The Cost of Diversity Without Inclusion

Part 3 of One Nonprofit Story on Creating a Plan for Racial Inclusiveness
[1-15-14]

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 www.GoAffirmations.org 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 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

 

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 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

 

How to Create a Plan for Racial Inclusiveness: One Nonprofit Story

Questions and Answers signpostThis is part one in a multi-part series documenting the story of one historically white organization’s journey toward becoming racially inclusive.  The series seeks to document the challenges and successes on the road toward racial inclusion in an effort to provide a resource for other nonprofit organizations who wish to do the same.  This first part is designed to give a brief snapshot of the entire timeline with subsequent editions delving more deeply into each step of the process (11-7-2013).

Forward by David Antonio Garcia, Executive Director of Affirmations  This past Saturday I attended an Affirmations’ Board Retreat. As I looked around the room, I saw a tremendously diverse group of board members. The Affirmations’ Board of Directors is a beautiful mix of diversity and a true representation of our vast LGBT community. The Board consists of transgender members, straight allies, people of color, seniors, varying social economic backgrounds and much more. The current staff at Affirmations is also representative of this diversity from the top down. There are currently five director level positions at the Center and of those 5 positions, two are held by people of color, two by women, and our current Fund Development Director is a straight female ally. Having a diverse board and staff is not simply the right thing to do, it is the best way forward. The organization is profoundly changed, grateful, and stronger because of the work done by so many. It is not enough to simply talk about the importance of a diverse culture, you must live it to truly understand its inherent value. We are not perfect but we are improved. We are not finished but we are better.” (11-6-2013)

How to Create a Plan for Racial Inclusiveness: One Nonprofit Story

By Kathleen LaTosch

 Black employees say racism played part in Affirmations shakeupread the newspaper headline on October 12, 2006.  The article reported on the exit of two black staff members from Michigan’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center, based outside of Detroit, Michigan.  The circumstances surrounding the two staff members leaving the organization reopened historic wounds within the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and sparked the formation of picket-style protests, letters to the editor, and boycotting of services.  It was also the catalyst that drove the agency to embark upon what would end up being a multi-year racial inclusiveness initiative.

How it began. The process formally began in 2007 after a heated meeting between community members and organizational leadership.  At that meeting, LGBT people of color met with an all-white group of Affirmations leaders and shared a comprehensive and proactive list of recommendations for the organization to become racially inclusive.   Following the meeting, a small group of board and staff members gathered together to take a closer look at the circumstances leading to the incident, explored the long-standing historical context within which it took place, and began to seek varied and vocal community perspectives.  By 2008, the committee had determined that Affirmations needed to form a quasi-independent “Multicultural Advisory Committee” (MAC) tasked with creating a set of best-practices to address racial diversity and inclusion. 

Getting the right people.  The committee, made up largely of non-staff, non-board community members of color, was offered the opportunity to do culture-changing work with full support of the board of directors. The MAC began meeting twice per month and would continue to meet at least monthly throughout the duration of its existence, maintaining and limiting participation to two staff and two board members at all times plus one coordinator in order to maximize community input and participation.  The racial balance of the committee, until the last year when the committee was coming to a close (and new members were no longer sought to replace outgoing members), maintained a white minority to enhance the relevancy, quality and integrity of the process and eventual outcomes.

Doing the work. By 2009, the committee had pledged to do the work at a very detailed level, leaving no stone unturned and documenting the entire process so that it could be used as a learning tool for other organizations.  Two years later, in 2011, the MAC completed the “Blueprint for Change” and forwarded it to the Affirmations’ Board of Directors for legal review and adoption.  With a subsequent reading and minor revisions, the plan was fully adopted and formally worked into the organization’s strategic plan in the fall of 2012.

MAC coverMonitoring progress.  Once released to the public, a formal MAC2 was formed – the Multicultural Advisory Compliance Committee.  The committee, chaired by people of color community leaders, was tasked with monitoring Affirmation’s progress in meeting the objectives outlined in the Blueprint for Change.  This winter, 2013, Affirmations will be releasing its first report on work toward meeting those objectives.   The full plan is available online at Affirmations’ website: http://www.goaffirmations.org/?page=about_us.

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 

Read Part 2 here.

 
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