Little did I know that I’d be able to make a connection between a plenary at last week’s Minnesota Council on Foundations 2010 Annual Convening and the turmoil of my teenager walking away from her highly sought-after, much-coveted part-time job.
A couple of months ago, my daughter outlined her expectations for the ideal part-time job, while I thought to myself, “You better take what you can get. You’ll be lucky to find anything in this economy.”
She was looking for: 10 hours a week during school, more during the summer and vacations; within a 20-minute drive from home; shifts that end by 9 p.m. on weeknights; no frying.
The owner of a nearby pizza place asked her to come in for an interview – at 5 p.m. She stood at the edge of the pizza assembly line as the staff scrambled to turn out pizzas to meet the dinner rush. The owner, standing at the front of the line, asked a few questions while overseeing the chaos, including, “Would you be willing to stand out on the street corner in a pizza costume, hold a sign and wave at cars?”
If you knew my daughter, you would know that this was nothing short of a horrific request, but she said she only made a slight grimace and answered, “Sure.”
Her first (and only) two weeks on the job went something like this: Sat in back room to watch training video, but only got through the first 10 minutes, because the store got busy and she never got a chance to finish viewing it; spent breaks sitting in her car, because she didn’t know what else to do, since she doesn’t smoke and that’s what everyone else did; “re-directed” (interpreted as “yelled at”) to use proper technique to spread pepperoni; mastered the pepperoni, but then was “re-directed” to correctly re-stack the boxes (who knew there was protocol for box stacking?); learned to ask questions to make sure proper procedure was followed, which was typically met with sighs; luckily didn’t have to wear the costume; was never conversed with, only spoken to.
When she quit, she didn’t tell the owner why, nor did he ask.
Back to the convening and the plenary, “Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion as Assets for Innovation,” led by Tawanna Black, MCF diversity fellow and president of Innovations By Design, LLC.
Board culture is the most important factor influencing both the positive and negative experiences of nonprofit board members of color, pointed out speaker Vernetta Walker, director of consulting and senior governance consultant with BoardSource. Culture can include factors such as: Board communications geared to the dominant group; board talking about need to be more inclusive but failing to take action; insensitive or offensive comments or jokes from board members; power maintained by a dominant group and not open to everyone.
This was part of Walker’s presentation of preliminary findings from BoardSource’s research report, Vital Voices: Lessons Learned from Board Members of Color.
Underestimating the critical role of culture may be the reason there has been little change in the number of board members of color in the past 15 years, despite all the talk in our sector about the need to diversify, the focus on recruiting board members of color, and organizational strategies developed to highlight diversity and inclusiveness. According to BoardSource’s Governance Index, in 1993, nonprofit boards were 86 percent Caucasian and 9 percent African American. In 2010, those numbers were 84 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
I implored my daughter to “just be glad you have a job, because not too many people are going to hire someone with no prior work experience,” but that wasn’t enough to get her to stick with it. In the end, even though the job met all her original criteria, she just didn’t like being there, felt alone, and didn’t feel valued. In her words, “I don’t think they care if I quit.”
In the same way, it’s not enough to just invite people of color, offer a seat at the board table, say “We tried” when it doesn’t work out, and move on to the next recruit. The best strategies and intentions can either be undermined – or advanced – by board culture, so we can’t overlook it.
The pizza joint probably doesn’t realize it lost an honest, hard-working, conscientious, personable, smart teenager who would have been a great asset to the business, if only that business had a culture where a complete newcomer felt more like a needed team member and less like a distraction.
If, in our nonprofits, we create a culture that doesn’t value diversity and inclusion, we all lose too - especially when that culture exists at the leadership level.
The statistics didn’t budget from 1993 to 2010. What will they look like in 2027?
- Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate
Note: The PowerPoint presentation, group discussion questions and resources cited during this plenary can be found on the MCF Convening website.