LIFT’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion
Two years ago, LIFT embarked on a transformative journey to incorporate our values of diversity and inclusion in the fabric of our organization. We have a come a long way and we’re here to update you on our progress.
Two years ago, LIFT embarked on a transformative journey to more deeply incorporate our values of diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our organizational culture. We began this journey with the goal of creating an organization that broadly understands and embodies the belief that the full inclusion of individuals from all backgrounds is critical to our success. Today, I write to update you on the progress we have made, the lessons we have learned, and the journey still ahead. LIFT is striving hard to authentically live our values. It is our hope that in sharing our struggles, as well as our triumphs, we can model the kind of openness and inclusion that we ultimately wish to see reflected in our larger society.
History of LIFT’s Diversity and Inclusion Work
In the fall of 2010, a cross-section of LIFT’s National Office staff and Board of Directors developed a diversity statement that articulates why LIFT values diversity and inclusion. Then in November 2011, LIFT conducted an organization-wide cultural audit to better understand how LIFT’s culture and practices reflect these values. A team consisting of diversity consultant Leslie Traub from the DC-based firm Cook Ross, Yetunde Afolabi, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Heather Decker, LIFT’s Manager of Training and Development, worked together to design, implement, and manage the project. The audit included both an organization-wide survey and a number of one-on-one interviews that Ms. Afolabi conducted with returning volunteers, Site Coordinators, National Office Staff, and Board Members.
Cultural Audit Findings
We received relatively strong response across the network with 134 people participating in the audit survey, which represented over three-fourths of our combined staff, volunteers, and Board Members at the time (November 2011). The self-identified demographic profile of the respondents was: 72 percent female and 28 percent male; 63 percent White/European American, 37 percent non-White/European American.
Key positive findings included that 90 percent or more of all respondents believe that LIFT is a great place to work, feel valued for what they bring to LIFT, recommend persons from diverse backgrounds to join LIFT, and do not feel they have to minimize an aspect of their racial/ethnic culture to fit in.
However, the audit also unearthed important areas for improvement, including:
- Recruitment practices: Many LIFTers feel that the diversity of LIFT’s volunteer base is limited by only recruiting college student volunteers and by recruiting from campuses that are inherently homogeneous. This was the most commented upon issue in the survey and interviews.
- Perceptions of culture: Black/African-American respondents were less likely to believe that LIFT has a culturally sensitive and inclusive culture. On some questions, this response differed by 36 percent compared to White/European-American respondents’ perceptions of LIFT’s culture.
- Broadening the definition of inclusion: While the audit primarily looked at inclusion through the lens of race and ethnicity, a number of respondents urged LIFT to explore other areas of exclusion and marginalization, namely in the arenas of LGBTQ and political identity.
- Attitudes towards diversity initiative: Volunteers were more likely to see the current state of diversity and inclusion as “fine as is,” as compared to national staff, who tended to cite more room for improvement. Furthermore, some white women and men reported feelings of devaluation triggered by the diversity initiative, expressing concern that LIFT’s diversity efforts are overly focused on “visual identity,” namely race, and risk overlooking the diversity that exists amongst people of the same race, especially around socio-economic factors, which should be a consideration given LIFT’s mission.
- Response rates: When we cross referenced the demographic profile of the survey respondents with the demographic profile of our network of volunteers, staff, and Board members as captured in our internal databases, we found that White/European American members and women responded at higher rates than non-White/European Americans and men. We tried to solve for this in the structure of our focus groups and one-on-one interviews, but we also recognize this as an area for improvement and, perhaps, as an implicit commentary on the inclusion felt by members of “non-dominant” groups at LIFT.
The Road Ahead
During LIFT’s summer retreat, national staff reviewed the cultural audit findings and recommendations, and discussed ideas for the road ahead. Staff members raised a number of questions about our diversity work moving forward such as, “What role should LIFT’s clients be playing in this work?” and “How do we create a culture that fosters open dialogue for all LIFT members?” Further, while staff appreciated the audit findings, they craved more information and tangible action. Thus, following our national staff session, we formed a Diversity Working Group, comprised of members from each of LIFT’s departments, to carry forward the conversation and begin to build the structures required to support the cultural integration of these values. Based on the cultural audit findings and recommendations, this working group developed the following strategic goals for the year ahead:
- LIFT’s Culture: LIFT must name and identify its organizational culture by examining the norms, behaviors, and even appearances that either uphold or run counter to its values of diversity and inclusion.
- Leadership: Leaders at all levels of the organization must model inclusive leadership and work to promote LIFT’s values of diversity and inclusion externally.
- Recruitment: LIFT must develop a recruitment plan to hire more staff members and volunteers of diverse backgrounds.
- Training: LIFT must standardize training curriculum to ensure that LIFT’s values of diversity and inclusion are effectively incorporated into the experience of all LIFT members.
While we have much to do to achieve these goals, we’ve recognized that by simply opening ourselves up to conversations about diversity and inclusion, we have already made strides towards shifting and deepening colleagues’ awareness of the importance of these issues and the role they could play in improving LIFT’s culture. Due to the power of intentional consciousness-raising, I am delighted to say that LIFT is more diverse today than ever before. Demographically, we are more representative; across our trainings, Board retreats, and events, we have embedded values of diversity and inclusivity; and throughout our strategic planning process, the findings of the cultural audit and their implications were never far from the discussion.
I am proud of the work we have achieved thus far, and I acknowledge the challenges still ahead of us. I believe that if we continue to work together to build on our strengths and improve where we can, we will progress on the path to embodying the inclusive, diverse organization we desire to be. I find continued inspiration for this work in the words of the great civil rights leader and poet, Maya Angelou, “…in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
With gratitude for all you to do advance LIFT’s mission,
CEO and Co-Founder. LIFT
P.S. We hope to hear from you with any thoughts, feedback, or suggestions you may have. Please also include my colleague, Heather Decker, LIFT’s Manager of Training and Development, on correspondence as she is coordinating our efforts on this front.
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