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Non-Profits Have a Responsibility to Lead in Workplace Equality and Safety

By Donna Weiss March 29, 2018

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have sparked a long overdue national conversation about conduct and relationships in the workplace. While the conversation has initially focused on the issue of gender inequity, we must bring the same attention to how we can value differences and ensure fairness when it comes to issues of race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and physical ability. 

It is also important to remember that, while this dialogue is taking place in politics, media, entertainment and academia, the nonprofit sector has an obligation to encourage the same level of discourse and introspection from its professionals.  

In fact, I believe that, as some of the country’s leading organizations for social good, nonprofits have a moral and ethical responsibility to be at the forefront of this issue.  As goodwill entities who serve the public interest, we are obliged to be transparent about our values and to stay true to them.  As a recent Nonprofit Quarterly report suggests, “Effective (nonprofit) organizations possess clearly articulated values and behave in accordance with these values.” 

Moreover, in order for nonprofits to maximize their impact, those lived values must infuse every level of an organization. According to a post on Spokes for Nonprofits, an “organization’s values – “rules of engagement” (will determine) how your team (board members, staff, and volunteers) will treat each other, your donors and, most importantly, the men, women and children you serve.”

Like many other high-performing nonprofits, Communities In Schools (CIS) succeeds because of the positive relationships among the organization, the students it serves and the people inside and outside of the organization who rally behind the mission. At the core of these relationship is public trust. If we are slow to reckon with any potential threats to the trust we’ve earned or act in a way that compromises our values, then we’ve failed. 

As a CIS national board member, I can tell you that we’re still learning what it means to be accountable to our values. At the turn of this new year, the board and leaders from the national office, came together in an intentional moment of introspection. Through an honest look at our mission and values, we could see there was more work to be done to remain true to CIS’ ethos. Our assessment strengthened our resolve behind a key imperative in our recent strategic plan calling for greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) throughout our nonprofit. 

When an organization commits to diversity, equity and inclusion, it is more likely that all stakeholders will work to treat all people, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, orientation or ability, with respect and fairness. That’s why we’ve launched a network-wide initiative that will provide a roadmap to how we infuse DEI in the organization. 

In order to be effective, this work must begin at the top. 

In BoardSource’s 2017 Leading with Intent, the nonprofit governance leader reports that, while many Boards are dissatisfied with their level of diversity,  “Boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago and current recruitment priorities indicate this is unlikely to change.” The report implored boards to put decisive action behind their dissatisfaction with the status quo. 

CIS is heeding that call. In addition to biennial reviews of board composition by our Governance Committee on which I serve, I am co-chairing a task force aimed specifically at board diversity. We have been charged with recruiting a specific number of directors who collectively address our top DEI targets of age, gender and ethnicity as well as our fundraising priorities. We do not underestimate the challenge that this presents, but CIS’ values of Integrity, Collaboration, Equity, Excellence and Accountability compel us to closely consider who we are as a board, a staff and a network.  I want to be clear that we do not have this figured out. Like many organizations, CIS is on a journey.  

I encourage you to join us on that journey.  Educate yourself on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.  Examine your own organizations in light of these issues and, if you believe that you fall short, take the first steps to rectify the situation.  Articulate your organization’s values and, more importantly, create structures and strategies that lead to their implementation on a daily basis throughout the organization.  

The road to creating this reality in the broader world is a long one, and the journey is fraught with points of stagnation. But I believe that, if we remain steadfast and accountable to our values, we will get there. Together, we will get there.

Donna Weiss was the founding chairman, and remains a director, of Communities In Schools of Los Angeles (CISLA). She serves on the Communities In Schools national board’s Governance Committee, and chairs its Network Committee.

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