This is one of the first articles I’ve seen talking explicitly about racism and its impact on people of color in the nonprofit sector (“How to think differently about diversity in nonprofit leadership: get comfortable with discomfort,” Nonprofit Quarterly, April 2017). All too often, nonprofit sector professionals, Boards and other stakeholders brush off issues of inequity within our organizations because we want to believe that the good we do in our communities should offset the inequity that we perpetuate within the organizations doing these good works. This is flawed logic.
Here are some of the challenges I hear expressed most often:
- “I don’t know where to find diverse candidates” (I have a list of places)
- “We’re looking for the most qualified candidates” (What leads you to believe that ‘most qualified’ and ‘person of color’ is mutually exclusive?)
- “I need to slot a [white] donor into this speaking role for political reasons” (Does the donor actually want that role? If you had a conversation with the donor about your goal to amplify the voices of people of color in and throughout your organization and why you wanted to do that, do you really think you’d lose funding? If you did lose their funding because you were committed to diversity and inclusion, do you really think that’s the right donor for you?)
- “It’s uncomfortable to talk about race; I’m worried I’m going to offend someone or say the wrong thing” (Why is your comfort more important than people’s freedom from racism?)
We, as a sector, must interrogate our biases and perceived roadblocks to equity. We must challenge the prescription for leadership that has been handed down to us. It’s obsolete and no longer serves us.
We are fast running out of reasons to internally uphold the oppressive systems that our organizations were created to mitigate. We simply cannot solve issues like poverty, food shortages, the need for affordable housing, transportation, education challenges, healthcare needs or community violence without addressing systemic racism.
So yes, if we want to get better, we’re going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations.
There is an expert resource at the ready for helping teams navigate uncomfortable conversations about race and other aspects of social identity, for cultivating authentic engagement on teams leading to improved performance and giving people the tools to create truly inclusive environments. Community Tampa Bay is here. Give us a call when you’re ready.