Advancing Philanthropy

Office Culture and Well-Being: Why Hiring Diverse Candidates is Not the First Step

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Whether you’re on LinkedIn, reading a philanthropy-focused publication, or consuming any other news piece, you likely have seen an influx of organizations prioritizing hiring people of color. The new shift is being heralded as a much-awaited change in America, a reckoning in our society, an acknowledgment of white privilege, and the commitment to inclusion and equity. If we look beyond the headlines, are these shifts truly reflective of change? Are the appointments of people of color to leadership roles a representation of commitment to equity or are they actions to assuage white guilt and a subversive effort to further solidify white supremacy?

This article sets out to answer some of the questions organization leaders may have about how best to address equity and diversity within their organizations.

We want to diversify our organization. What should we do first?

As noted in the article “Fundraisers Bill of Rights—Creating Equitable Partnerships” from the April 2021 issue of Advancing Philanthropy, charitable organizations should undergo an intensive review of policies and practices to ensure their employees of color and professionals from other systemically non-dominant cultures have the ability to thrive in the same capacity as their white peers.

A first step is to audit your current work environment and policies that include organizational leadership and staff, especially those who are more likely to have been impacted by inequities within the organization. A second step will require a transparent examination of why the organization was founded, who was appointed to lead the organization, and why those decisions may have innately excluded certain people.

Hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds is the right thing to do if we want to combat racism, right?

Systemic issues require systemic solutions. Before pursuing and hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds, organizations must acknowledge and hold themselves accountable for how their business practices uphold systemic racism. If you’re finding that your organization lacks diversity, it may not solely be due to a lack of diversity in the candidate pipeline. People choose jobs based on how the position fits within their career, the organization’s culture, and their potential for growth. If the organization doesn’t have any leaders of color, does not have a track record of promoting people of color, and does not have an equitable and inclusive culture, then how can the organization attract candidates from diverse backgrounds? The answer: it cannot. Before focusing on hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds, an organization should prioritize analyzing their business practices and culture.

Systemic issues require systemic solutions. Before pursuing and hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds, organizations must acknowledge and hold themselves accountable for how their business practices uphold systemic racism.

I recently read that we hire people that remind us of ourselves. If I am not a person of color, how do I connect with candidates from diverse backgrounds?

Since the murder of George Floyd and the protests that ensued as a result, many organizations find themselves in a position of desperation to avoid being characterized as racist. As such, we are seeing an influx of diversity hiring initiatives that were developed quickly and not thoroughly vetted for efficacy and sustainability.

Due to this uptick, prospective candidates feel the anxiety of recruiters and hiring managers to fulfill their organization’s diversity quotas through disingenuous LinkedIn connections and random outreach emails. These connections with candidates from diverse backgrounds lack integrity since their sole intention is only to ask the candidate to fill the gaps in diversity at the organization.

Instead, organizations should invest their time in authentically connecting with candidates from diverse backgrounds (i.e., meeting the candidate, learning about their experiences, and asking them about their future aspirations). And candidates should not be asked to do additional labor, such as applying for a role that does not fit in their career path, volunteering with the organization’s board, or sharing any open positions on behalf of the organization to the candidate’s network. Finally, the organization should invest financial resources into hiring recruiting companies founded, operated and/or led by people of color. By investing time and finances, organizations can better connect with candidates from diverse backgrounds.

Isn’t hiring a person of color to lead an organization enough to prove that the organization is committed to diversity?

Unless a role is explicitly dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and has the full support of incumbent leadership and staff, a newly hired leader cannot be successful in managing their full-time role and being solely responsible for advancing equity within the organization. An organization should hold itself accountable instead of requiring leaders from diverse backgrounds to establish its commitment to diversity.

Before focusing on hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds, an organization should prioritize analyzing their business practices and culture.

One strategy for developing organizational accountability may be to adjust workloads and invite staff to have a conversation about what a commitment to diversity means for them. A second strategy may be to include DEI in each employee’s performance metrics so that the time they dedicate to supporting DEI initiatives is evaluated alongside their other valuable contributions. It is imperative your commitment to diversity reflects the needs of all leaders and staff, and that commitment should evolve as the organization grows.

Systemic racism is woven into American society. Knowing that our economy was built upon the backs of the enslaved, we must first recognize how our business practices of today are derived from the business practices of our past. Once organizations identify how their practices have been impacted by systemic racism, they can then move forward in creating an equitable and inclusive work environment. The final—not the first—step is to connect with candidates from diverse backgrounds through authentic networking. It is not only the responsibility of leaders of color to hold organizations accountable for these shifts but is also the responsibility of each person in the organization.

There is no easy fix to dismantling systemic racism; only time, investment and thoughtful change can begin the shift toward an equitable future.

This article is an independent project of the authors, Jennifer Holmes and Amelia Garza. The document is not reflective of the policies, thoughts or opinions of any organization with whom the authors may have employment or voluntary association.

Amelia GarzaAmelia Garza currently serves as associate director of major gifts at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. She is currently a Baumhart Scholar at Loyola’s MBA program, has a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University in women’s studies; and a bachelor’s degree from Augustana College in pre-occupational therapy, psychology, women and gender studies. You can reach her at amelialgarza@gmail.com or find her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amelialgarza/.

Jennifer T. Holmes Jennifer T. Holmes currently serves as assistant director of corporate and foundation relations at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. She has a master’s degree from University of Detroit Mercy in liberal studies and a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University in history. You can reach her at jenniferholmes1999@yahoo.com or find her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/1jenniferholmes/.

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