Diversity and inclusion: Not just another item on the to-do list

Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Guest Writers
Human Resources
Beth Clarke

It’s a paradox for many charities and nonprofits: they serve multicultural clients with an ethos that embraces diversity and inclusion, but it is not reflected in their workforce.

In 2013, the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) undertook a survey that illuminated the leadership of nonprofit organizations in Ontario (report). What they found was that nonprofit leadership did not reflect the communities which they served: 13 percent of 810 leaders who responded were visible minorities and 20 percent were immigrants, compared to 26 percent of Ontarians who are visible minorities and 30 percent who are immigrants. While these results reflect the reality in Ontario, anecdotally at least, a similar profile exists for nonprofits and charities across Canada.

The question, of course, is why does it matter?

A Google search of the value of diversity in the workplace will reveal a slew of articles on the business case and return on investment of diversity and inclusion for corporations. Yet, the value proposition for charities and nonprofit organizations is just as strong. It is both about living up to our shared values and about doing what is best for our organization and our clients:

  • Increase innovation and diversity of thought
    Diverse teams breed diversity of thought and have been shown to increase innovation and creativity. By bringing together individuals with different backgrounds and different lived experiences you can uncover new ways of thinking and doing that help your organization address ongoing challenges and seize new opportunities.
  • Find and attract the best talent
    According to Statistics Canada, by 2031, one in three workers will be born outside Canada. For nonprofit organizations already struggling to find and keep top talent, looking to diverse talent sources, such as new immigrants, is necessary to remain competitive.
  • Be true to your values to maintain credibility with clients and donors
    When senior leaders admit that diversity is a priority for their organization, they set the goals and encourage their team to adopt and implement best practices. What’s written on paper becomes true in reality. Donors, volunteers, employees will take note.
  • Better serve and communicate with clients and donors
    A workforce that reflects your community is better positioned to understand that community and serve that community. Employees connected to diverse groups open up your organization to new clients and new donors through cultural understanding.

If the value is there, why are nonprofits not more diverse?

The truth is many nonprofit organizations face challenges when it comes to diversity and inclusion on their teams and in their senior leadership. In that same ONN survey, 75 percent of nonprofit organizations reported that they were “neutral” towards recruiting from diverse groups. While reasons may vary, the answer to the ‘why’ question is often one of resources and priorities.

It is common for nonprofits, tight on both human and financial resources, to focus on the external needs and priorities of their constituents, both clients and donors. What is more, there is often a bias towards activities and initiatives that generate an immediate and direct impact over those whose benefits may only be seen in the long-term.

In this environment, despite a clear value proposition, diversity and inclusion initiatives often take the back seat. However, as Canadian society continues to become more diverse, and our economies and communities more interconnected, charities and nonprofits need to start prioritizing diversity and inclusion in order to remain effective in accomplishing their missions.

So what can be done about it?

Charities and nonprofits are beset by challenges on all sides. But rather than viewing diversity and inclusion as yet one more item on the to-do list, it is important to see it as a means to an end. That end is a more effective organization to achieve your mission and the means are strong human resource practices that build a diverse, inclusive and committed workforce.

My next blog post will explore more about how you can do this, but a good place to start is a self-assessment on how your organization is currently doing. Ask yourself:

  • Have we defined the value proposition of diversity and inclusion for our organization?
  • What is the make-up of our leadership team and our broader workforce? Is it reflective of the community we serve?
  • What are we currently doing to support a diverse and inclusive workforce? Where are there obvious areas for improvement?

The answers to these questions will help you to identify your path towards building a diverse and inclusive workplace. Remember, you are not alone on this journey. Many organizations and resources exist that can help you along the way. Your first step is to simply make it a priority.


Read Part Two: 4 Steps to Take Towards a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace


About the Author

Beth ClarkeBeth Clarke is the Director, Employer Programs, at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). TRIEC is currently running “Leading the Conversation: Inclusion in Nonprofits,” a free training program for nonprofit organizations in Ontario. In addition, the TRIEC Campus offers a range of online learning resources for organizations seeking to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces. To learn more, visit www.triec.ca.

Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.

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Submitted by John Ryerson on
We need to challenge the very idea that random differential traits – skin colour, physical beauty, penises – should generate outcomes unrelated to them, such as wealth, power and status." Globe and Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/where-is-the-postracial-society/article29154987/

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