Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter: A Young Nonprofit Professional’s Perspective by Vanessa Allmon

YNPN Chicago Board of Directors Speak!

You’re not biased? Think again. All people engage in bias of some kind. Bias can range from preferring one brand of soap over another to not liking certain types of people. Simply put, bias is having a preference for the familiar, known, or understood. Is simply having a bias a bad thing? No, not necessarily. What makes a bias bad is how one uses it, particularly at the expense of other people, whether wittingly or unwittingly. It has often been said that people simply prefer those who look, think, and act like them. So, what is so wrong with that? Admittedly, bias may be good when selecting friends, for the sake of having harmonious relationships.

But bias is not a good thing when it comes to selecting leaders or members for an organization where work has to be done or organizational objectives are to be achieved. Picking people “like” oneself limits an organization’s growth, and is more likely to generate only more of the “same old same old”. Preferences for the familiar can render people incapable of  exploring differing views that offers fresh, different, and often more forward ways of thinking.

Diversity and inclusion aim to create an organizational culture that values differences and promotes the best in everyone, while simultaneously ensuring professional talents are respected, valued, utilized, and recognized. Organizational goals, group morale, and work productivity are undermined when this does not happen on a consistent basis. Organizational leaders, therefore, must accept the vital role that they play in supporting and advancing the group’s diversity and inclusion efforts and goals, by embracing and being fully committed to this policy. They must also understand that where achieving organizational goals are concerned there is no room for complacency—they must lead by example and make diversity and inclusion a part of everyone’s focus within the organization.

Words matter, but actions matter more. Any organization can come up with a good diversity and inclusion mission statement, but it is meaningless unless and until it is put into action. An organization that is truly committed to its diversity and inclusion statement must also develop and support strategies to carry the mission out. An organization that does so is more likely to experience greater creativity.  It will also tap and retain the best and brightest leadership talent, who in turn will make improving organizational outcomes a priority, resulting in further success and effectiveness.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” In other words, one should step up and through his or her actions exemplify the behaviors that he or she values and believes to be important. As young professionals in the nonprofit sector it is incumbent for us to lead the way with our fresh thinking and  bold ideas. We must be the change that leads to a more diverse and inclusive nonprofit sector.

Vanessa Allmon works at the American Bar Association on programs designed to eliminate bias and enhance diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and justice system. She is currently completing her Master’s degree in public policy and administration at Northwestern University. Vanessa holds a B.A. in history (with departmental honors) and a B.A. in political science, both of which she received from Loyola University Chicago. An avid volunteer, some of Vanessa’s volunteerism has included working with the Chicago Foundation for Women African-American and Young Women’s Leadership Councils, and Younger Women’s Task Force of Chicago, on advocacy projects and programming, as well as the Black Star Project and Chicago Lights. She has served on the Junior Board of the Children’s Home & Aid Society, as well as the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center Women’s Auxiliary Board. As a young member of the Rotary Club of Chicago, in 2007 Vanessa was selected to chair the Rotary Club of Chicago’s newly created Diversity Task Force where she led a diverse group of Rotarians in the creation of the Club’s first official diversity mission statement.

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