4 Ways to Increase Intra-Organization Equity in Nonprofit Tech
Black History Month is a time to honor the incredible contributions the Black community has made throughout history and to take inspiration from those stories to shape a better future. While there is so much to celebrate, we still have a long way to go to reach a more fair and equitable world for everyone — regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or physical ability. Despite positive progress, inequality is still pervasive throughout our institutions and systems, and nonprofit technology is not exempt.
During the Week of Learning in October 2021 Makeda Keegan, president of Amplify, and Jessica Hauser, executive director at DBG Detroit came together to discuss equity within nonprofit organizations and the role that technology plays in organizational dynamics. Makeda and Jessica believe that Intra-organization equity — the consideration of all staff needs for individual and organizational success— is the foundation of an organization’s culture and business practices. And, as the NTEN Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology highlights, “…technology does not and cannot succeed without an organizational culture that supports it”.
During their discussion, Jessica and Makeda agreed that putting people first is paramount — especially when making big organizational decisions, like implementing and adopting new technology. With that goal in mind, they shared four strategies that they’ve used within their organizations to ensure intra-organizational equality is central to every decision they make.
Putting people first is paramount — especially when making big organizational decisions, like implementing and adopting new technology.
1. Take A Courageous Pause
DBG Detroit empowers students to be positive and productive members of society through education, athletics, mentorship, and intervention. With such important life-changing work at stake, DBG’s executive team implemented technology that would better support their existing programs and aggressive growth goals. They were making steady progress towards becoming a digital-first organization until it was brought to their attention that some staff were feeling left behind and alienated due to the fast pace of change.
Jessica shared, “We were hoping it was going to create more information sharing, but it was doing the opposite.” Instead of disregarding the thoughts and feelings of concerned staff members who played a critical role in delivering DBG’s mission, they paused their technology implementation to better understand the staff members’ apprehension about the new systems. Slowing progress can be hard, but it’s critical to making inclusive changes.
2. Talk With People and Observe Behavior
As a newly-elected president of Amplify, an organization that works to create a world where underrepresented voices have equity and representation in all areas of technology, Makeda had to be mindful not to make assumptions about the background, skills, and level of tech expertise of the organization’s constituents. Despite having a focus on technology leadership, not all Amplify members come from technical backgrounds, have the same access to technology or the services needed to access technology, or need support in the same way.
Before moving forward with any strategic planning, including technology decisions, Makeda emphasized the importance of listening and observing the behavior of their members. Talking with people — whether one on one or in broader formats such as surveys — increases the inclusivity of decision making and helps to ensure that those decisions represent organizational values.
3. Reflect On Feedback
When Jessica and the DBG Detroit team collected feedback from their staff after pausing the progress of their technology implementation, they noticed that the divide was falling along educational and racial lines. Many of the people that felt left behind by the technology changes were long-tenured, beloved staff members who were integral to DBG’s ability to connect with their students and positively influence their lives.
When Jessica and the rest of the executive team took time to reflect on the sentiments shared, they realized that, for many integral team members, technology adoption was more complicated than just learning a new tool, and they would need to alter their rate of change to reflect that reality. While it may slow progress in the short term, the long-term benefits of considering everyone in the process will have an exponential positive impact by maintaining the strong organizational culture that’s critical to changing students’ lives.
4. Take Action…And Repeat
Both Jessica and Makeda reiterated that the steps they’ve taken to be more inclusive during their technology implementations and strategic planning processes are not one-time actions. Organizations, individuals, and technology will all continue to evolve, and building a strong, equitable culture requires ongoing intention and action.
None of these strategies require any special training, but it can be daunting to tackle such an important and nuanced issue. If you’re looking for more inspiration or resources to share with your organization, you can join Amplify, download the NTEN Equity Guide for Nonprofits, or check out the “Cultivate Equality at Work” Trail on Trailhead.
Learn more about how DBG trains kids for life, and read more about how to align your corporate purpose with diversity, equity and inclusion.
About the Author
Director, Tech Investments, Salesforce.org
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