Fostering diversity is more than just a trend
Diversity is a hot topic these days. It’s an important discourse about inclusiveness and diverse representation in all aspects of American life, most significantly in the workforce. But sometimes diversity can be little more than a cool buzz word for organizations to use in their mission statements that doesn’t have any substance behind it. It’s “cool” for organizations to tout diversity as something they value. But what actions actually come from that declaration?
That was one thread of discussion last week when the National Urban Fellows held the Public Service Leadership Diversity Initiative (PSLDI) Regional Summit, a convening of Detroit community leaders to discuss the importance of fostering diversity among the leaders of Detroit organizations. According to NUF, a graduate school program that I’m enrolled in, PSLDI seeks to inspire and advance excellence and diversity in public service leadership with a dual emphasis on individuals and systems. One of the goals of the initiative is to create and maintain a pipeline of talented people of color and to increase their representation in leadership roles in the public sector. The regional network consists of representatives from 15 organizations across the Detroit public service sector, including The Skillman Foundation, Council of Michigan Foundations and Detroit Public Television, among others.
The summit was held at Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit with the conversation centering on barriers that exist to fostering diverse representation in positions of leadership -- and especially in the board room. The participants emphasized the necessity of decision makers being representative of the constituents they serve. Diversity shouldn’t be just the word of the moment but rather should be a part of the cultural foundation of any successful organization with a top-down philosophy. Figuring out the best ways to foster and build that diversity is key.
I’m a newbie here at The Skillman Foundation, but I’ve already learned that they take that mission seriously; last year, a team of leaders from the Foundation participated in a Council of Michigan Foundations program dedicated to this topic. The Peer Action Learning Network program was an 11-month-long workshop that worked to increase foundations’ capacities to have diverse leadership as well as grantmaking. Very cool.
The meeting concluded with this question: What word comes to mind as you walk away from this discussion? For me, it was two: thoughtful and inspired. I came out wondering what I can do to help inspire change and contribute to developing the talent pipeline. It’s important to remember that while NUF is giving me the opportunity to gain the tools necessary to become a decision maker in the public service arena through its fellowship program, so too can I be a resource for the next generation of rising stars. I don’t have to be in the board room yet to begin doing that.
One way I can do so is through “metworking.” PSLDI coined this term that’s a combination of mentoring and networking, a way to help build relationships that support a successful career. This type of relationship building is indeed critical to career advancement, particularly to allow for diverse populations to gain access to positions in upper management. I’m only 30 and just beginning my career in this sector. But I know my experience so far can be an asset to those with less experience.
For me, I walked away thinking I must do my small part to ensure diversity isn’t about just sounding like you get it. It’s not about the buzz. It’s about taking action now to ensure the next generation of leaders fully represents our neighborhoods, schools and cities.
-- Jessica Martin is a National Urbans Fellow and the Foundation's Special Assistant, Communications