Diverse Voices Matter @ Decision Making Tables: So why can't some get there?
Research has documented that having an inclusive organization where diverse voices sit at the decision-making tables of leadership generates better results. Then the question remains: why are organizations unable to get there? What creates the at times unconscious resistance to inclusion? Has the unconscious bias in our society become so deeply rooted that most cannot see the difference?
Many corporate, not for profit and government leaders appear to turn a blind eye to the lack of gender and racial diversity at tables in which they are privileged to lead and/or partake. In my opinion, those privileged enough to achieve leadership status of significance within an institution must pick up the diversity and inclusion mantel-what do I mean? Leadership, weather earned or inherited comes with great responsibility. Including responsibility to: act honorably; represent the needs and views of constituencies; open doors for those less fortunate; create opportunity and more.
A few weeks ago, I had yet another conversation with a non-profit leader interested in recruiting a few people of color to their organization’s board of directors. I have had these conversations for so many years I can’t remember. But, the interaction made me think about the amount of work left to do in order to achieve inclusion at decision-making tables such as boards of directors. Our conversation went something like this:
LEADER: I’d like to work on bringing a few people of color on the board; we are not diverse and though I have to work on diversifying the staff too, I want to start with the board.
ME: Why do you wish to diversify the board?
LEADER: It’s the right thing to do. The group is too white.
ME: What does the board think about your intent; are they in agreement that they need diversity?
LEADER: The chair will be fine with it; she will be okay.
ME: Has diversity and inclusion been an organizational goal, and, if so, for how long?
LEADER: Not exactly. Our clients are extremely diverse from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but we can do better within our board and staff. We don’t reflect our clients. I’m committed to diversity and know we have a problem.
This is a typical conversation with not for profit leaders. The good thing with this leader is the recognition that there is a problem when the leadership does not reflect constituents served. The dilemma: how to attract talented professionals of color that want to contribute to the organization. It really is not that difficult, there are many talented professionals of color who understand the role of service to community. However, organizations must prepare for inclusion in an intentional and thoughtful manner that signals to community and potential board and staff members that their participation is not only valued for their expertise but joining will make a difference. There is no room for tokenism. The ask must be genuine, clear and real. Becoming a diverse and inclusive environment regardless of industry is a journey board, leadership and employees or members in the case of government take together.
How then do organizations prepare?
- First, leadership must have an open, honest, candid conversation with itself and its leader about the journey they will embark on together creating a mutual understanding of purpose.
- Second, leadership must explore several questions including: Why diversify? What have been the barriers, if any in past efforts? Why now? What training do we need in order to be intentional and succeed? Do we need external help to ensure success?
- Third, leadership must be honest with itself: What are the reasons we haven’t been able to attract diverse candidates who stay? .
This is the beginning of the journey!
Tell us your experience! What have you done on your journey that had positive results?