Why Isn’t the Philanthropic Sector Prioritizing Equity in the Workplace?

Through our effort to elevate diverse voices, we’re sharing our platform with leaders of color to hear their insight on topics that matter. This week, we’re featuring Christina Patel, Development Director, Scholarship and Student Support at The Ohio State University.

Christina’s message is this: Philanthropy means love of humankind, but not until we prioritize gender and racial equity in the workplace.

We all have work to do in creating a more equitable sector. What steps will your organization take to uplift and support employees of color?

— Mollard Consulting

After my sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh in 2003, my mother said to me: “If you’re going to stay in Pittsburgh for the summer, then you need to find a way to pay for your shenanigans.” A few months after that conversation, I started working at the Pitt TeleFund as a student fundraiser. It was then that I learned about the impact a dollar can make in a life. It was also then that my fundraising career began.

Eighteen years and a move to Columbus later, I’ve created a gratifying career as a fundraising professional. Although I’ve switched roles and organizations over the years, what connects me to this work is a commitment to the philanthropic sector. I’ll publicly admit that my favorite word continues to be philanthropy — the love of humankind.

Almost two decades into my career, I find myself reflecting on my time in the philanthropic sector and the challenges and uncomfortable experiences I’ve navigated. One question stands out: Why isn’t gender and racial equity in the nonprofit workplace more seriously discussed and prioritized?

Between poor retention rates, gender and racial wage gaps, a lack of representation among leadership and boards, and the often-unspoken issues of unjust treatment of employees of color, I am immensely concerned, frustrated, and angered by the disconnect of love for humankind that exists within philanthropic organizations.

I choose to work in this industry because I care about the missions that I serve. As a first generation, American-born Indian woman who has found herself at the receiving end of one too many negative experiences, I also want to pave a pathway that is safer for current and future nonprofit employees of color.

Beyond the work that I do as a fundraiser, I lead the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Mentorship Program, which connects new and emerging fundraising professionals with seasoned professionals. Through this program I make a conscious effort to lift up the need for both mentors and mentees — a majority of whom are white — to acknowledge their biases and the impact their biases can make within the mentorship program and back at their organization with their colleagues, volunteers, donors, and prospects.

I know there are nonprofit professionals of color, like myself, who are doing the best they can with what they have to address workplace equity issues. These talented and undervalued individuals often become exhausted and, eventually, make the hard decision to leave their organizations or the philanthropic sector entirely. Our sector cannot afford to keep losing these talented and dedicated human beings who should be lifted up as the next generation of leaders. It is critical to acknowledge that the burden of responsibility to fix these issues and establish safety cannot lie with the mistreated.

So, where does the burden of responsibility lie?

The responsibility lies with those in a place of power and privilege to create equitable, safe, and nurturing environments for all employees, volunteers, and community members. I call upon organizational leadership and boards to take responsibility for the inequities that exist in our sector, to ask questions, listen, and take action to eliminate them.

What does this look like?

For those who have made mistakes in the past, verbally apologize for problematic behavior and workplace culture and physically show up every day to learn and do better. Showing up doesn’t include performative statements or establishing committees staffed by employees of color to do the work. Hold individuals accountable for their impertinent and prejudicial behaviors and biases. Actively create safe workplaces and model this behavior from the top down.

We’ve all heard the phrase “What gets measured gets done.”

As your employees complete their performance plans, does leadership have goals that speak to inclusivity and equity-building within your organization? How do you encourage your leadership team and board, especially if they are mainly white, to become culturally aware beyond the occasional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion facilitator or implicit bias assessment? How will you create pathways to leadership that are accessible to all employees, especially your talented and undervalued employees of color? At the very least, how do you hold your employees accountable to treat one another with kindness and respect?

Our missions call on us to do more for the communities we serve, and we cannot show up for them when our colleagues don’t show up for us. Philanthropy is the love of humankind — it is imperative we demonstrate it from the inside out.

Article by: Christina Patel, Development Director, Scholarship and Student Support, The Ohio State University

2021-03-18T16:55:05+00:00March 18th, 2021|