The Importance of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Leadership in the Nonprofit World
For too long, nonprofits have desired to make social impact while often neglecting to center equity and inclusion for their staff. But as our national conversation about the impact of race in every facet of America continues, employees are seeking employers that are pushing past diversity statements. They are seeking inclusive workplaces that allow for them to show up authentically, bringing their passions and desire to make a social impact into their day-to-day work.
The good news is that if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that nonprofits can pivot quickly when they decide to. In March 2020, those of us who could had switched from cubicles to our kitchen tables almost overnight — and found a way to make remote teams work. We were innovative, finding new ways to serve our communities through additional programming and solutions that addressed the new pressure points created by the pandemic. This led to accessibility starting to be prioritized (a win for countless disability advocates) and intentional efforts on embracing anti-racism in the workplace.
So it’s time to get serious about advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in our sector. Creating an inclusive space where employees feel like they belong creates a dynamic workforce. When employees feel accepted and validated for their ideas and innovation and contributions toward the mission blossom. Our work to serve our communities has more impact.
But if we’re honest, even before we were talking about the Great Resignation, the average tenure within the nonprofit industry wasn’t great. And as a sector, we continue to struggle with diversity in our workforce and on our boards.
That’s why it’s exciting to see an increasing number of nonprofits hiring DEIB leaders. These leaders specialize in helping to ensure that staff, communities and the organization as a whole feel supported, enabled and empowered to reach their goals — no matter their background.
And they’re quickly becoming a powerful force in the nonprofit world. Anchored in the sense of belonging, these leaders help reframe the employee experience, ensuring that each employee feels cared for and respected, in addition to celebrating their everyday work roles and responsibilities. They also can examine the way power has influenced the way we have created our structures and challenge us to transform the way we do everything from fundraise to engage with communities.
Should your organization include DEIB leaders if they already have an HR department? Yes! In the traditional sense of the role, HR is responsible for recruiting, hiring and helping with employee challenges like discipline and firing. With a focus on belonging, DEIB leaders partner with HR to ensure equity is present in those processes. They also step in where HR ends and help retain employees, establish mentoring programs, and address organizational structures with an eye toward how to distribute power more effectively.
With a background in physics, I like to think about the role of DEIB leaders through a scientific lens. Every organization is unique with its own identity and many variables. By breaking these variables into small, bite size pieces, DEIB leaders can focus on in turn creating strategic disruption and a better working environment. Change takes time but can be broken into incremental steps that lead to big impact.
I’m proud to be a part of a nonprofit that’s embraced a DEIB culture, and I know our DEIB leaders have been essential in fostering the community and building relationships we’ve needed throughout this tumultuous time. So, to my colleagues in the nonprofit space wondering if DEIB leadership is effective and necessary, I can assure you, it is.
Clarissa Love is vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Start Early. She leads Start Early’s continuing journey in becoming an anti-racist organization that creates systemic improvements in early childhood education so that equitable access for all becomes a reality.
She brings more than 12 years of experience on DEIB issues within academia, community and nonprofit sectors. Previously, Clarissa served as the diversity, equity and inclusion consultant at Michigan Medicine’s Office for Health, Equity and Inclusion. In this role, she developed a DEIB strategic plan that created opportunities for individual growth and development, enhanced team culture and strengthened networks to build internal and external community equity.
She is a trained facilitator in unconscious bias, hiring and selection best practices and intergroup dialogue and practices restorative justice. Her research interests include: DEIB strategy, organizational engagement, anti-racism, disability and health equity.
Clarissa is a graduate of Hampton University and is a native of Illinois. She resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Sean, a teenager, and two fur babies, Summer and Harris.