Friday, May 1, 2015

Proactive Diversity

The recent tragic deaths of unarmed black men, including Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, are calling into question our commitment to diversity as a nation. We should be challenged to authentically consider the extent to which our country, our states and our cities are not only diverse, but inclusive.
As residents of Madison, WI, we often pride ourselves on our progressive values and mindset, and our commitment to equality. The recent shooting of Tony Robinson, a biracial 19-year-old who was unarmed at the time, by a Madison police officer questions our commitment to these values. At protests following Robinson's death, protestors chanted, "Who can you trust? Not the police!"

We know that such challenges surrounding diversity and inclusion are not isolated incidents. The Race and Equity Report  released in 2013 revealed staggering statistics about racial disparities in Dane County including that as of 2011, 75% of black children live in poverty, while only 5% of white children suffer this condition. Further, 50% of black students, and only 16% of white students, do not graduate with a regular diploma within 4 years. Certainly, we should work to eradicate childhood poverty completely as well as encourage all students to complete high school diploma in 4 years, but it is clear that efforts need to take into consideration this discrepancy.

As nonprofits seek to provide leadership and advocacy in support of marginalized communities, diversity and inclusion should no longer be sideline issues that organizations address if they have the time and resources; they need to be a priority if we are going to make progress as a society. While serving as the CEO of BP years ago, Lord Browne explained at a keynote address that diversity is good for business. He further said, "that is the simple strategic logic behind our commitment to diversity and to the inclusion of individuals- men and women regardless of background, religion, ethnic origin, nationality or sexual orientation. We want to employ the best people, everywhere, on the single criterion of merit." The critical part of this piece is his mention of inclusion. A recent report by Forbes confirms that diversity is not enough to make a positive impact in an organization, but "when coupled with an inclusive culture, diversity delivers higher performance, less absenteeism, more customer satisfaction and greater innovation."

With an awareness of these challenges that our country as well as our home of Madison, WI are facing, nonprofit leaders should proactively pursue diversity and inclusion within their organization and within the services they provide. The aforementioned Forbes article explains, "Inclusion requires individuals to alter their innate beliefs and behaviors, which is why it is more difficult to realize and so powerful when that happens." We are at a critical and trying time in our nation's commitment to diversity and inclusion; positive and proactive leadership should provide the foundation for next steps as nonprofits work for progress.

McNett, Jeanne (2004) “Diversity in the Workplace: Ethics, Pragmatism, or Some of Both?” Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 241-253.