A few years ago I arrived a little late for the IS picnic lunch following our half day of volunteering with local community projects. As I swung my car into the baking asphalt lot, I was grateful to join my colleagues in the park where they had nabbed a shady spot nestled amid the verdant greenery of D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. Around the tables sat IS colleagues who had filled their plates and settled in to chat before the afternoon activities staff council had organized.
The last one to get food, I looked around and noticed that almost all of the African American staff was sitting together. I asked if I might join a table with several young black women. They nodded in affirmation. I asked why they had arranged to sit together and if we had created an atmosphere in the office that made them feel uncomfortable. They insisted that they sat together as it was more comfortable –and they had made friends with one another at work. I thought for a long time if I might have done something differently in the office, so that it would be effortless to be together. Or was it just fine for folks to gather together informally as they wished and not feel pressured?
"The Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE)'s recent report, The Exit Interview: Perceptions on Why Black Professionals Leave Grantmaking Institutions, suggests that African American professionals in philanthropy face barriers to succeeding in the field. Edward M. Jones, director of programs at ABFE, observed to me recently, "We are still taking more of an outward look at what should be happening with diversity and not enough of an inward look within our ranks and within our walls to see how we are progressing or where we are falling short." Perhaps my example above is not the right one, but it does raise for me the question about whether we are falling short, as he suggests."
The D-5 Coalition , with a five-year goal to grow diversity in philanthropy, recently declared that “philanthropy is not keeping up with the changing face of America.”
It appears that too many philanthropic institutions are, at best, stopping at step one, the recruitment of a diverse qualified workforce. But not necessarily taking deliberate steps to ensure that all members of their workforce feel comfortable and valued.
The Federal government’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion promotes both workforce diversity and inclusion. They encourage a culture of collaboration, flexibility, and fairness to enable everyone to contribute to their full potential.
José Soto, former board member of Nebraska-based Woods Charitable Fund  and vice president for access/equity/diversity at Southeast Community College, noted in a Vital Voice interview with IS: “You can’t just have the commitment to diversity. You have to see it embodied in who is sitting around the table and who is benefiting from the programs.”
And while it appears that the business sector has made some progress reaching out to include professionals who are as diverse as our communities there is still evidence that suggests they, too, have a long way to go. Says John Kemp, president and CEO of Long Island-based IS member The Viscardi Center  , “More than 50 million people in the United States have an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)–defined disability, yet only a tiny fraction of them find jobs in corporate America. Even fewer are promoted.”
Perhaps we might consider inviting a set of benchmarks against which we can measure our progress. Perhaps these benchmarks might address:
- Who is doing our recruiting? How are we ensuring that a diverse pool of candidates applies for the position?
- How are we creating a welcoming and comfortable culture that appreciates and respects differences?
- What are we doing to be sure our board is diverse?
- Are we putting in place diversity and inclusion efforts that can be measured, refined, and sustained?
- How are we thinking about these issues as we do our work and connect with others?
Let’s continue to reinforce our sector’s commitment and actions to truly reflect the wonderful diversity that is the country we live in.