Jeanne Tedrow, President & CEO, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits
“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.” –Booker T. Washington
During Black History Month, more than at any other time of the year, we see information and observations related to contributions made by African Americans in our community, state, and country – indeed around the globe. Rightly so. The contributions throughout the years are substantial and worthy of recognition. The Center joins with people across the state to recognize Black men and women who have improved the quality of life for all in our communities, especially those working in the nonprofit sector.
While this month serves as a reminder of these contributions, it also offers an opportunity to consider how we affirm the contributions of our African American colleagues throughout the year; how we recognize their accomplishments while acknowledging the struggles they overcame to achieve such feats. We can reflect on the systems in place that don’t support equity, diversity, and inclusion. Increasingly, our sector is focusing on these values and ways to integrate them into our programs and operations. We can ask ourselves: Do we expect glass ceilings to be cracked from below? What have we done in our workspaces to change systems to become more inclusive and equitable?
There are many resources available to help organizations build their EDI toolbox. Different resources fit varying needs. Just as no one solution works for everyone, the tools should be adapted to meet the unique needs of each organization. Some organizations have been developing and strengthening their EDI strategy for some time; others are just beginning. While some employees understand more than others, all will have varying feelings on the issue. Your organization can assure all involved that this is a journey and create a learning environment. Persons of color and white employees will bring different lived experiences and different needs to this process; consider this and find ways to honor these differences. Understanding differences and learning from each other is part of the process.
As you begin or as your organization continues this journey, it may be helpful to bring in a consultant with expertise that supports your process. An organization’s EDI toolbox is meant to support both their staff and board in ways that enable them to explore and discuss EDI issues together. This can be overwhelming and challenging even for organizations that have begun or feel that they have made progress on this journey. Here is what has helped us on our journey:
- Listen to learn; continually assess where you are. White employees may look toward their BIPOC colleagues to educate them on these issues but encourage and expect personal responsibility for learning. Given varied experiences, seek to create brave spaces where learning is shared, and shaming or blaming is not acceptable.
- Do your research. Learn what others in your network or associations are doing. Learn what various terms mean, recognize that these terms may mean different things to each, and create your shared language. Become comfortable with not knowing all there is to know, as there is so much to learn.
- Ask for help. Building and implementing an EDI toolbox is a team sport – this work cannot be relegated to one or two people. Other organizations, partners, and consultants may assist at low to no cost. There are also ways to secure funding to do this important work.
At the Center, we stand behind ‘Walking the Talk’ – engaging our staff and our board – to encourage positive change within our organization and the sector. We have been more intentional in living these values, sharing ideas and tools, and initiating brave conversations. We continue to infuse the Center’s resource library, Information Central, with resources to help our nonprofit community build their EDI toolboxes. We use and share the tools we have, assess where we are, continue to learn as we strengthen our EDI muscles, and seek new opportunities to do so.
We are looking forward to our series that began this week on equity, diversity, and inclusion and systems change, EDI Roundtables for Nonprofit Executives. The nonprofit leaders and decisionmakers that are a part of these brave conversations will explore why EDI is important, who it affects, and how our nonprofits’ policies, practices, and cultures can evolve to root out systemic biases and barriers. (Registration is still open if you’d like to participate.)
Stay tuned for our new discussion groups this May – Equity Leadership Development: Building Equity and Anti-Racist Change Agents – where nonprofit leaders will help build a group of changemakers that instigate and move equity forward not only for our organizations but for our sector.