Over the past several years, large-scale shifts in the job market have been driven by a confluence of forces. In addition to Workplace issues – which we have covered in depth over the past four months – the world is contending with issues of Inclusion with more urgency than I have ever seen during my long career in advancement work.

Disparate impacts of the pandemic across different segments of society highlighted deep inequities in access to healthcare, job flexibility and mobility, pay and benefits, quality of job and career opportunities, and many other areas related to both work and work-life balance. At the same time, the death of George Floyd spotlighted the social injustice faced by Black people and communities of color, but also marginalized groups in general, leading to mass protests like this country has not seen in decades.

And yes, one could argue that bracing conversations about inclusion are long overdue, but what’s most important now is to seize the moment and make these current conversations matter: the advancement profession needs to move from discussion to action in a way that it has not before.

Virtually every candidate we interview, and every hiring manager we engage with, wants to have a conversation about Inclusion. What does Inclusion mean? How is Inclusion practiced (or not) at this organization and in our culture? How does Inclusion affect the search process? How does it impact this search specifically? Those conversations cover a wide range of issues related to people feeling excluded, and how to remedy that – e.g., Equity and opportunity for people of color, LGBT+ communities, women in leadership, among other topics.

Younger candidates in particular are asking explicitly about Inclusion. Today’s employees want to join an inclusive culture, regardless of whether they belong to a marginalized group or not. The fact that an inclusive culture is now table stakes for attracting and retaining the strongest talent gives me greater hope than ever before for the future of the advancement profession.

Diversity and equity don’t create change or value for the organization without inclusion.

So, what is Inclusion? How is it different from Diversity and Equity, two concepts that have been part of the employment and culture discussion for years? We offer the following two-part definition. Inclusion is:

  • The degree to which individuals with diverse perspectives and background are able to participate fully in the decision-making process. (Source: D5 Coalition)
  • The process of putting diversity into action by creating an environment of involvement, respect, and connection – where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed to create value. (Source: Padamsee & Crowe)

The key to moving forward on Inclusion is to recognize that Diversity merely requires the presence of diverse voices, ideas, experiences, and backgrounds. True Inclusion requires that those voices are listened to and valued. That they feel that they belong. That their contributions are received, and then allowed to have a positive impact – on the team, and in the organization in pursuit of its mission. In short, Inclusion means that those diverse voices are empowered to make a difference.

Now, have we made progress on diversity? Absolutely yes. But it’s also possible—and has likely been the case for many diversity efforts—that while organizations have moved the needle on presence, they have failed to advance true Inclusion. Who hasn’t seen the diversity initiative that doesn’t stick? Or seen members of marginalized groups join an organization with great hope and then move on because they didn’t feel that they belonged? Or because they couldn’t come to work as their authentic selves, with their unique experiences and insights? Or because their contributions had no impact, often rebuffed out of sheer habit and rote following of the status quo?

If we have learned anything from our many years of experience with Diversity – and even Equity – it’s that the DE part of the equation doesn’t stick without the I. Diversity and Equity don’t create change or value for the organization without Inclusion.

Decision makers need to embrace inclusion for its positive potential impact on hiring, retention, engagement, and fundraising.

It’s important to note here that job candidates in marginalized groups have always been concerned with Inclusion. But many of us in positions of power were not ready or able to make as much progress as necessary. Sometimes because of conscious or unconscious bias. Often because we didn’t have the vocabulary, tools, venues, or broader support of our organizations for doing that important work. And sometimes even because we were narrowly focused on the Diversity and Equity pieces, without moving all the way to the Inclusion part.

But we can no longer lean on those justifications and explanations.

Since we founded Aspen Leadership Group, and long before, we have recognized that every candidate wants to be included in a way that they can make their best contribution to their organization and its mission. Like many, we have learned and evolved to the point where we strongly believe that Inclusion is inarguably one of the most important challenges facing advancement today. (For an in-depth take on why, and what to do about it, please read our book Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Advancement: A Guide to Strengthening Engagement and Fundraising Through Inclusion, by Angelique Grant, and Ron Schiller, published by Council for Advancement and Support of Education.)

In short, without true Inclusion, DE&I initiatives will fail to stick. People in marginalized groups may be willing to join, but they likely won’t stay. And most important, nonprofit organizations will not be able fully to engage with all their potential volunteers, donors, stakeholder communities, influencers, and a range of other constituents. If you cannot bring in and include diverse voices, ideas, backgrounds, connections and networks, you are shortchanging the organization and its mission.

We are at a turning point. Decision makers need to embrace Inclusion for its positive potential impact on hiring, retention, engagement, and fundraising. We need to leverage the momentum of the past several years and move from awareness and discussion to urgent action.

Curious to learn more? Read the next article in our series here.

Contributing authors:




Ron Schiller, Founding Partner, Aspen Leadership Group

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