retention efforts.  On recruitment, we needed to do two things: 1) target efforts to non-program areas of the organization – development and administration, and 2) target efforts on leadership positions.

On retention, it pointed out deeper problems and a need to gather additional information about why staff of color left the organization, on average, after less than a year.  Great recruitment strategy only works if people want to stay once they get on the job.  Otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels.  For more on this, check out a previous blog entitled “The Cost of Diversity Without Inclusion,” on the risks associated with diversifying your staff before making inclusive culture shifts from within.

Part 9: 5 Action Steps for Nonprofit Diversity & Inclusion


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

Incorporating the values of diversity & inclusion into the very fabric…

LIFT“Two years ago, LIFT embarked on a transformative journey to incorporate our values of diversity and inclusion in the fabric of our organization. We have a come a long way and we’re here to update you on our progress.”

-Kirsten Lodal,
LIFT CEO and Co-Founder

As more and more organizations realize that simple recruitment isn’t the answer, many of them are tuning in more deeply to the real lessons of racial diversity and inclusion – that it’s about a basic respect and appreciation for all people in the workplace.   This value and understanding must come from the top and be expressed throughout the structure of an organization – among all levels of staff and volunteers.

The first step is taking a good look at how inclusive your organization is right now – and finding out how people of color perceive it.   For historically white organizations, majority observations of inclusion are likely to be very different from the perspectives of people of color.  Learning about those differences and being open to exploring those differences is the first step toward building a truly inclusive environment within any organization.

LaTosch Consulting applauds LIFT for embarking upon an intentional and thoughtful process of both exploration and discovery.  To learn more about their journey, read here.