I felt a range of emotions reading this article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy dated December 5, 2018 (yes, 2018!), that starts with “The problem starts but is not limited to boards, which aren’t nearly as diverse as the grant makers and communities that they serve.” That statement resonated with me and is exactly the challenge that I clearly saw and sought to address fifteen years when I launched The 360 Group. I reflected on a quote that I had given that is posted on our website:
“Through my work in nonprofit and private sector consulting, and then running a nonprofit myself, I began to realize that leadership is the problem AND the solution in the social sector. Effective leadership is a lever that makes the social sector more powerful. At the same time, social sector leadership needs more diversity in thought, professional backgrounds and life experiences in order to deal with the increasingly complex problems that it faces today. My own experiences and observations inspired my vision for creating and launching The 360 Group in 2004: an executive search firm dedicated to creating (meaningful) social impact by placing exceptional leaders into extraordinary (nonprofit) organizations.”
I felt shocked and frustrated that so little had changed over the last 15 years. Though we have placed hundreds of exceptional AND diverse leaders into nonprofits and foundations that have gone on to impact thousands of lives, the need for more diversity in nonprofit leadership is still tremendous. That includes women, people who identify as LGBT, people with disabilities, Native Americans and the list goes on. Our firm is founded on the premise that EVERYONE belongs and brings an important voice to important conversations that our nation and world face.
I felt anger when I read the case of the small nonprofit that recognized the need to hire a new Executive Director that could relate to and better reflect the communities that they serve but after doing the research could not find a search firm that any history or specialty in recruiting African-American, Latino or Asian leaders. They were left to make the impossible (unfortunate, and not actually real) choice between hiring a less qualified person that offered diversity vs a white person with the expertise that they needed. I wish they had called me. That should NEVER be the case and we would never ask a client to make that choice. Our goal is to offer every client a rich candidate pool comprised of very talented and diverse candidates with the experience and expertise that they are seeking. My advice to any organization out there that is contemplating an executive search is don’t set yourself up to have to make impossible choices and don’t settle, regardless of what a search firm is telling you. Keep looking. Our credo is: It is possible, and we have proven that over and again in the last fifteen years.
Finally, I felt hope. We’ve seen glimmers. We’ve seen some organizations like Meyer Memorial Trust make huge strides in diversity and inclusion, others that have taken baby steps and some are beginning to stick their toe in the water. We’ve seen diverse leaders like Nicole Taylor — whom we placed at The East Bay Community Foundation, and is now the newly appointed CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation — work tirelessly to create impact and improve the lives of the underserved. Leaders like Nicole inspire us to double down in our work and our mission. In fact, the article ends with some great suggestions for incorporating diversity into organizations. The initiative needs to start at the top (leadership and board) and be infused into the entire organization. It takes time, patience, reflection, awareness, resilience and is really difficult at times. But the end result is rewarding, and the organization emerges as one that is stronger, more creative and culturally competent, and better prepared for the future in order to best understand the needs of and serve diverse communities.