For years people have been asking how to diversify their orgs. This is discouraging. We’ve had endless DEI workshops, various “white papers” and articles, and at least one puppet show. What the heck is going on? Why do we suck so much at diversifying?

Maybe we’ve been going about it all wrong. Whenever people ask me the above question, they tend to want some action-oriented answers such as “publicize job postings in ethnic media,” “provide childcare and transportation for board meetings,” “have a clear equity and diversity statement,” “provide more than just hummus, baby carrots, and a few cans of La Croix at meetings, especially if it’s around dinner time!” etc. These technical things are necessary but they’re not sufficient. Diversity is complex, and making a few technical changes is not going to cut it. If you’ve been having trouble diversifying your board, staff, fundraising committee, conference planning team, or whatever, here are a few things to reflect on, based on conversations I’ve had with colleagues from various diverse backgrounds:

1. Are you still operating in a very white moderate way? A lot of people are tired of the same old white moderate way that most nonprofits and foundations continue to operate in. A quick scan of your website and social media will reveal whether your organization is still grounded in “civility” and “getting along” rather than radical change.

2. What indications exist that you’re serious about equity? People of color can tell when we’re being tokenized, as well as when you’re just talking a good game. For instance, you have a DEI committee, but the ED/CEO is not an active member of it.

3. What barriers are you putting into place that you may not even be aware of? As I wrote about earlier, our default board model with its archaic philosophies such as “100% board giving” is deeply problematic and unconsciously discourages people of color and others who are not rich white donors from joining.

4. How transparent and authentic are you in your approach? A challenge that many white-led organizations face is the Diversity Chicken And Egg Paradox: People of color don’t want to work in a place that’s mostly white, but if they won’t work there, then how will this place be less white? How do we break out of this Catch-22? You can start by being honest about the challenges you’re having and the goals you’re trying to accomplish.

5. Are you open to reimagination and experimentation? If you want diversity, be aware that many of us from marginalized communities are tired of the same old philosophies and practices we’ve all inherited from rich white people hundreds of years ago. If your organization, especially its leadership, is not open to imagining and trying new stuff we’ll be pushing, you may have trouble diversifying.

6. Who do you have currently who needs to go or be removed? We tend to focus on who we should add to diversify our teams, when the reality is that more time needs to be spent figuring out who needs to go.

7. Are the “diverse” people you currently have aligned with equity? Black, Indigenous, AAPI, Latinx, disabled, LGBTQIA+ people are not monolithic. We have a right to hold differing opinions and perspectives. What that means though is that just because you have some “diversity,” does not mean folks are aligned in values and approach.

Read the full article about DEI barriers by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.