7 Steps to Increase Organizational Diversity
In this interview with Dr. Nicole Assisi she talks about increasing organizational diversity through 7 steps for organizations and their leaders
- Why Does Diversity Matter to You? It is important to get beyond seeing staff diversity as something that you count or that looks pretty in pictures. Assisi emphasized, “Diversity is critical to your core mission in understanding communities and educating diverse students.” Once you are able to get beyond what you want your class picture to look like, hopefully you will see that the reason diversity matters is because it helps us understand our kids. It moves us out of an ethnocentric paradigm into one of seeking to understand each other. It helps us become culturally responsive.
- Seek Input and Listen. It doesn’t cost to listen, but it takes some effort to get the input you are going to need to create a multi-racial organization. Try surveys or create an advisory to ask courageous questions such as: How can we make our organization or school more inviting to you? What are we not seeing or paying attention to? How can we become more inclusive?
- Set SMART Goals: Goals matter. It is impossible to be intentional without them. Assisi decided that she wanted be succeeded by a leader of color and “that was that.” If there were not enough executive level staff of color that might eventually take on her job, then Thrive would need to bring folks in at various levels of opportunity and train and support folks to have the skills they need. Goal setting makes a difference in making diversity a priority and making sure that resources are directed towards it.
- Intentional Outreach through Asset Mapping: It is critical that we see outreach not as a “wherever the chips may fall” game but rather a strategic process to reach networks and institutions with people from a variety of backgrounds. One way to do that is to go through an asset mapping process that identifies who within your community or state can help you who you may not already have connections with. That’s the rub – you have to map out the organizations you don’t know well or may not even know about. You may have to do some research. Have you reached out to black fraternities, Latino leadership councils, the Pacific Islander community center, or the Imam at the local mosque? Assisi warns us, “If you always do what you always did, you will get what you always got.” It’s okay to ask for help. Make requests to your community to help you build relationships with new friends and collaborators.
- Be an Advocate, Not Just an Ally: Bringing about change requires us to be more than cheerleaders who watch the marathoners run past us. One of our jobs is to actively create a safe space for colleagues of color. Assisi explained, “White voices matter when creating a multi-racial organization. This means I need to be prepared to take on the ripples and blows from white peers who do not understand the importance of this work.” Engage with other white leaders, staff members, and parents to have conversations about race. Authorize the use of a race lens in staff meetings by bringing it up so everyone knows it is discussable. Create space for students to share their voice, experience, and insights.
- Hold High Standards for Ourselves: Holding high standards is a double-edge principle. First we must hold high standards for ourselves to create an organization where people of color want to work, will thrive, and move up the organization. We need to do our best in forming new relationships, accessing new networks and reaching out and recruiting staff of color. It also means that we don’t fall into the trap of tokenism either. There are great people are out there – genius is distributed equally, but access is not. We must provide people with access to key relationships, training, and coaching to make sure that the people we hire have the skills and support to succeed.
- Make Peace with Discomfort. Talking about race can make us feel uncomfortable. But we can’t run away from the discomfort, we need to embrace it. As a white woman, some conversations are hard, but my discomfort is small compared to that of some of my peers of color feel in organizations that aren’t willing to use a race lens. I am committed to continuing the dialogue even when I am uncomfortable. I will dig in and do the work. Having the choice on whether I engage or not is a privilege. It often reminds me what white privilege is all about, but I will not back away.
- This article originally ran in COMPETENCYWORKS BLOG on September 7, 2016