As part of our rollout of Neon One, we will be hearing from industry celebrated experts in a wide variety of fields and expertise. Today’s educational spotlight comes from Desiree Adaway, whose expertise is Capacity Building / Equity.
Over my career I have had many, many situations where I was the only woman. Where I was the only person of color. Where I was the only one that came from a working class background.
Do you have any idea how awful it is to know that when you speak some folks think you are speaking for an entire community or race of people? I was never allowed to make a mistake. I was being judged by different standards.
It was exhausting.
My work over the past few years has been focused on helping institutions—founded, shaped, owned, and dominated by white men—to create more welcoming and supportive work environments for everyone, especially people of color, women, and, more recently, those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTQ++), and disability communities.
Language matters when you do this work.
Yet there is one word that I have grown to hate. Absolutely despise. That word is diversity.
Diversity has become a code word way too often for “black” in many of these institutions and especially in the nonprofit world. When organizations say we can’t find any qualified diverse candidates what they are saying is we can’t find any “black candidates that meet our standards”.
Many of the nonprofits I work with want to create a diverse organization for many reasons, some are looking for diversity to bring new skills, competencies, and networks to their organizations; some are compelled by gaining access to different markets and honestly some want access to new funders and partners. They know what the research has shown: that if an organization wants to be sustainable and at all relevant moving forward doing equity and inclusion work is not optional, it is essential.
So back to why I hate diversity.
Diversity is about increasing representation; it has very little to do with changing institutional cultures. Diversity is about quantity. It has nothing to do with shared power and creating welcoming organizations.
What drives people out the door?
“It is typically NOT the headline grabbing incidents that drive most workers, people of color or LGBT folks out the door. Research shows that the last straw is typically just another slight after an extended period of enduring daily micro-insults against them.”
– Giving Notice, 2007
Organizations unconsciously use characteristics as their norms and standards that make it difficult, if not impossible, to open the door to other cultural norms and standards. As a result, many nonprofits, while saying we want to be multicultural, really only allow other people and cultures to come in if they adapt or conform to already existing cultural norms. Every time you say you want to find a new hire that is a “cultural fit” you are saying I really want folks that act or look like me and will not cause me any problems.
To create sustainable organizations that are welcoming to people of color, significant and intentional work must happen.
My goal is to help well-meaning organizations, understand that ONLY having black or brown people in your organization does not make you a diverse organization.
Doing this work in your organization is a journey, not a destination. The work is complex, and in many ways, at odds with your current culture and norms.
A truly inclusive organization – an organization that welcomes, respects, supports, and values diversity within the organization – invests in programs that build relationships with diverse communities, develops and empowers diverse leadership, invests in staff and community development, through knowledge and action, systematically changes the culture of the organization so that all individuals and groups are encouraged to fully participate.
I work with conscious and caring leaders to give them the skills to cultivate rich, rewarding, and meaningful relationships and conversations across race so that organizational culture CAN change.
I am asked all the time why don’t organizations get any traction with their diversity efforts. If I am being honest it’s because these predominantly white organizations and their leadership have not done their work.
It is past time y’all did.
Photo: #WOCinTech Chat