Posts

How Nonprofit CEOs And Board Chairs Can Cultivate Justice, Equity, Diversity And Inclusion

This week’s article is provided by Dr. Christopher Washington as part of the International Leadership Association’s interview series and was originally published on Forbes.com.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled JEDI SPACE Principles for CEOs and Board Chairs that aired on Tuesday, May 4th, 2021.

 

The pandemic lockdown of 2020 and 2021 presented (and continues to present) multiple sources of stress and associated symptoms in the U.S. population, leading the American Psychological Association to declare a national mental health crisis. Efforts to establish a new normal in the way we work have exposed anxieties, tensions and dividing lines in many organizations. Because nonprofits are often on the front lines in supporting the causes that matter and in adapting and responding to rapid social and technological changes, nonprofit staff are particularly vulnerable to stressful conditions.

An organization’s climate is how its members perceive “how things work around here.” However, an organization’s climate can change. This change can occur when the language, actions and intentions of board and staff members shift in response to what is stressing them. In these instances, leaders can focus on honing leadership traits like positive emotional energy, trust and stability. More enlightened CEOs and board chairs are deeply aware that their words and deeds can enable inclusive excellence, where human diversity, ingenuity and talent flourish.

Research by the Society of Human Resources Management suggests that companies that operate under these principles tap into a broader range of backgrounds and skill sets, are more likely to pursue fairness and morality, and may reduce the likelihood of staff attrition. Research conducted by McKinsey and Co. linked diversity and inclusion to organizational performance. For nonprofits, operating on principles such as justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) should be viewed as essential for maintaining a healthy and sustainable organization.

Perhaps the analog astronaut and geoscientist Dr. Sian Proctor said it best: “J.E.D.I. space is the outer space I want to visit and the space I want to create and inhabit right here on Earth. It starts when we learn to cultivate our own individual J.E.D.I. voice as a force for positive change in order to create the collective J.E.D.I. space we envision for humanity’s future.”

Having served as the board chair for a number of nonprofit organizations over the years, I am quite familiar with the meaningful work of nonprofit organizations. With social and economic disruption likely to bedevil nonprofits for the foreseeable future, there is a need for CEOs and board chairs to develop a J.E.D.I. voice and to create a J.E.D.I. S.P.A.C.E. with just, equitable, diverse and inclusive environments, where community members engage in supportive, purposeful, accountable, collaborative and evaluative practices.

By working together, the CEO and chair can decide to dial up or dial down their shared authority to address toxic behavior and unhealthy conflicts, uplift the morale or facilitate the cohesion of individuals and groups, or foster more active engagement of board and staff members. Presented here are some suggested ways that the CEO and board chair can work together to create the S.P.A.C.E. principles that nonprofit board and staff members need in order to thrive during periods of prolonged disruption:

Supportive Practices

The CEO and board chair can support their teams by clarifying staff and director roles and emphasizing the importance of people and their contributions. For example, in clarifying roles, the board should know that it only has one employee, the CEO, and that everyone else in the organization reports to the CEO, as a way to prevent the confusion that can arise when multiple “managers” are leading staff. Additional ideas include hosting a new board member orientation, facilitating a review of a board policy manual, and periodically celebrating people and their role contributions.

Purposeful Practices

The CEO and chair can be a force for strategic clarity. To provide a sense of shared purpose, it is important for them to communicate the broader cause and J.E.D.I. principles. In addition, they can design an inclusive planning process that involves these J.E.D.I. S.P.A.C.E. principles and practices. Linking these ideas to how the organization creates value, the opportunities and threats faced by the organization, and the ways the organization will carry out its mission can lead to a deeper integration of these ideas into the culture of the organization.

Accountability Practices

Volatility and uncertainty have a way of bringing out both the best and worst in people. When incivility, dispiriting behavior and bullying emerge and are left unchecked it can create an unacceptable work climate. The CEO and chair can ensure that standards for acceptable behavior are spelled out and communicated and address behavior through feedback and other consequences. Having a code of conduct makes it easier for leaders to address inappropriate and unhealthy conduct. For some organizations, term limits for board members can prompt a board chair to pay close attention to board member performance. For extreme cases, procedures for board member removal can be spelled out in the organization’s bylaws.

Collaborative Practices

Leaders can structure interactions that connect people to the work and to each other. Cultivating a sense of connection can give the board and staff a sense of belonging and reinforce a shared purpose. Community building is especially healthy as more people are working remotely from one another. Collaborative activities can be used to share information, test understanding, foster compassion and engage in creative problem-solving. Collaborative activities can also aid in overcoming divisiveness and unhealthy cliques.

Evaluative Practices

The CEO and chair can lead efforts to assess and evaluate factors that contribute to the current climate. Both formal and informal assessment activities can enable transparency around purpose, J.E.D.I. values, S.P.A.C.E. practices and the perceived patterns of performance that exist. In formalizing this continuous improvement process, the CEO and chair can assure that the bylaws have an assessment process laid out and that a code of conduct serves as a criterion for evaluation and assessment.

Retaining and attracting the talented board and staff drawn to the work of nonprofits during more uncertain and stressful times will require more caring and compassionate leaders who are masters in developing supportive organizational climates. In working together, the CEO and chair can provide the J.E.D.I. S.P.A.C.E. principles the board and staff deserve in order to overcome the volatility and uncertainty that is likely to plague nonprofits for the foreseeable future.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Christopher Washington is a learning ecosystem designer who serves as Executive Vice President and Provost of Franklin University

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Seeking to Understand: Advice to Successfully Implement DEI Initiatives

To receive the weekly blogs via email, please sign-up here.

This blog is written by Maureen Metcalf and summarizes 5 recommendations Roger Madison shared about how leaders can improve the outcomes of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.  It is a companion to the interview with Roger on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Diversity and Inclusion Insights from IBM South Africa Experience that aired on Tuesday, November 24th, 2020.

 

Recently, I was honored to interview Roger Madison, a successful person of color overcoming discrimination and bias.  Let me share a little bit about Roger.

Roger’s Background

Roger grew up in Farmville, Virginia, and went on to earn  his Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from the George Washington University School of Business and Government Studies.   He is the Founder and CEO of iZania, LLC, which he established in 2003 after a successful career as a sales executive for IBM, some of that time was spent in South Africa.  iZania.com is an online community of Black entrepreneurs, professionals, and consumers, dedicated to economic and social empowerment. His goal is to help bridge the digital divide.

Roger’s passion is helping to prepare young people for the business of life. He is actively engaged in our community as a board member, volunteer, and mentor with Junior Achievement of Central Ohio, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, and Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbus.

He is married to his lovely his wife, Joyce, and they live in central Ohio.  They have been blessed with two adult children and two grandchildren.

 

Our Conversation

I believe part of the solution to diversity, equity, and inclusion involves understanding people’s experiences impacted by discrimination. During the interview, Roger shared the story of his struggles when his high school was closed because of the Brown vs. Board of Education legal battle. Roger also shared how bias impacted his ability to perform during his early college years and how his experience in the U.S. Air Force helped him develop the skills and confidence required to complete his college degree.

Roger was among the first and often only black person in a job or role. He found ways to thrive, even in overtly discriminatory environments. He is talented, able to self-advocate, and also fortunate to have had the opportunities he did. As described above to young people, he now gives back, helping them understand the business of life. He also serves as a role model and mentor for many others through his direct work at iZania and other community work.

I encourage you to listen to his full interview at the link here.

 

Roger’s Recommendations

Based on Roger’s unique experience, here are the five steps he recommends to improve outcomes from DEI initiatives.

  1. Undertake an honest assessment of the current status of your organization.  Understand the perceptions of DEI issues of existing employees.  Their perceptions represent the reality of your organization.  This has to be the starting point.
  2. Set measurable goals for change. Establish a vision of the inclusive environment you are working toward.  Commit to targets of inclusion, similar to the affirmative action programs of the 1970s.
  3. Create a pipeline to sustain the targets you establish.  Ensure meaningful representation at entry, middle, and senior levels of your organization.  This means providing opportunities for advancement with mentorships, special assignments, and broad exposure across all organizational areas.
  4. Be an advocate for the vision of an expanded culture of inclusion.  Leaders must lead.  This is not an assignment to delegate to the Chief Diversity Officer.  There may be a need for a Chief Diversity Officer to execute programs, but leadership must reside at the top.
  5. Follow through with the execution of plans to reach the goals established.  DEI must be a commitment, not an option.

We encourage you to look at how your organization is doing against your DEI goals, and if you don’t have DEI goals, how you are doing compared to where you think or wish you were. If you are not meeting your goals, take action. If you are in a formal leadership role, you can take significant action. If you are an individual contributor, you can be an advocate! All of us have a role to play in the evening the playing field. Thank you for playing your role well – to create a world where everyone has equal opportunities.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf – Founder, CEO, and Board Chair of Innovative Leadership Institute – is a highly sought-after expert in anticipating and leveraging future business trends to transform organizations. She has captured her thirty years of experience and success in an award-winning series of books which are used by public, private and academic organizations to align company-wide strategy, systems and culture with innovative leadership techniques. As a preeminent change agent, Ms. Metcalf has set strategic direction and then transformed her client organizations to deliver significant business results such as increased profitability, cycle time reduction, improved quality, and increased employee engagement. For years, she has been willing to share her hard-won insights – through conference speaking opportunities, industry publications, radio talk-shows, and video presentations.