Building Inclusive Leadership

This week, there have been many public discussions around diversity in leadership including NiemanReports’ Race and Reporting: The case for more inclusive newsroomsHarvard Business Review’s Qualified Black Women Are Being Held Back from Management,  Forbes’ A New Take on Global Journalism, Led By Women, and the #BlackWomenAreLeaders hashtag on Twitter started by NYWF’s Celebrating Women Breakfast honoree, Patrisse Cullors. We are pleased to see these conversations happening and hope that people across all sectors are listening and reflecting on how they can further their commitment to creating more inclusive leadership. We know we are.

Cross-cultural collaboration is an explicit part of NYWF’s mission and is fully integrated in all aspects of our work.  Our dedication to diversity in leadership over the past 28 years has taught us many lessons and we’d like to share a few:

  1. Quantity and quality

Numbers do matter when talking about growth of diversity in leadership, but they only tell one side of the story. When evaluating the diversity of your team, it is important to not just look at how many, but how much influence and agency is afforded to those members. What leadership roles, if any, do they hold? What resources have been made available to their professional growth?  Asking these questions will challenge you to go beyond tokenism and quotas, and identify the successes and gaps in your efforts to prioritize inclusive leadership.

  1. You are the company you keep

It is often said that you are a reflection of the 5 people that you spend the most time with. Take a look at your organization’s partnerships and use them as a mirror to your values and priorities. It is particularly important for philanthropic institutions to examine the relationships with the organizations they fund.  At NYWF, we invest in a woman’s leadership and vision for her work by listening and following her lead. Failure to do so would raise legitimate questions about our commitment to developing community leaders. Additionally, while we represent a particular kind of philanthropic institution as a community and a women’s organization, we are still a part of the broader philanthropic community where across the United States, 66% of board members are men and 90% are white[1]. These numbers are unacceptable and it is up to all of us to do better.

  1. Name it, declare it

A compelling and effective feature of the #BlackWomenAreLeaders hashtag is that it named Black women specifically and declared them leaders. This explicit and affirming framing of the conversation allowed Twitter users to highlight and thank women leaders who have inspired them, while also providing insight and constructive criticism on the current structures that limit and sometimes erase black women’s leadership. When taking the initiative to diversify leadership at an institution it is important to follow a similar model. You must clearly identify to your entire team that this is a priority, explaining why this matters and call out the current structures in place that are barriers or opportunities for growth.

There is no perfect model of inclusive leadership. At The New York Women’s Foundation, we are constantly working towards ensuring that the leadership of our staff, board, grantee partners, and volunteer committees are a comprehensive reflection of our values.

We remain fully committed to this founding principle of building inclusive leadership and are proud to announce the Lead the Way fellowship launched in partnership with the Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest (CR2PI).  Lead the Way is a year-long fellowship for women of color mid-level managers and emerging Executive Directors working in U.S. based nonprofit and community-based organizations, to build their leadership skills to effectively manage and sustain nonprofit organizations. To learn more about the Fellowship or to download the application, click here.

We welcome your feedback and partnership in advancing this work.

[1] Christine Ahn, “Democratizing American Philanthropy,” in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, ed. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007), 63-76.

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