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The Arc of Innovation

The Arc of Innovation: Timeless Lessons from Thriving Nonprofits

May 2, 2019
Hyatt Regency O’Hare

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August 7 – 9, 2019 at
North Park University

Participate in three eye-opening days of professional growth led by accomplished experts to enhance your skills, network with colleagues, develop your “personal board of directors” and create a 90-day action plan. Application available on our website; the deadline to apply is June 28, 2019.

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The Axelson Center provides customized training opportunities for nonprofit organizations that seek the expertise we can provide “in-house” for your staff or board. We offer support from initial inquiry to content development to program execution and post-event evaluation reporting.

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) as Organizational Change
Pier Rogersby Pier Rogers, PhD, Director,
Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management

Recently, as I was packing to move the Axelson Center to a new space on campus, I came across some articles I’d saved, and a paper I’d written years ago about diversity on nonprofit boards and other matters pertaining to diversity.  I commented to one of my team members about how things change but remain the same. That paper was from 1999 – concern with the lack of diversity on nonprofit boards remains the same.

The ongoing challenges with DEI appear to fall along a continuum. Some individuals seek to learn the basics; others want to incorporate a range of DEI actions into organizational strategies. Those actions might include learning to be more aware of the infiltration of bias in hiring or promotion practices, engaging targeted groups of allies, or instituting organizational self-assessments about DEI. Although the feeling is not universal, many people do seem to agree that improvements are needed, and that means change.

This whole topic of diversity, equity, inclusion has fallen into the category of trigger terms for some. They excite some who seek to address the issues; and others hunker down and want it all to just go away. However, as our world marches forward, we realize that these matters impact all that we do.

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In organizations, change can be complex, as we’re talking about working with people. The reality is that many people feel uncomfortable with change of any sort. The topic of diversity, equity, inclusion causes discomfort with some, and smiles of “it’s about time” for others. Because it too, is about change.

I’ve thought of diversity work as that of organizational change, which takes time. I wondered why I hadn’t heard much about that perspective related to DEI, but I looked more closely, and did discover articles addressing DEI in the context of organizational change.  One of them, a 2017 article by Gotham Culture (“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: It’s More Than a Training”), noted that sometimes traditional approaches – including training – can backfire and create animosity. The writer suggested that approaches to changing organizational culture, which takes time, are ultimately what is needed to achieve true DEI change. It is not only necessary to incorporate diverse people into an organization, but to address the ways in which the organization culture itself will need to adjust, because the status quo won’t work any longer.

Acknowledging the reality that addressing DEI really is about making change in an organization, then, is key.  And those who specialize in managing organizational change know that change of any sort requires an investment all around, and that takes time. When organization leaders appoint (or hire) someone to take on the DEI responsibilities, and just hire a few “others,” thinking everything will be fine, they’re not being realistic in understanding how organizations, systems, and people work and how change occurs.

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  Using the DEI lens in organization strategy enhances all seven Hallmarks of Nonprofit Managerial ExcellenceSM
 

All of this can be overwhelming to consider.  And, as I’ve learned as I’ve been more closely examining this work, some are discomforted by it all. There are some who feel that everything is fine as it is, and just to discuss these topics casts a negative light on an organization. The problem is that if you don’t examine something, you can’t learn and make changes. But that gets back to my original comment about change being uncomfortable for many. Another consideration is if you ignore problems, they often begin to fester.  They exist under the surface, and manifest themselves in many ways – staff turnover, unresolved disputes, whispers in hallways, fear of doing something wrong that may be then labeled as incompetence associated with someone who is considered as an “other – i.e. due to their race, gender, sexual identity, disability, age or other difference.  

Why raise these points now?  This whole topic of diversity, equity, inclusion has fallen into the category of trigger terms for some. They excite some who seek to address the issues; and others hunker down and want it all to just go away.  However, as our world marches forward, we realize that these matters impact all that we do.

The point is that these issues pertaining to diversity, equity, inclusion, can be considered from a broad range of perspectives, as we learn more about the ways in which they matter and impact the ways that we work, the outcomes we attain and more.

However, we must acknowledge that diversity, or DEI as we’re using the term loosely, does occur along a continuum, and we are all at different points on that path. It is important to acknowledge that, and to determine what will work best – within a given organization at a given point in time. In other words, some organizations are at a point where they want to set hiring goals; others want to facilitate deeper conversations; while still others want to integrate DEI values, approaches into their overall organizational strategic planning; and some are ready to deeply examine and modify the systems and policies that contribute to inequity.  All of those are valid approaches, and need to be supported. There is no single best approach. What is important is to realize the range of approaches, figure what works best in a given organizational setting and the desired outcomes and to acknowledge that we’re talking about change – which always takes longer than we’d like. But as long as we’re headed in the desired direction, let’s support one another’s efforts, share resources and strategies, and keep moving. We will be better off, as will our missions, our organizations, our communities.

Sources:

http://fortune.com/2019/03/04/chief-diversity-officers-are-set-up-to-fail/
https://gothamculture.com/2017/06/29/diversity-equity-inclusion-training/

 
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