Diversity is a big word.
A huge one, actually. Not because it's a particularly long one, or even because it's more than three syllables, but because it's a word that's fraught with meaning and connotation, a corporate buzzword that is also a pretty decent goal. Diversity encompasses differences in how you perceive and are perceived, how you act, how you think, and what you think. It's something that should be pursued, but should diversity be a goal for its own sake, or should it occur organically? How do you foster it in the workplace and create an environment that benefits everybody without creating friction? Where do you begin?
Although there isn't much research available about diversity in nonprofit organizations, what's out there concludes that – in the United States, at least – they often fail at keeping up with an increasingly diverse population. The reasons for this are often myriad: reluctance to change the status quo within the office, structural inequality, unconscious biases, and homogeneity within the existing pool of applicants for jobs within the nonprofit industry.
The issue of workplace diversity can, and should, be addressed with attention and care; often, that's mostly what it takes. It can also cost time, money, and significant effort, but then again, so can every meaningful human relationship. It's worth it, though. Commit to making the workplace welcoming to different people. Work on communication skills. Putting firm diversity policies into place while seeking third-party oversight is also helpful. And while friction can arise when cultural differences come into focus in the workplace, it's critical to learn how to address that, as well, for greater mutual understanding – which, in the long run, can only benefit your causes.
Here are four reasons you should embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
It fosters respect and creativity. The more you learn about other people, the more likely you are to respect and understand them. That teaches lessons that you can take with you everywhere: how to communicate, how to listen, and how to be socially responsible. Not everybody has to get along all of the time! If you learn how to resolve issues rather than circumnavigate them, it'll be good for you personally as well as professionally. This goes for diversity of thought and perspective and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as cultural diversity. An added bonus is that different perspectives means a huge well of different ideas to draw from. If everybody thought alike, the world would never see any innovation!
It's great for your cause. If you hire people from different backgrounds, they probably don't have many overlapping social groups – if, indeed, any at all. In this context, what does having a more diverse crew mean for your nonprofit? That your message will get out to exponentially more people than it would if you just stayed within one homogeneous group – people with wildly different and varied lives, interests, pasts, futures, and hopes, but who are willing to support you and your cause regardless.
It builds solidarity. It goes both ways. You want solidarity for your cause, of course: why else would you be championing it otherwise? So show solidarity. Be inclusive, both in the workplace and out. Go out of your way to talk to people with whom you might not feel you have anything in common. You might get rebuffed or confused. Reach out to them anyway! When people see that you are including them, they will respond in kind. Solidarity builds on solidarity, until it creates unprecedented bonds and connections. But don't do it for the sake of the organization. Do it because you are genuinely interested in people and their lives. That's why you're doing what you do, after all, right?
It helps your organization's reputation. People talk. They always have, and they always will. If your nonprofit practices what it preaches, looking out for all people rather than limiting your concern for just a certain segment, people will hear about it. If it seems hostile to one group or another, people will know about it. If you invite people in with open arms and create an organization that is respectful, engaging, inclusive, and mutually supportive, not only will potential employees know about it, but so will people who are thinking about giving to your cause. Focusing on your internal policies can reap dividends.
Diversity of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives can be a tremendous boon to the nonprofit sector, especially when paired with strong leadership and mutual respect. It sparks discussion, creativity, empathy, and helps shake up existing policies. It also helps people better understand the challenges other people may have, and how best to help start fixing them.
Strategies to make your nonprofit organization more diverse, as long as there's follow-through, will lead to more satisfaction from employees and givers alike, and perhaps most importantly, will help you and your organization make a greater impact. Plus, if you emphasize inclusiveness and respect, even in the face of possible misunderstandings, you're helping change the world for the better – and that's the most important reason of all.