Equity Highlights from 2021 and 2020
In episode 39, Carol Hamilton looks back at the last year and a half of Mission Impact. Using clips from interviews with Tip Fallon, Nyacko Perry, Carlyn Madden, Kristin Bradley-Bull, Keisha Sitney, Rosalind Spigel, Stephen Graves and Nathaniel Benjamin, she examines:
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Carol Hamilton: For this first episode of 2022, I am looking back. Over the past year and a half I have released 38 episodes. And I started interviewing for the podcast just as the pandemic started in March 2020. I also started another brief project that was going to be the podcast Culture Fit which I am fitting into Mission: Impact instead. Over those interviews issues of equity – diversity, equity and inclusion – and how these issues show up in organizations – especially nonprofit organizations have emerged frequently in our conversations. For this episode I am featuring some of the highlights from those conversations. I loved the chance to look back and listen to those episodes and look for some gems. While there was a lot more great stuff I could have included, I try to focus on a few themes that went across interviews. These themes included:
Tip Fallon: That's my belief in an underpinning, even in nonprofit organizations who may be providing social services or direct support in the community, in one sense, like those are still a, maybe not a microcosm, but they sit within a larger society in this larger society. If we talk about whether it's patriarchy or the racism or xenophobia or any of those things, but even sometimes just the, the capitalist mindset when the individualistic mindset that promotes a belief of scarcity, organizations and cultures are not things that fell from the sky. So we need to remember that people, maybe not us people, maybe generations ago made some decisions. Many of them very. oppressive decisions towards entire groups of races, of people that created a lot of these structures and organizations and hierarchies that we're living in then for today, what are our decisions and what are. The ramifications, not just today, but to borrow from indigenous mindsets and ideology, multiple generations down the line because we're creating cultures today that will last well beyond the 5:00 PM or 6:00 PM or 10:00 PM that a lot of people work
Carol: Nyacko Perry comments. On how the ways we work and measure productivity and accomplishment. Spring from roots. That would most likely surprise most of us
Nyacko Perry: Our structures in general in terms of business are based on white supremacy. All the way from our educational systems, our business structures, I was listening to the 1619 project. An amazing piece by the New York Times, that really looks into our history of slavery and also just the legacy of slavery. And one major piece is that a lot of our business structures are based on how the plantations were run. They had very complex systems, they had middle management and ideas about productivity and reports about productivity, of how. Feed a slave and have them be as efficient as possible. And we're extremely successful in that. So much of our. And America is based on that piece of our history in our life. So when I think about just structures in general, I'm like, yeah, like the whole thing, everything, which does make it difficult, I guess, to just live in society and to work in any system. I guess the rationale that I give myself is that I'm here to dismantle and to support in the transition and the change. But I think it's very important to just acknowledge where our structures come from.
Carol: The nonprofit sector certainly mirrors the rest of the culture in terms of who shows up in what levels of leaders. And on boards, there have been calls from major institutions in the sector for years to work on the issue. And yet the needle hasn't really moved much in terms of diversifying. I think a lot of it has to do with this notion, especially in predominantly white organizations of what's just about diversity and it's about numbers. Let's get at least one person, one person of color, one person with some diversity factor beyond a white and men and women. But then that underlying factor of how is the culture supporting that person to be able to be successful and really contribute in a meaningful way. Carlyn Madden sites. The study that I was referring to.
Carlyn Madden: Jean Bell, who talks about, I think it's called hire by higher and talks about some of the survey data on executive leadership in the nonprofit sector has not changed in the last 20 years. The demographics do not actually change.
Carol: Given the context that we live in and the stubbornness of the challenge. What can people do to move the needle? Kristin Bradley-Bull offers one possibility
Kristin Bradley-Bull: History is written by the so-called winner. Think that's all wrapped up in what you're talking about and one, certainly, of the primary opportunities for so many nonprofits is too. And especially ones that are white led is to really. Start listening a lot more to listen more deeply to stories from the communities that they are a part of, or not as much a part of it as they wish that they were because that's where so much wisdom rests. And it is in storytelling that many learnings, many examples of resilience and creativity and perseverance. Live and live actively, certainly in the nonprofit sector, how are we, how are we supporting? How are we supporting a system that, how are we supporting the larger system that isn't serving a lot of our community members? So I think there are lots and lots of questions and all of that. And some of what I take hope from is that piece around. We have activists and movements who are pushing. And so when the more traditional nonprofit sector is in good dialogue with movement folks, there's lots of zest. There, there are lots of aha moments. And so I think we just have to continue again. It's that porousness, it's that sharing of stories that. That helps others in the non-profits sphere or grassroots activists and people in the non-profit and the formal nonprofit sphere, as well as grassroots groups that are not , there's a lot of possibility and bringing all those folks into conversation, storytelling, deep, deep consideration of comments. Common interests, which is not necessarily the first thing that people recognize, but we have common interests in what I would call collective liberation.
Carol: Nyacko Perry speaks to this as well and goes beyond storytelling. To how it shows up with frontline staff. As well as leadership. And the connection. Or rather the frequent lack of connection to the community that is being served
Nyacko: People that are doing the really direct service are having. A real challenging time, especially around their income, more often than not, they're the least paid person, but they're the people that are really dealing with the direct work. And then there's a whole disconnect between the direct service people and the people that are really high up. And the other disconnect in that area is. Race. It's like direct service. That's where all the people of color work. And then as you go up, it's just all white. And that, to me, like, I think symbolically, I find disturbing I'm like, what is that about? And then also in terms of who they serve more often than not, it's people of color, people that we've represented with disenfranchised identities, and that's not reflected in the leadership of non-pro. And so for me, there's just this huge disparity and disconnect that I don't understand. And I feel troubled by more often than not the people who need help are people that represent disenfranchised identities. And why is it that we don't have those that represent those identities in leadership? I mean, that's where I see there's just a huge problem in that, but I mean, honestly, my friends that are a nonprofit when I've worked in non-profit, it's just, it's almost like it's normalized where yeah. The whole board is white. The whole leadership is white. They don't know what's happening. Like they're not connected to the actual experience of the people that they're serving, but they get to make the most important, most drastic. And, fundamentally for me, it's the people that are closest to the pain should be closest to the access and closest to helping to make decisions, and I'm pulling from my Congressmember, Ayanna Presley, but that's the thing we need to people who are representing that identities should be part of. The solution should be part of making those major decisions. And I don't see that. I rarely see that. And I think we know statistically, it's not there. It's like at all, we think it's like 0.05%.
Carol: Another theme I heard in our conversations was about assimilation. One of the challenges that I think few white people realize is the extent to which black indigenous and people of color BIPOC may feel pressured to assimilate. Into the white dominant culture to succeed. And the emotional toll that that assimilation takes every day. Tip describes this phenomenon.
Tip: It is internalized in us. We default to let me wear the mask because I know at least I may be able to survive in this space and maybe be able to foster some relationships with that and get my agenda across. And what I find sometimes is sometimes that math. There is a permeable boundary between the mask and us. Sometimes it seeps into us, I think at an unconscious level. I mean, we end up with ourselves and others unintentionally sometimes perpetuating some of the mask wearing in our organizations, but there's a generational divide as well. So even there, there is a little bit of tension just generationally. I mean, this is again a big generalization, but sometimes younger people are coming into the workforce. Now that I have a little bit more latitude and say, Hey, I want to wear my hair or even my clothing and appearance, or even my language in a style that seems authentic and natural to me. And we shouldn't be afraid to talk about this. So, Hey supervisor, like, can you call some of this stuff out? Because I don't really feel included. Supervisors might say, Hey, I've got to negotiate my boundaries with these funders or these community partners or X, Y, Z. And I'm trying to sort of toe that line and we're going to get more, what is it? Get more bees with. If you will. So like let's sort of not rock the boat or whatever the averages are. That's a little bit, a little bit much for the appetite and the culture of that organization. And so what we see in that situation is, is someone who says, Hey, this is what being authentic means to me. And because I don't feel I can be authentic. You, the organization, are not getting my best thinking. You're not getting my ideas about what's happening within this organization that I only have a purview about. And the system is losing out. The clients and beneficiaries are losing out as well. And then you have others in the organization who are essentially, I think, trying to survive in a way that looks like these masks are also a survival tool.
Carol: Keisha Sitney also comments on her experience, including how this approach is too often actually embedded. In leadership development programs designed for people of color. To help them succeed
Keisha Sitney: I led multicultural leadership development efforts at a national level for our organization. And there's sometimes where I felt like we were just teaching the diverse leader, how to be within this larger structure that is not necessarily welcomed. So teach you as a person of color to straighten your hair, to get in, get the interview, say the right things and do all those things. But how do we change the system? So that it doesn't expect me to conform in order to be successful, that I can be valued for. However, I look, if I choose to wear my hair this way, and I know that sometimes it seems like a small thing, but those small things, they just add up and there just seems to be many ways where as a woman of color, I felt like I haven't always been able to bring my whole self to work. So I do think that it's important that we allow folks to bring. Themselves and their culture and their beliefs to work and not have to hide who they are. those conversations is, is a key part of it,
Carol: That leadership development that you're talking about, it's essentially what, like refining, refining code switching, or basically teaching. With these realities, many organizations are trying to take steps to address the current situation. And there are many pitfalls and mistakes and traps that white led organizations fall into. I'm trying to take steps to diversify as well as become more inclusive and equitable. One of those mistakes is recruiting for diversity first, instead of attending to the culture that you're asking people of color to step into. Rosalind Spiegel speaks to this.
Rosalind Spiegel: They're white-led boards. And they want to have BIPOC folks as part of their leadership, which is great. And the. Depth that they skip is how do we prepare ourselves to welcome others into our board? And so you don't just start doing equity when you've got a BiPAP person sitting on your board, because then they leave in a year. And you wonder why Robert Gass, who does the art of transformational consulting. He's got a lot of great resources on the website, the social transformation project website it's called and educate. And it's basically a feedback loop. It's basically when you said X, I felt why, because. So this out and education is a way that organizations and boards serving staff can begin to practice what they preach. So let's say you, Carol and I are at our board meeting with a bunch of other white people and, or mostly white men say, and you say something and nobody pays much attention to it. And then like three minutes later, Charles says the same thing and people go, Hmm, that's good. Now I might, I'm sure you've never experienced that. Right. Never, never, never happened. So I might not catch it. Right. Cause I'm just as, as sort of susceptible to sexism as everybody else. Right. And white. Can tend to be a little competitive. So I may or may not. I may even notice it and not know what to say. Right. But if you've got something like a, a commitment in place for collaboration, engagement, respect, equity, whatever, and a mechanism like out and educating them, you could say, Hey Charles, when I said that three minutes ago, nobody paid any attention to it. And, and now when you said something, I noticed that people thought it was a great idea. And because of that, I'm feeling invisible or at that made me feel invisible and, or I might have the wherewithal to say, Hey, Charles I noticed Carol said that a few minutes ago, and I'm really glad you amplified it, but I'd kinda like to hear Carol's original thinking around that. The trick here is that, and here's sort of the thing about this ouch and education process is like the trick is for Charles to get. Oh, wow. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Right. I'm sorry. I missed that. I know we have a commitment to this and I'm going to try and do better next time. That's the right answer. The wrong answer is for Charles to go, oh, I didn't mean to you're misinterpreting me that wasn't my intention because that's a showstopper. So if the commitment is, let's practice these values. Then there's also commitment to learning from. I said, this thing, thank you for telling me this thing felt off to you and I'm going to try and do better next time, because we're all part of this team and we all want to make sure that whoever's part of the team feels heard.
Carol: The example that you were starting to talk about in terms of the social justice organization that you mentioned. And, then the black board member said, yeah, and we have all these values. We have this mission. We do this work and I'm still experiencing this. So I'm curious then what came out of that conversation? I don't want to guess what might've happened. So how does that become an education? Yeah. Yeah. And that gap, I'm sure people would just work. I could imagine how chagrin they felt. Wow.
Rosalind: I mean, it was a real gift. I mean, and that's the thing, for someone to say, Hey, like when you said X, I felt why it is such a gift that that person has given you. I mean, really it's just such, I mean, how else are we doing? I mean, we've all got our work to do. And so we're not going to be able to get any better unless someone is generous enough to point out where we're sticking our foot in it.
Carol: At the same time, taking the risk to point out the ouch and educate those around, around you takes a toll. Keisha Sitney describes the exhaustion of constantly being expected to speak up. And how she decides when and when not to take on that emotional labor
Keisha: It's exhausting to share. And there've been times when I'm like, I'm not, I'm tired of educating everyone else. I'm just going to do it. I've got to preserve myself. Diversity. Fatigue is a real thing, but I found relationships that are important to me. And I've found, I've really tried to develop those. Professionally personally, but by sharing, this is the impact of this. When I hear of another police killing of a black person, I think: that could be my son who's six foot four, and it could be my daughter who's 17 and just a black, young woman. It could be me. It could be my husband. Sharing conversations with folks. One of my colleagues said that really hit me when you talked about your kids and my kids, because it's always that family over there, but it's like, no, And you know that we have these things in common, but yet our kids can be doing the same exact thing and mine will be killed and yours will not. I can't speak for every person who I met who's like me, but I can tell you how this impacts me. I can tell you how this impacts my children. I can tell you how this impacted my family. I think that that's one way that I've tried to personally just make connections with folks and help them just see things in a different light.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate that. And I appreciate also you're saying there just sometimes when I'm not, I'm not going to engage. I need to, I need to preserve myself.
Keisha: Yeah. Can't always, I can't always engage in conversations. It's not always fruitful. And there are some folks who it doesn't matter what you think, and I'm not willing to sacrifice myself for those types of conversations, we need to teach white people to be okay with people who are different. And, I know that there's a lot of, there are a lot of books and things talking about being anti-racist, but we have to continue to just work. Dismantling the systems. It's not just teaching one group how to be, or how to respond. It's educating ourselves on how things got to be the way they are. And we, they didn't just start with us here, here's the impact of those things. Here's how this group might've benefited from these laws and we systems. And then here's how this group may not have benefited
Carol: Another theme I heard was moving beyond the interpersonal. Looking at how things are done in particular, how hiring is done. How searches, especially executive searches are done. Impacts what the sector looks like. Carolyn Madden talks about how they are approaching. Executive search differently to address some of these issues.
Carlyn: What is required or that the conditions of executive search have to change. And so while the model that you're talking about, sort of the last 20 years, it's called executive transition management and they talk about. Prepare pivot and thrive. Don Tevye and Tom Adams and any Casey foundation. And all of these organizations came together to design this model, which is an effective model at the base of it. But the conditions around the model haven't changed. And so things that we do that are a little bit different, or a lot of my colleagues are starting to do the same, but we're very firm in that color transparency for all of our client, actually building out networks, multi-racial network, leveraging affinity group. Open exchange with clients, recognizing that often leaders of color don't have those sponsors, or we are reaching out to folks saying, who do in this space, that would be a good executive director, because there are so many white people in the sector in top leadership roles. Our networks are very homogenous. We know that I'm a white lady, you know where this is. But I'm a white lady, two white ladies talking to each other. but our networks are very homogenous. And so we have an open door policy that anybody that has questions about a search can call and talk to one of our associates about their interest in the role so that they can really prepare their. To be successful in front of that transition committee, also coaching transition committees on what are some best practices. So if a transition committee is hiring an executive director and says only executive directors can apply for this. Well, what we know to be true about the field is that there are fewer executive directors of color than white executive directors. And so we're already starting to limit the pool, like even just subtle things, right? How are we, how are we gender coding, job description? The studies say, not just in the nonprofit sector, but at large, Women are less likely to apply to a job that is masculine coded. So if your job description says things like aggressive goal achievements, women or women read that as like, well, can I aggressively achieve goals? So we use words like collaborate, not compete, thinking really about gender coding there. So boards often think that they can do it themselves. But again, what do we know about board? Many of them are predominantly white. So we look again at the some-odd network,
Carol: So given all these challenges internally in our mindsets. Implicit bias in her personally, culturally. Working organizations start to make changes. Tip offers thoughts about how we can manage and use ourselves in the situations that we find ourselves in.
Tip: I'd offer a couple of things first and foremost is compassion and understanding the system. And I think offering compassion to ourselves shows that we live in a very oppressive hierarchical system where we have to do a lot of things to survive and keep some of the basic needs met. So AEs is offering compassion to ourselves that, yet we don't have. I have ideal choice sets in front of us.
Carol: As we give ourselves and others, grace and compassion. Steven Graves talks about the importance of commitment. From the top of the organizations. The leaders of the organizations need to be committed to the work for change to happen
Stephen Graves: For shifts to be made in order for real change, transformational change to happen, you've got to have senior leadership commitment. Weber is at the top of the organization and has the most power. They have the most impact. Oftentimes they can control where energy is being in place, where resources are being placed.
Carol: Well, so much of anti-racism work focuses on the individual and interpersonal level. Stephen also talks about the importance of having good data to support your efforts.
Stephen: So a lot of times the mistake that people make in this particular aspect of diversity equity inclusion is because there's such an emotional tie and pull to it with feelings. And, I can trigger a lot of. People don't take a logical, maybe rational and evidence-based approach. And I think whether you're in the nonprofit space, whether you're in the corporate America space, whether you're in healthcare, like I said, You still need to be driven by data, collecting what we call real data, race, ethnicity, and language, data, collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data. Using that data to sit and drive real goals in terms of what are going to be some realistic goals that we can manage. And they can help us chart our path forward.
Carol: Focusing on equity. We'll most likely create some resistance. Stephen talks to this resistance and why it is an illusion to think of dei as somethings as separate and apart
Stephen: The advice that I would give to leaders when it comes to that resistance in terms of saying, okay, we've got to put this off because there's other priorities. It's saying, Hey, they, these are priorities within priorities. So wherever the conversation is, whether it's around COVID, whether it's around your EHR, electronic health care. There's going to be a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion within all of those priorities. Maybe you're building and expanding your practices, expanding a wind, getting your hospital. You've got to have some consideration for, okay, how are we going to make this accessible right, for a person with disability? How are we going to make sure that language at signage is translated in a way that folks can understand who don't speak English as a first language. So these D and D pains are going to be embedded.
Carol: To that point, Nathaniel Benjamin addresses the question of where responsibility for DEI should live within your organization.
Nathaniel Benjamin: DNI should be aligned directly to your senior leader, CEO or operator diversity is about your people. And it's about the experiences that these people leverage. So for me, if I were to create like the perfect organization, I always figure human capital in terms of your process. And you look at culture, you look at engagement and belonging, and then you look at diverse and all of those areas together. Is the strongest framework to create a human centric culture.
Carol: Keisha Sitney describes the brain spot. She sees in her organization. And what is giving her hope for the future?
Keisha: Might've encountered quite a few bright spots. I know we have a movement of leaders of color. Throughout the National Y we call it our multicultural leadership development group. And we have mentors and coaches and support, and we've created a safe space, similar to the employee resource group models, where you have groups of people that may be able to come together, work on policies, and you've got the affinity groups, those types of. But ours is more of a mixture of not just African-Americans with African-Americans. So you might see African-Americans Hispanic, Latinos, Asian, Pacific Islanders. You might have indigenous folks of which we need to improve our numbers nationally as an organization with regards to leadership or flooded communities. But for those of us who are members of those communities, finding the commonalities and being able to support one another and educate one another and develop our own cultural competence, just because you're a person of color doesn't mean that you're going to be culturally competent as well. And the things that we're asking from other groups that we should be able to model those things as well. So it's definitely a great support system. And we've seen a lot of folks who've been able to engage and advance their careers within our organism.
Carol: And with a final thought Tip Fallon reminds us that while we live in a culture. And with the history that we didn't necessarily make. And we are also making today's history. In small and large ways we can impact. And have ripple effects. That might mean a lot to the person across from you or in that zoom call you attend today.
Tip: Like we are products of history in a way of what we're living in, but we are also the creators of history. We're creating the history that those people will live in, in the future. That, that makes sense. So it's an invitation as well, to be intentional about. What are the cultures that we're creating both actively, but also passively, , when, when we show up and just where, where those choice points. And I think at the end of the day, the day to just hoping to find peace for me in a so for me media, a big piece of work is in some of our training, we use the term self, but just inquiring. How am I showing up? Not just what are my intentions, but what are my, what are the impacts that I'm having on my peers, my colleagues, those who might come to my nonprofit for services on funders, on the community at large, For others who have to make a lot of compromises in terms of their values and how they'd like to show up, it's just, what's in our locus of control that we can change. Sometimes we talk. About culture and it's our systems and it's big, it's complex. Like how could ever change this stuff. And for me, like the micro stuff matters a lot to those moments where we feel seen and heard and validated by a colleague. And I think those things really fill the tank. I think they give people hope and humanity that no matter what happens during the day, if you've got a really good connection with someone that can keep our tank full.
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I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
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