04 Apr How are You Doing on that Diversity Goal?
4 April 2023
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Just about every organization I am working with is dealing with the DEI question. Conservation is too white, too male, too educated, too elite. How can we get our boards to look more like our communities? For nearly all of us, this represents a near Herculean task (to pull a white male metaphor out of my bag). But what would doing so actually look like?
I worked with one land trust who set out to change their all-male culture into one in which at least 40% of their Board members were female. The Executive Director was proud of the fact that they had recently succeeded – seven of their fifteen Board members were now female. It had taken them ten years?
Yes, he said. Ten years. Here – more or less – is what he told me:
First came the open position hurdle. “We can’t recruit women into positions that aren’t open yet.” Then came the “We don’t know any qualified women candidates” B.S. Then the hurdle of an all-male Board trying to recruit women.
Then, when the first woman accepted, she left a year later, undoubtedly tired of being the only woman on an all-male board. After several of these false starts, we got to four women, but about that time, the first few were rolling off with their term limits.
Yeah – ten years.
And then there’s the accommodating cultural change part.
I worked with another land trust client with “working lands” included in their mission statement. Forget about what their community looked like, they had agricultural conservation in their mission! I asked the Board how many of them were farmers.
AND – they pushed back.
Our Board meetings are on Thursday afternoons, they explained. Farmers couldn’t make the meetings.
Hello! Maybe you need to change your meeting culture to accommodate the diversity you are claiming as an organizational value.
I have a couple of points to make in sharing these stories:
Diversity is more than race and gender. Not to diminish the importance of those two vectors, but we all need to think about what our communities actually look like in more than just two ways. What about age, geography, politics, education, professional discipline, and wealth? (Yes – wealth!)
Changing the culture for an organization is going to take time – maybe even ten years or more. It’s still worth it, but we need to be prepared to sustain the effort.
Be prepared to accommodate newcomers. What are the barriers to participation? Can we move over a little to make room for people who don’t look like us? Can’t meet on Tuesday afternoons? Maybe we can move the meetings. Too many meetings? Too few? Difficult to get to? Daycare a problem? Can’t afford participating? Maybe we’ll need to accommodate.
Try cluster recruiting – bringing three or four people from a defined community onto the Board at the same time.
I use the metaphor of families. Families with one child have adult households. The child is asked to accommodate the adult house. Two children, this begins to change. The adults schedule more and more around kid activities, especially on the weekends. By three kids, the adults are accommodating the needs of the children as much as the other way around. The addition of that third child changes the culture of the family dynamic. Bringing three or more Board members on together will create the need for accommodation and culture change that bringing on just one at a time may not.
Don’t ignore the qualities that you need from Board members in the first place. Passion for the mission, previous Board experience, demonstrated ability and willingness to give money, wisdom, and willingness to serve as an ambassador for the organization back into their communities.
Did I mention passion for the mission? Why do we recruit anyone to our Boards who doesn’t already know what we do and like it enough to support it – no matter what color or gender they are or which neighborhood they live in or what they do for a living?
Board members who don’t give themselves will not be effective fundraisers. But Board members should not give money because they are Board members. They should give money because they believe that what you are doing is worth doing – they should give because they believe in the mission. And we want people who believe in the mission to be Board members. Giving is something people do that qualifies them for consideration as a Board member.
If your land trust includes diversity and inclusion as organizational values and you look remarkably homogeneous now, your first task is to identify those among your members and donors who represent the diversity you seek. If it’s not there, you need to work first at becoming relevant enough to earn the respect and support from those communities.
And that will take even more time.
Cheers, and have a great week!
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
PPS: I am working the polls today – election day ion Wisconsin. This post has been updated from a post I originally published in 2018
Photo by Aleksey Kutsar, courtesy pixabay.com
Judy AndersonPosted at 10:50h, 12 April
Very good post. I would add that the diversity/welcoming lens needs to extend to how we are writing conservation easements and who can afford to own conserved land–in addition to the criteria of what a land trust considers important conservation land, and to whom. I’m seeing that many land trusts aren’t factoring in the salary and benefits package (including vacation and life-work-balance) when considering how to make their land trust more inclusive; there is still a large gap between “leadership” and others; many land trusts aren’t paying living wages for “lower-to-medium level” staff while “leadership” is highly compensated.
Natalie Dorrler-HydePosted at 10:31h, 05 April
The subject line got my attention and now I’m compelled to comment.
Our sector has deep-seeded challenges in how nonprofit funding is distributed (generally people of wealth/power in decision-making roles determining how nonprofits ‘should’ engage with ‘underserved’ audiences). Diversity isn’t a “Goal”. Social (and environmental) change needs to be rooted in more than checking a trivial box on a grant report. We have a lot of work to do to recognize and begin to break down the inherent barriers related to these colonized norms.
It isn’t easy or comfortable… but imperative for meaningful change.
Elanah ShermanPosted at 07:06h, 04 April
I appreciate the critique and suggestions in this blog but . . . where is disability in the list of diverse demographics?
David AllenPosted at 06:34h, 06 April
Agreed! (Though my list was not intended to be exhaustive)