To bring to life the concepts and ideas discussed in The Great Rethink series, we bring together experts in the field, who can offer first-hand experience and important insights on these topics. This Q&A focuses on how a changing understanding of “Inclusion” is impacting the recruitment process for candidates:
Claire Lachance is President and CEO of ReSurge International, a pioneer in the global surgery movement. She is a transformative leader dedicated to designing, building, and managing high-performing organizations for social impact. Prior to joining ReSurge, Claire served as CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, leading the internationally recognized research institute through an era of strategic transformation, financial and operational turnaround, cultural renewal, and expanded impact. Before that, she served as President and Principal Consultant at Inspiration Quest, where she counseled charitable foundations, nonprofit organizations, and public sector entities, advising them on strategic planning, capacity-building, impact measurement, financial sustainability, and governance.
Paul Muite is Assistant Vice President for Development at Brown University, where he leads the Brown Annual Fund and DEIB fundraising efforts. Previously he served as Executive Director of Annual Giving at Stony Brook University where he oversaw annual programs for the campus, Stony Brook Hospital, and the Long Island State Veterans Home. Prior to Stony Brook, he was the Director for Annual Giving at Florida International University, and Barry University, and the Associate Director for Annual Giving at Georgetown University. He began his career in development at UCLA in 2003.
Juan Pérez Sáez is Executive Director of Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), and has dedicated his personal and professional life to conservation, advocacy, environmental education, and stewardship – and has more than 15 years of experience in this field. Prior to this role, Juan was Senior Manager for Strategic Partnerships at The Wilderness Society. Prior, he worked for several nonprofit organizations in Latin America and the United States, as well as the U.S. Federal Government. He was also a Fulbright Scholar, served as National Coordinator for the Million Hectares Alliance in Panama, led a multimillion-dollar public-private partnership, and led the first-ever National Reforestation Day in his home country. Juan has a Bachelor of Engineering in Environmental Management from the University of Panama, and a Master of Science in Environment and Natural Resources from The Ohio State University.
This roundtable discussion was moderated by Gregory Leet, a Senior Consultant at Aspen Leadership Group, who has more than 25 years of advancement experience in higher education and research institutions.
GL: A couple of weeks ago, two of my colleagues, Patrick Key and Marianna DiVietro, wrote an article that touched on some of the fundamental dynamics that go into addressing Inclusion for job candidates. One of their key observations was that Inclusion is a learning journey – both individually and collectively. And one of the first steps in that journey is differentiating between Diversity versus Inclusion. So let’s start there: What do you see as the differentiators?
CL: I love that you just referred to Inclusion as a journey. My understanding of Inclusion, and distinguishing Diversity from Inclusion, has been a growth process both in the organization I ran before, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and now two months into my new role as the President and CEO of ReSurge International. I’m not the originator of this idea, but there’s a great description out there about Diversity being about bringing a variety of perspectives and backgrounds to the table, while Inclusion goes to the next level asking whether those perspectives and representatives actually have a voice at the table. No matter what the differentiators are – race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, or other factors – one needs to ask, ‘Are those voices who are invited to the table actually listened to?’
And I have a real-life example to share. As a candidate, I was thrilled to see the diversity of the staff team at ReSurge. But I quickly noticed that there was something called the ‘leadership’ team that convened separately from the ‘all-staff’ team. Because we’re not a large organization, that dynamic created a situation in which three staff members could not participate in the ‘leadership’ team meetings. There was a feeling that people were being left out of that conversation. So, I decided to eliminate the separate ‘leadership’ team meeting, telling staff that I believe we are all leaders in some capacity.
The point is, for me, you can look and say statistically that you might have Diversity, but that’s not the same thing as Inclusion for decision-making, brainstorming, exchanging ideas, having input, and all the rest.
It’s not enough for an organization to diversify. You want the talent and perspectives you’re bringing to help you get to the next level. – Paul Muite
JPS: First, I think that when we talk about Diversity, we need to understand what type of Diversity we mean. A lot of the time what we mean is racial diversity of the team, the leadership, or the organization. But, I do think focusing solely on racial Diversity misses a big part of what sets apart a truly inclusive workplace, because as individuals, we are more complex than just one aspect of our identity. For me, I’m a first-generation American. English is my second language. I’m a member of the LGBTQ community, and so on. In other words, I am the unicorn that organizations are looking for, however, do they really know if they are ready for me?
Second, I agree with Claire when it comes to having a voice. When people talk about ‘we want to include new ideas, we want to be more racially inclusive, or we want to reflect the people that we serve,’ a question that I ask them all the time is: What percentage of your willingness or wanting to be inclusive is the assimilation of the individual into your culture, versus you truly including that new individual, talent, perspective, and their whole being into your organization?
I’ve used that question in interviews and you’d be surprised by the type of response that you get. Because I think we are still struggling to be truly intersectional in the hiring and recruitment process. As a candidate, could I be able to be my authentic self? Can I bring every piece of who I am to my workspace? Can every individual who works in my team bring their authentic self every day, all the time?
And if the answer is no, because, in certain spaces, or certain meetings, or certain projects, I need to edit out or leave behind a piece of myself, then we’re not being truly inclusive. So, I think we need to acknowledge what type of Diversity we’re aiming for, as well as be open to all aspects of each person’s identity throughout the institution or workspace.
GL: That’s a really excellent point, and I think an insightful nuance. Many people are focused on the racial diversity of any organization – and we all understand the impetus for that – but there’s a full person there. And there are so many other ways they could add to the organization that are related to other aspects of their identity.
PM: Juan and Claire make a good point that Diversity can mean a lot of different things to an organization. I think Diversity efforts initially focused on growing the representation of individuals with different backgrounds. And over time, those efforts have made some headway. But I think that once they’re inside an organization, a lot of individuals from diverse backgrounds can be challenged in having their voices heard. Are they included in decision-making processes? Do they have promotion opportunities? How are their ideas and input received?
That’s where Inclusion comes in. It’s not enough for an organization to diversify. You want the talent and perspectives you’re bringing to help you get to the next level. The U.S. is a very diverse nation, with a lot of people from a lot of different places, who bring a lot of talent and energy. That immigrant mindset is a big part of what makes the U.S. really great. And so I look at Inclusion as, ‘Let’s not just try to have a team that reflects a lot of Diversity, but let’s also make sure once they’re on the team they have the opportunity to maximize their ability to contribute.’
That way you’re not just moving the needle on Diversity, but also improving what your organization can accomplish with feedback, approaches, and perspectives that are different than what you had prior.
GL: One of the challenges for candidates is assessing the dynamic of Inclusion within a potential employer as they go through that interviewing and vetting process. So if you collectively think back to your own recent journey as candidates, what were you looking for as signals or bellwethers of an authentically inclusive culture?
CL: I was a candidate less than two months ago, and I found it fascinating to be on the candidate side – because I’ve been only on the hiring side for the past several years. It’s a little bit of a puzzle as a candidate because you see certain Inclusion language in a prospectus or a job description, and I looked for that. Do they mention Diversity, Equity & Inclusion? Do they want to know about the emotional intelligence of the incoming leader, and so forth?
But for me, it was important to go beyond that. To what degree was staff included in the interview process? What story did Board members tell about the organization? How do people inside the organization talk about Diversity? Does the Board hold a respectful tone toward staff? In nonprofits, as you know, there can be a superiority complex with a Board vis-a-vis staff. And thankfully I was able to discern a true sense of respect. As a candidate, I was looking for more than just a plan, like, ‘Here’s our DEI roadmap.’ I wanted to really see how Inclusion was showing up in those discussions.
Now, to be honest, we’re all still growing and learning when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion. As a candidate, you have to have your antennae up, and look for signals beyond what’s written down on paper.
When it comes to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – and I mean true Inclusion – the moment you start thinking that you have it all figured out and you know all the answers, is the moment that you’re wrong. – Juan Pérez Sáez
PM: That’s a great point about the antennae. There are some things you can just pick up in the course of conversations. So at every point in the process, make sure you’re listening to how hiring panels actually talk about the various teams. My role here intersects with DEI and the Brown Fund, and so with the DEI component, when they were asking questions, I was also listening to how those questions were phrased. I was also watching the reactions and listening closely to any follow-up on my answers.
I think that from a Diversity standpoint, a lot of organizations try to ensure that teams look diverse. But is that also happening at the leadership level, what’s the makeup of the President’s Cabinet? I was paying attention to whether leadership was comprised of diverse talent, experience, and perspectives, from different parts of the country, because I believe that leads to innovation and creativity. It moves you away from, ‘This is how it’s always been done.’ So, I was looking for that.
And then, if you physically walk around the workspace, you get a sense of what the comfort level is like of the staff and team members, from the senior level to the entry-level. So there are real-life signals, as Claire was saying, that will give you a better impression of an organization’s true Diversity and Inclusion, compared to its website statement.
GL: I’m curious what the balance of transparency was on the part of hiring organizations, versus you being proactive as candidates. When you stepped into your role, Juan, did you have to pull out pertinent information through your own proactive questions during the interview process?
JPS: I think a combination of both. It does help to be fully employed when you’re interviewing for a job. I do think that gives you a little bit of power and leverage. In my case, I felt that I was very vocal and transparent with my questions. There are things that I care about, and for example, I remember asking about assimilation versus true Inclusion from the new leadership.
I had a lot of respect for the previous executive director, who had been there for over six years and was on the original Board of Directors. And so I really wanted to make sure that there was room for me to lead with my own style. The response I got from the Board was surprisingly good.
I feel like I had really good questions about how you incorporate the entry-level, youth, and families that we serve into the decision-making process. And to my surprise, between the final offer and the last round with the Board, I did talk to a consultant who represented the community interest – something I’ve never seen before. She worked with the community to create a candidate assessment protocol, to make sure that any prospective candidates aligned with the community’s needs. And that was really cool.
It also helped just meeting with the staff, who were very candid. They included youth representation and people at all levels. We’re a pretty small organization with a total of 24 staff and only 13 full-time employees. But the fact that there was representation for every layer of the structure, I felt was pretty neat. And the fact that they felt comfortable enough to be very candid with me, I took to be a very good sign. Maybe it would scare someone else, but I felt like, ‘This is a good place. I like this.’
PM: For my search, asking questions of the key search leads and liaisons, like Ronald Schiller and Angelique Grant, helped me get a sense of exactly what type of individual the organization was looking for and why. Being an inaugural position, I wanted to know, why is Brown doing this, and why now?
I think it also helps to make sure that you leverage the fact that the nonprofit world is small. You can reach out and get feedback about leadership, about an organization, from your own network. That really helped me in my decision-making process.
CL: For me, it was a mixed bag. I noticed that recent articles from ALG emphasized transparency, and I found that interesting because I didn’t see that in my case, where I was recruited by a different search firm. For example, the salary was not posted.
But what I did feel good about, which was a tipoff for me, was that the Board members and even the lead recruiter spoke a lot about succession planning in the organization. They were looking to promote high-potential staff – many of whom represent diverse constituencies – and to make staff feel they have a career path in the relatively small organization. I really liked that. It was very sincere, and I was heartened by that.
GL: Claire, you mentioned to me earlier that you were recruited into this new role and weren’t necessarily looking for a new opportunity. So as you think about the variables and priorities that helped you make a decision – that a career move was the right move, that this was the right organization – where would you rank Inclusion on that list?
CL: I viewed the issue of Inclusion as co-mingled with ‘culture.’ And in this case, it was more of a sense of, ‘Is this a place where I want to be?’ If I’m going to make this big leap from an organization that I love, the culture, in addition to all the other aspects of opportunity, was crucial. We spend most of our waking hours at work, so culture was a high priority and within that, Inclusion was high on the list of cultural attributes.
But to be candid, I don’t know if I explicitly parsed it out. For sure, if there had been no mention of DEI in general, I would say, ‘That’s going to be a problem.’ Because that would mean any new leader would be starting from scratch. That was not the case, thankfully, at ReSurge. But any place where DEI wasn’t mentioned would not have made the cut.
So I would say that Inclusion, for me, was a part of the overall cultural assessment, and an organization would have to have at least enough momentum to demonstrate it’s headed in the right direction, even if it is still early in the journey.
To know what you bring to the Inclusion journey, you have to know yourself. I would suggest that candidates do that work, and really understand what is it that you bring, and you’ll come across more authentically…We all make assumptions that need to be explored, not just about others but about ourselves, too. – Claire Lachance
GL: When you think about that organizational journey around culture, we certainly see that our clients are at different points on that journey. Some are very early and trying to reshape the culture. Others have been on this journey for quite a while and have a lot to teach the rest of us.
So, as a candidate, when you’re evaluating the organization from an Inclusion perspective, and take that first look, how do you assess whether it’s a good match – whether in your own professional journey, that it’s an opportunity you want to take, or to take a pass on?
PM: I think it depends on the role and the organization that you’re stepping into. For me, inclusion is extremely important. Additionally, for a match to work, stability is also important.
Has the leadership team been intact for quite some time, and grown during that time? Have members of the team been able to grow internally? Is there an opportunity for me to grow?
You get to a point in your career where you think, ‘I don’t want to keep moving around.’ So, it’s important to get answers to these important questions. I think it adds credibility to an organization if their team members have had opportunities to grow and advance.
Inclusion was important to my decision-making processes, but also stability – is the stability there to give me a growth path?
If in the process of your search you find that Diversity and a culture of Inclusion are not there, then you’ve got to figure out if the organization is at least heading in that direction, is very early in that process, or if it’s an organization still struggling to get going on that journey.
JPS: I want to add something to what Paul said. I agree 100%, and I think it’s very personal. It depends on where you’re at. I’d use two analogies. When it comes to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – and I mean true Inclusion – the moment you start thinking that you have it all figured out and you know all the answers, is the moment that you’re wrong.
I have a really good friend, who does great training, and she always uses the analogy that Inclusion is like brushing your teeth. You have to do it every day, and you have to do it a certain way. The moment you stop doing it, you might start having problems. Maybe you end up having to do more work because you stopped taking care of things and suddenly you’ve got a huge issue.
In my journey, a big question for me concerns passing the baton. We are all in this race, and on this journey, but sometimes we do get tired. Sometimes your energy is low. You need to take care of you. Going back to Paul’s point about stability. It’s okay to focus on your own needs, doing your work while taking care of your family. Maybe there’s something bigger happening at a personal level, and you need to pass the baton to someone else.
Similarly, someone else might say to themselves, ‘I’m ready to move on, and this place needs to take on some new leadership, a new individual with this particular set of skills.’ They might be ready to take up the baton. And it’s totally okay. There is no one perfect way to advance in this journey.
For me, I had to ask myself, ‘Could I affect more change in the current role that I was in? Or have I hit a ceiling? Had my work knocked down walls for other people like me to walk through?’ And the answers to those questions were, ‘Yes, I have knocked down walls. And hopefully next time there is a first-generation, brown engineer trying to apply for this job, they might think of me and give that person a chance.’ And in my last role, the truth is, I felt like other people could carry the change that I had started. So, I can move on to the next role.
And one day as I was pondering this new opportunity, driving back from the mountains, my partner said, ‘Just a year ago, you became a U.S. citizen. What would it mean for so many LatinX youths to have a leader like you in that role?’ So, how could I say no to that? Literally, this is me, knocking down walls and making the change that I want to see.
GL: That’s powerful. I’m wondering, too, when you’re going through that interview process and begin to understand where that organization is on its own DEI journey – and maybe they aren’t as far along as you had hoped – is it challenging to decide if you want to be a part of the change effort that they’re making?
JPS: Two things. First is that you don’t have to do this work alone. Most likely there are people within the organization who share your goals. And you can leverage expertise within the leadership team to add those values and strengths that you feel are missing. One of the things that I’ve been doing is recruiting new Board members to fill those gaps, and the energy of those new Board members has been great.
Second, a willingness to learn and be open to growth is critical. That is a huge piece of the puzzle. And if people don’t know all the right words, or don’t know all the key frameworks, that’s okay. Because the beauty of this work is that it’s not a one-person job. It’s for everyone on the staff, and in the community – if you find those tools to enable people, and include their voices, I assure you there will be plenty of energy to drive change.
CL: I have to build on what Juan just said. I think if you come into an organization in a leadership capacity, and you sense that there’s at least a willingness to keep learning together, then to me, you feel like, ‘Yeah, I can take that on.’
But as a leader, you’ve probably been brought in for multiple mandates, and you have to really look at those as well. If you’re brought in to expand the organization, improve its revenue and operations, and if on top of that you see that there’s still quite a journey ahead on Inclusion, you have to be honest and ask, ‘Can I do it justice?’
The key is to allow yourself to be vulnerable and admit that, ‘I’m on my journey too.’ I think that was part of my own growth process in my last couple of years, as the Inclusion work we did at the Institute of Noetic Sciences was so deep that it made me realize it’s okay to be vulnerable.
So if you feel you’re going to have that level of openness with the Board leadership, then yes it can work. On the other hand, if you’re walking into a wall at the same time you’re loaded down with other mandates, I think you have to be honest with yourself about how much progress you’ll be able to make.
There’s a lot of complexity to the issue, and our personal ability to create truly intersectional spaces, as a core competency, is what will enable us to create inclusive workspaces and work cultures. – Juan Pérez Sáez
GL: That’s actually an important issue that Patrick and Marianna raised in their article – that Inclusion is for everyone. Even if you’re not part of an underrepresented group, Inclusion is part of a core DEI skillset that hiring organizations are looking for. You still have to bring something to the table in terms of Inclusion, your skillset, your viewpoint, and your worldview. What kind of advice would you offer to candidates about that?
CL: That brings up some previous DEI work I did, which included an identity exercise, where you really looked deep inside trying to understand how you see yourself. What are the most important parts of your identity, to you? It was fascinating and brought clarity as to my top identifiers—which might not match with how others see me. I found that my socioeconomic story, of where I came from, was one of my highest identifiers – that I come from a French-Canadian working-class family and had to go to school on scholarships.
To know what you bring to the Inclusion journey, you have to know yourself. I would suggest that candidates do that work, and really understand what is it that you bring, and you’ll come across more authentically. I’ll never forget that experience because it was a shift for me. We all make assumptions that need to be explored, not just about others but about ourselves, too.
PM: Just to build on what Claire so thoughtfully brought forward. As a candidate, I think you have to reflect on what you’re being asked to bring to the organization – really understanding what your strengths are in that sense, and where you’re going to be challenged.
We all make career moves for a variety of reasons, like a higher salary or higher title, or for many of us, it’s making a bigger impact. If you’re at an organization where you’ve run out of that ability to grow and make a bigger impact, and you’re stepping into a new role where you can do that, you want to think about how the new organization is going to benefit from the skills and talents you’re bringing to the table. But just as important, once you get there, if you are not presenting those same opportunities to your team, to include all their various viewpoints and talents to make the organization better, then you’re not being inclusive.
So we have to be careful to make sure that as candidates when we come in, we provide room to grow for individuals who are within the organization already. Because when you’re the new person, you’re thinking about how you’re going to build your team out. And maybe you were brought in to shake things up to make it better. But there are ways you can inspire team members to bring ideas to the table, too.
So when I think about my role in Inclusion, as a candidate, I think about my ability as a leader to make sure that I’m getting those voices that are already there to contribute to the mission at their highest level. You need to inspire the team to get out of the mindset of, ‘We’ve always done it that way.’
JPS: I can just add one little note on that. When I get that question about my experience working with diverse communities, usually my answer is that I worked with Amish farmers in rural Ohio. And people always take a minute to process that answer because they don’t expect it.
So to me, Inclusion is a challenge to everyone. If all my friends are like me – Latino first-generation Americans who are from Colorado and are outdoorsy – then I don’t have a very inclusive circle, right? And in our community, we don’t talk enough about people’s differing abilities, the disabled community, or people with neurodivergence, like dyslexia. Inclusion means bringing in every single perspective. So, if you look around at the people that you interact with, the people that you work with, the people you attract, and they look like and sound like you, that might reveal you need to do some work. There’s a lot of complexity to the issue, and our personal ability to create truly intersectional spaces, as a core competency, is what will enable us to create inclusive workspaces and work cultures.
GL: So, given the complexity of the topic, can you offer any thoughts to candidates about where to start? Can you sum it up in a simple idea? How should they be framing or understanding this issue?
JPS: No matter what work we’re doing on Inclusion and Diversity, we need to know why we’re doing it. A lot of people just say, ‘I know Claire. I know Paul. They’re doing a great job. I just want to do what they’re doing.’ And we’re tempted to copy and paste whatever someone else is doing because they’re doing great work. But if I don’t know why I’m doing it, then it misses the whole point that it’s personal and it’s a journey, for everyone.
PM: If I were to tell a candidate the most important thing to look for, I think Juan and Claire mentioned that if you look at an organization’s online materials, and you see that it’s not representative of the diverse and inclusive organization you’re looking to join, really have that conversation and get the answers to figure out, ‘Are they headed in that direction?’
If they are, is that work going to fall on one person, or is it going to be shared? Have they done training to uncover, as Juan just said, why it’s important to the organization? Is there buy-in from the leadership team that as they move in that direction, they’re fully committed to following through? Ask questions to understand what the lay of the land looks like.
CL: I love that, and I would agree. I would also add an angle that we haven’t touched on yet. As a candidate, pay attention to how well the Board is leading. If you’re going into a CEO or Chief Development Officer role, pay attention to how the Board talks about the mission. What really struck me about ReSurge was that they are a very value-committed organization even though they haven’t done extensive DEI training.
ReSurge does reconstructive surgery in developing countries, and they had a sharp awareness that they need to build on-the-ground capacity in those countries, as opposed to what’s called a fly-in fly-out model in which an American or European surgeon flies in, performs life-changing surgery, and leaves. ‘See you later.’ What I heard from the ReSurge Board was a sincere commitment to building local capacity as an important priority in global health. Speaking about the mission that way affected me very much. So, in summary, I would simply say that another angle is, ‘How does the Board talk about the work?’
GL: Thank you for those insights, and thank you for this conversation. We’re talking about actions and priorities that can transform organizations, and pursuing them with commitment. Hopefully, this discussion will be helpful not just for candidates, but also for hiring organizations looking to bring on talented people – and for the entire profession as we all advance on our individual and collective Inclusion journeys.
Curious to learn more? Read the next article in our series here.