What Does It Take to Lead in Diversity and Inclusivity?

Who leads? How do they lead? These were among the questions we here at MCF asked ourselves and our members as we embarked on information gathering for our Working Towards Diversity IV research project.

As we learned more about the diversity and inclusion efforts of Minnesota grantmakers, Headwaters Foundation for Justice’s name kept rising to the top. Headwaters strives to be a catalyst for social, racial, economic and environmental justice and supports, through grantmaking and organizational assistance, grassroots groups addressing the root causes of injustice. One of the foundation’s longest-standing leadership initiatives is its community-led grantmaking process in which volunteers from the communities it seeks to support lead all aspects of the foundation’s grantmaking – they review proposals, go on site visits and make funding recommendations to the board.

“What does it take to lead in diversity and inclusivity?” we asked Headwaters program director David Nicholson. Read his full Voices article in our latest issue of Giving Forum, which focuses on “Diversity in Philanthropy: A Portrait of Minnesota.”

Here are some excerpts:

Q: Does leading in diversity and inclusivity require certain competencies?

Being humble is a core competency for any leader. Leaders must also recognize their own power and privilege and understand how to use these in respectful ways. This is critical. We all have privilege; how much changes depending on who’s in the room. The reality is, as foundation staff, we often walk into a room bringing a lot of privilege and thus a lot of power. At Headwaters, we emphasize using our power and privilege “with” rather than “to.” For example, we can convene – facilitating communities and individuals coming together for the common good.

Another competency is working with the “other.” While it is human nature to hang out with people who look and think like us and have similar backgrounds, we must push ourselves to have relationships with many communities. At Headwaters, we believe that difference is an asset that needs to be cultivated. We seek to be intentional about getting to know people and organizations, so we can identify strengths and resources from all communities.

Leading also means bringing people together to find common ground. Leaders also must be interested in advancing systems thinking, to understand how things work in our society.

Q: Is being a person of color a prerequisite for being a leader in diversity and inclusivity?

No. People are people, and anyone regardless of race, creed, ethnicity or sexual identity can have a closed and narrow mind. Your question implies that it is about “race,” when in fact, it is about values. More to the point, it is about ensuring that foundation practices reflect core values.

For example, I believe that gathering diverse viewpoints, people and ideas is critical to developing solutions that will work for more than just a few. The next step is intentionally creating processes that include all differences as equally valuable; that is the process of creating inclusivity. Philanthropy is the research and development labs of our society. When foundations are at their best, they can test assumptions and develop new insights and solutions to the most vexing social ills. To do that effectively, foundations and staff need to lead in diversity (bringing together different and varied parts) and inclusivity (integrating those differences into something stronger, better).

To flip your question is to ask, “How can people from a majority value include minority perspectives?” My recipe for that is rather simple; but it’s hard work. First, develop self-awareness, a deep understanding of your core values, assumptions and beliefs. Then, surround yourself with people who have very different values and beliefs; empower them to challenge you and how you see the world. If you have done your work well, you will truly see and understand “the other”; now you can choose to value it or not. If you choose to value the difference as your own, then the next step – seeking out difference (diversity) and integrating difference (inclusivity) – is easy. If you value the “other,” you will value their perspectives.

 – Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

2 Responses to What Does It Take to Lead in Diversity and Inclusivity?

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