(Re)Building an Equitable Organization | Part One

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The United States was founded on racist, white supremacist ideologies, and these ideologies are embedded in every aspect of our society—including the criminal justice system, corporations, schools, and even nonprofit organizations. It’s easy to think that racism is less common or is somehow less severe within nonprofit organizations because of the mission-driven work they do, but this is not the case: white supremacist characteristics are part of the foundation of all organizations. The scholar Tema Okun highlights and discusses white supremacist culture and characteristics on his website. any of these characteristics show up in nonprofit organizations: fear, worship of the written word, sense of urgency, and either/or and the binary. This post will discuss some of the ways these characteristics show up within an organization and strategies to combat them.

To become a more equitable organization, it’s not enough to approach organizational change with an equity lens alone. Rather, organizations should address existing white supremacist practices, dismantle those practices, and embed anti-racist principles into the organization’s foundation in their stead. Organizational leaders have a responsibility to make this change happen.

While changes should happen at every facet of a nonprofit organization, this post will focus on changing human resources policies and practices—specifically, the policies directly supporting an organization’s talent. These policies can be divided into the following categories:

  1. External Engagement
  2. Hiring
  3. Communications
  4. Retention and Advancement (including Equitable Compensation)

External engagement includes all policies and documents related to communicating with the external community about employment opportunities, which includes, but is not limited to job descriptions, recruiting practices, outreach, and social media practices. Job descriptions, for example, often place a high value on having “appropriate” academic credentials in lieu of considering equivalent experiences or skills. Some organizations also limit their outreach to institutions or spaces that are predominately white, which excludes or hinders BIPOC individuals from applying. External engagement is the first time that potential candidates interact with organizations—it’s crucial to ensure that the first documents/web pages/other documentation that candidates view are inclusive as possible. An example of inclusive external engagement is setting and stating a policy on salary negotiations. In most organizations, salary negotiations are allowed; however, research shows negotiation to be a highly inequitable practice. To mitigate this practice, organizations should consider not allowing salary negotiations for new hires and tenured employees. If negotiations are allowed, this should be made clear in the job description. Research shows that women and BIPOC individuals are less likely to negotiate than their white counterparts; by stating a negotiations-allowed policy in a job description, all individuals will be aware of the policy and be encouraged to negotiate.

Another example of inclusive external engagement is making job descriptions more inclusive. For example, a white supremacist characteristic that often appears in job descriptions is the “worship of the written word.” Ways to combat this characteristic include the following: acknowledging and developing non-written communication styles, appreciating the diversity of skills and knowledge that all staff members bring to the organization, understanding the ways people share information, and beyond. For certain positions, like communications positions that require individuals to have strong writing skills as part of the job’s foundational skillset, organizations should consider defining a broader set of communications skills in their job descriptions: e.g., the ability to communicate information in a clear, compelling manner, be it verbally, graphically, or in writing.

Hiring policies and practices include a general hiring timeline, résumé reviews, and the overall interview process. There are countless opportunities for bias to seep in during this process; often, hiring managers utilize white supremacist hiring practices without even realizing it. Résumé reviews and interviews are approached with either a binary lens or a “gut feeling” approach, both of which are inequitable. Rather than using a binary lens, organizations should ask themselves what competencies are required for the position and if there are ways for candidates to gain these competencies through other venues, rather than only through academic credentials or a certain year count of experience.

Communications include internal communications between a leadership team and their staff and the communication of policies to employees, including both written and verbal communication. Communication policies usually focus on one type of communication, such as written communication. It’s important to approach communications with a more inclusive and multifaceted approach because people absorb information in different ways. For example, when HR or leadership shares information with the larger staff cohort, they can first send an email detailing the policy/policies and then reiterate the policy and/or discuss it at a staff meeting. This approach will give individuals time to absorb the information and ask follow-up questions at the staff meeting.

Retention and advancement policies include compensation (salary and benefits), support strategies and professional development, and advancement policies. Strong support strategies are required to ensure that employees are set up for success; by not providing proper and necessary resources, organizations foster failures rather than successes. Advancement and promotion policies often involve very subjective metrics, making them a source of inequity. For example, many advancement policies foster a constant sense of urgency, which perpetuates a culture of “quantity over quality” and can maintain elements of power hoarding, which can have elements of white supremacist characteristics. Instead, consider committing to collaborative development, equity, realistic planning, and learning from past experiences—and understand that time needs to be allocated to implementing these practices.

Equitable compensation includes having an appropriate compensation strategy and conducting an internal and external compensation equity analysis. The complex and multifaceted nature of an equitable compensation strategy and analysis requires a separate post—it will be discussed in “(Re)Building an Equitable Organization, Part Two.”

Since white supremacist characteristics are embedded into all aspects of an organization, rebuilding an organization with equitable HR policies requires thought, time, money, and organization-wide buy-in. DRG Talent’s expertise includes assessing HR policies and practices and recommending equitable policies and practices. To discuss this service, please contact our expert, Akshita Sankepally (asankepally@drgtalent.com).

Akshita Sankepally, Talent Consultant

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