To Be More Inclusive, Mass. Nonprofits Need to Act Daily
October 29, 2020 — To become more inclusive and equitable, Massachusetts nonprofits need to disrupt traditional ways of thinking and acting by holding individuals and organizations accountable in their day-to-day work, leaders and service providers from health and human services organizations across the state were told today.
“Culture matters in how we hold people accountable, how we reward people for being accountable, and how we integrate all of these approaches into our day-to-day work,” Atyia Martin, CEO of All Aces, Inc., a Boston-based consulting firm, told attendees at the annual conference of the Providers’ Council, the state’s largest association of community-based health and human services organizations. This year’s conference, held virtually, drew 1,000 registrants.
Martin’s comments followed by one day the release of a report that quantified how Massachusetts nonprofits persistently fail to promote, retain, and support nonprofit leaders of color.
Martin outlined a framework that details how diversity, equity, and equity transformation guides organizational development.
The so-called DIET framework links strategy, norms, processes, decision making, and other factors that, when fully developed, enable organizations to disrupt entrenched modes of thinking and acting that reinforce inequity. The fully disruptive organization empowers leadership that challenges racism and other forms of oppression “while creating space…for consciousness, critical thinking, and a commitment to continuous personal, professional, and organizational involvement.”
Effecting organizational change requires nonprofits to have “an intentional culture that is about advancing racial equity and advancing social justice” that requires more than setting or adopting new policies, according to Martin.
“I've been hearing a lot, and it's coming from a lot of different sources, that all you have to do is change policy and that will magically change racism,” she said. “That's a very narrow landscape of action. But if we expand our energy, the more action we take, the more our circle of influence is impacted. The more we try, the more we're going to be successful.”
Acknowledging that “sometimes it feels like there's not a whole lot that we can do” and that even leaders in organizations feel overwhelmed, Martin said, “The goal is that you take the first step. The question is, what is going to be your first step or your next step?”
To move forward, she said, requires that leaders not be complacent with where they—and their organizations—are today.
Issues raised by Martin, as well as the report on persistent racial bias in Massachusetts nonprofits, have been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic.
According to another recently issued report, On the Frontlines: Nonprofits Led by People of Color Confront COVID-19 and Structural Racism, “COVID-19 has only exacerbated existing needs and inequities caused by structural racism, poverty, and inequitable policies.”
In addition, that report from the Building Movement Project, based on surveys and focus groups across the U.S. nonprofit sector, found that many leaders of color expect unmet survival needs related to food insecurity, jobs, housing, more COVID-19 illnesses and deaths, and harsh economic consequences will significantly increase over the next year.