Listening with Intent

As we talk about DEI, what are we hearing from you?

By Jennifer Aronson, Associate Vice President for Programs

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
-Henry David Thoreau

Whether its receiving your annual review at work or completing a customer satisfaction survey from your mobile carrier, it seems we’re continually asking for feedback, or providing it.  But too often, feedback is where things end. We ask for feedback, check the box and move on, pledging to do better next time.

Then we file it away.

The April 2 Race to lead forum
Our April 2 "Race to Lead" forum focused on the diversity gap in nonprofits leadership in Massachusetts

It’s a trap we are striving to avoid in our collective conversation on advancing diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) in nonprofit leadership. To advance DEI within our sector, it’s critical for us to not only acknowledge the importance of diversity, but also listen to and value perspectives that may differ from our own.  That is why, after our April 2nd Race to Lead MA forum, we asked for attendee feedback – and thank you to those of you who responded. I want you to know that I heard you.

There were many generous, affirming comments about the forum, and there were also several constructive suggestions, including:

  • focus on solutions
  • provide more networking
  • recognize the work that has come before us
  • move beyond conversation to action
  • and hold one another (including funders) accountable.

There was also a good deal of interest in roundtable discussions on various topics related to advancing DEI within our organizations. On the eve of the upcoming June 5th forum focused on board diversity, I wanted to share in particular the survey responses from organizations facing challenges working with their boards to advance organizational DEI practices. These challenges fall into the following two categories:

  • Finding and recruiting board members that represent the community the organization serves/ works in
  • Educating the board about the importance of working toward greater DEI and the cost of not doing so

That feedback and those key questions will be the starting point for our discussion of the BoardSource 2017  Leading With Intent report. The report itself finds some sobering conclusions, among them that “boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago and current recruitment priorities indicate this is unlikely to change.”

One way we hope to advance the conversation – on June 5th and beyond, is to bring in, listen to and take value from a wide range of perspectives. At the forum, we will hear from BoardSource CEO and president Anne Wallestad, and from four sector leaders with a variety of nonprofit experience in staff and board roles. Before, during and after that, we are counting on you, our partners in this work, to both share your own expertise, and to listen, really listen, to one another at a level that will allow for the miraculous to occur.