Embracing a Diverse Sector by Pushing Past Diversity

By Sean Thomas-Breitfeld

Co-Director, Building Movement Project

Over the past few years, racism has been a major topic in the news and on social media. But are nonprofits connecting the discussion about continuing inequities and oppression in society at large to dynamics within organizations and the sector?

Lately, I’ve been going around the country to do focus groups to discuss some of the themes explored in my organization’s survey on Nonprofits, Leadership and Race that more than 4,000 staff and board members of nonprofit organizations from across the country completed. Recently, a focus group participant shared that the nonprofit community has a race problem because it is “still focused on diversity and not on removing barriers.”

Valuing diversity does matter, and it was probably necessary groundwork, but today the conversation has to be about recognizing and removing barriers to the full inclusion, leadership, and advancement of nonprofit staff of color. Talking about barriers to advancement, biases in hiring, and tokenism within organizations may cause discomfort. But rather than shy away from internal conflicts, we have to embrace tension as an essential part of making progress.

Too often organizational staff seem reticent to speak honestly about their negative experiences, and leaders seem to regard critiques related to the lack of internal staff diversity as signs of disloyalty. But any organization that is mission-driven is going to have highly principled staff working to achieve their mission in the world. So when our own organizations fall short of our professed values of diversity and inclusion, we should expect staff to fight for internal change with the same zeal that we call attention to injustice and inequity in the wider world.

I hope you’ll join the discussion on America the Diverse at the NGen Experience for real talk about diversity; even if the conversation is uncomfortable at times.