As we wrap up the Inclusion module of The Great Rethink series – now with eight months of articles and panel discussions behind us – it’s worth revisiting again why Aspen Leadership Group undertook this expansive project.
We wanted to explore the why of major shifts in the job market, rather than just repeating the fact of these changes, as others have done. Yes, more people are quitting and moving jobs, but there are important reasons why: people are looking for more flexible environments that give them a better work-life balance; they desire greater alignment of personal values and organizational mission; they’re looking for more diverse and inclusive work cultures, and they are asking for a closer match between the value of their contribution to an organization and the recognition they receive for it.
With respect to Inclusion, there is also a substantive “why” underlying the desire of candidates and the urgent internal work being done by nonprofits of all kinds: Diversity and Equity don’t create change or value for any organization without true Inclusion.
Inclusion means that diverse views, experiences, and contributions are received and allowed to have a positive impact on the organization and its mission. Specifically, the potential benefits can include: broader engagement with stakeholders, bringing in new stakeholders, extending the impact of the mission to new audiences and beneficiaries, attracting and retaining top talent, and building more authentic relationships with a wider array of donors, based on a keener understanding of each donor’s passion for giving.
That said, making progress on Inclusion is not without its challenges, as our expert panels have discussed in detail. The challenges are personal and professional, organizational, and individual. But progress is possible, no matter where you are on your own Inclusion journey.
Here we have put together a few of the most important insights from the Inclusion module to help readers reflect on where they and their organizations stand on the many issues related to Inclusion, and to help them chart a path as the entire advancement profession moves forward on its own Inclusion journey.
1) Know yourself, and where you are on your Inclusion journey.
In all of the articles and panels on Inclusion over the past three months, this theme has come up multiple times. Inclusion is never actually done, or finished, to the point that one can move on from it. Inclusion is a set of behaviors that must be nurtured and practiced on an ongoing basis if those efforts are to be successful. In that regard, it’s a life-long, intentional journey, for organizations and individuals alike.
So, where are you currently? How closely do you align with your stated ideals? Where are you headed? Do you have the resources needed to get there? How much work do you think it will take, and in what areas is that work most pressing? Where do you have strengths that you can best leverage to achieve progress?
Hiring organizations need to undertake an honest, candid assessment of where their culture sits relative to their aim for true Inclusion. This knowledge will inform how and where you hire, as you add new voices, experiences, and talents to build the inclusive culture to which you aspire. It will also help identify gaps in internal processes and behaviors that may be getting in the way.
Candidates also need to know what kind of culture they aspire to work in, and how much investment they are willing to make to get there. Are you willing to be the cultural “add” that an organization needs? Are you willing to lead the change? Or would you rather invest in an organization where that upfront work has been done and where you can spend your time leveraging that culture to better serve the mission?
In the hiring process, Inclusion is often a challenge of alignment – matching the needs, abilities, and aims of candidates and hiring organizations. And that alignment cannot happen unless both parties have a clear idea of where they are, and where they want to go.
2) Be ready for transparent conversations.
Transparency on a topic as sensitive as Inclusion can feel scary, especially as it’s a newer conversation, quite long overdue, and many of us feel like we lack the experience or even the vocabulary to address it in a safe, satisfactory way.
ALG’s Steven Wallace and Jeanette Rivera-Watts wrote: “Transparency can feel very vulnerable and uncomfortable for hiring organizations. But in truth, that’s how candidates in historically excluded or marginalized groups feel every time they apply for a position.” And in their article, ALG’s Patrick Key and Marianna DiVietro pointed out that candidates, too, can feel hesitant, vulnerable, and awkward about raising issues related to Inclusion. The authors encouraged candidates to “be bold with the topic.”
The takeaway: for hiring organizations and candidates alike, there is no hiding from the topic of Inclusion.
Nonprofits need to be upfront and honest about where they are on their Inclusion journey, what their destination is, and what resources they are willing to invest to get there. If they aren’t, there are plenty of places candidates can go to find whatever information they’re looking for. And organizations should expect to get called out for anything that feels performative or inauthentic.
For their part, candidates need to look past things like website policy statements and pay attention to “real-life signals,” as phrased by expert panelist Paul Muite of Brown University: i.e., the composition of leadership, or how people react to questions about Inclusion, or how they talk about it relative to the mission.
But candidates also need to understand that hiring organizations have expectations, too. Candidates need to be transparent about what they bring to the table in terms of skills and concrete experience. They need to be fully transparent not just about their needs, goals, and values, but about their ability and willingness to contribute.
3) Leadership must take responsibility for Inclusion.
Hiring organizations only appear fully authentic on the issue of Inclusion if it’s a priority for the entire leadership team – right up to the top. True Inclusion reaches beyond the mere presence of diverse voices. So, an organization’s leadership team needs to demonstrate that if new voices, experiences, and insights are added to the organization, those will be received, welcomed, and allowed to make a contribution at the highest levels.
Inclusion is not something that can be pushed down into the administrative or junior ranks and left there. Or even be implemented solely on a departmental basis, where each silo is responsible for its own policies and practices. As an element of culture, it is up to leadership to live by example and set the tone from the top – if candidates don’t see it, they may not apply.
Likewise, candidates applying for, or aspiring to, leadership roles in advancement, must be willing to lead – not only holding others accountable but holding themselves accountable as well. Making progress on Inclusion often requires us to challenge our own conscious and unconscious biases, resistance, fear, unfamiliarity, and a range of other issues related to how leaders receive and process different contributions.
What you expect from the leadership of any organization you’re seeking to join has to be something you’re willing to commit to yourself as an inclusive leader.
4) Bring the whole person into the hiring process.
The great rethink we’re seeing in the job market is often driven by a deep desire among job seekers to better integrate their work and personal lives. Partly that’s about achieving greater satisfaction for themselves. But it’s also about rethinking where and how they want to invest their time, energy, and passion – a trend that’s especially relevant to the nonprofit sector, where candidates and organizations are both mission-driven, and a successful relationship requires mission alignment.
The great rethink, in this respect, is about finding new ways that people can bring their whole person to the workplace, to make their best, most effective contribution.
Yet in many ways, the “whole person” model is a completely new paradigm for both hiring organizations and candidates. And it’s still very much a work in progress. Hiring organizations have historically ignored or deliberately excluded personal “lived” experience from a narrow assessment of skills and qualifications. And candidates express hesitation about how much of the “whole person” a hiring organization actually wants and will make room for.
True Inclusion understands that there may be untapped value in different people’s unique experiences and viewpoints, beyond their sheer technical abilities – and that having access to those in the workplace can have a beneficial impact not just on the culture, but also on the organization’s operational and fundraising performance. So as Inclusion efforts gain momentum and attracting diverse pools of candidates becomes a higher priority, hiring organizations and candidates will have to get more adept at navigating these sometimes choppy waters.
As we said at the outset of the Inclusion module: It’s a journey. We’re not there yet. But if we want DE&I initiatives to stick, we must find more ways to tap into all that our colleagues have to offer. Inclusive work environments that consider the whole person, we believe, can see positive results in hiring, retention, engagement, fundraising, and ultimately that most precious goal of all: mission impact.
Curious to learn more? Read the next article in our series here.
Steven Wallace, Senior Consultant and Vice President for Stewardship and Strategic Partnerships, Aspen Leadership Group
Patrick Key, Senior Consultant, Aspen Leadership Group