How to Hire Leaders of Color: Firsthand Advice
Hiring leaders of color and ensuring their success requires listening to the people your nonprofit serves, thinking differently about the qualifications that would best serve your nonprofit’s mission, and providing ongoing support without getting in the way of what you hired them to accomplish, three panelists say in a Chronicle virtual forum.
The discussion, moderated by Chronicle Editor Stacy Palmer, featured:
- Felicia Crump, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at DREAM
- Bianca Casanova Anderson, co-CEO of ProInspire
- Sarah Audelo, executive director of Alliance for Youth Organizing
Read their recommendations or watch the video to hear their firsthand advice.
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Hiring leaders of color and ensuring their success requires listening to the people your nonprofit serves, thinking differently about the qualifications that would best serve your nonprofit’s mission, and providing ongoing support without getting in the way of what you hired them to accomplish, experts say.
The discussion, Advancing Equity: How Nonprofits Can Hire More Leaders of Color, was moderated by Chronicle editor Stacy Palmer and featured:
- Felicia Crump, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Dream
- Bianca Casanova Anderson, co-CEO of ProInspire
- Sarah Audelo, former executive director of Alliance for Youth Action
Below are some of the recommendations the panelists shared. You can also watch the video below to hear all of their advice firsthand.
Start (or continue) building a diverse organization from top to bottom. Even if your organization isn’t looking to hire executive(s) right now, you should be laying the groundwork to make searches easier when the time comes. Don’t wait for a new person of color in the top job to do all the diversity work for you, says Audelo. “I do not want to apply to a job as a woman of color if I’d be the only woman of color there or if the people of color are only in entry-level roles,” she says. “I want to see how leaders of color have been invested in throughout an organization’s trajectory.”
She adds, “You have probably great staff of color now. How are you investing in them so they stick around and they can grow in your organization?”
If your organization currently is all white or nearly all white, a first step in some cases may be to hire a white leader who is deeply committed to diversity, Audelo says. That way, the burden of making your nonprofit more inclusive won’t fall entirely on the first person of color hired as the executive director, she says.
Listen to the community your nonprofit serves. “Find out what is important and valuable to them,” says Anderson. Those discussions can lead you to ask for a different kind of experience and qualifications for a leadership role. Then you may consider candidates you would otherwise have overlooked, she says. “We actually want to hire people who may have some lived experience or who may know a little bit more about this issue from a personal perspective,” she says.
Expand your view of “experience.” A too-narrow focus on a rigid list of traditional qualifications can screen out people who have a lot to offer your organization. For example, consider personal experiences that job candidates may have with the kinds of people your nonprofit serves.
“We actually want to hire people who may have some lived experience or who may know a little bit more about this issue from a personal perspective,” says Anderson “That allows for more diverse hiring and recruiting processes.”
Audelo agrees, saying a hunt for “the perfect resume” can eliminate high-quality candidates who could grow to become your best leader. “This is where we have to be flexible, to look for other skills that can translate to other roles,” says Audelo.
For example, most nonprofits want a leader to have solid fundraising credentials, says Audelo, experience she admits she did not have when she became executive director. “Think about similar skills,” she says. “It’s just organizing. You’re literally building relationships with people to bring resources in the door, so if fundraising is a job that should be done, look at any skills related to organizing, and those are going to translate and they’re going to translate well.”
Audelo adds, “We have to take chances on people and then, once they’re in, we have to support them.”
After hiring a new executive director, the outgoing leader should get out of the way. This advice is particularly important if the leader is succeeding the founder of the organization, who may have a narrow view of how the organization should operate, the panelists say.
It’s fine to provide advice and other forms of informal assistance when asked, but clear the way for new leaders to make their mark and pursue their own vision, says Audelo.
“I’m always going to be around if the new executive director needs me, but I’m going to be out of the way,” she says. “I’m not going to come on the board in a year, either, and I’m not going to come on the board in two years. You can be a champion of an organization without being on the board.”
Board members must provide ongoing support after a new leader takes the helm. Board members must help the nonprofit’s new leader take control of the organization. One example cited by Audelo: pushing out a difficult board member who can needlessly make the new leader’s job more difficult.
Every leader brings different strengths and needs to the job, says Anderson, so board members should reach out promptly to new leaders and ask what they need to be successful. Anderson says she was asked that question early in her tenure, much to her relief because she had little experience with finances and needed to develop a new investment policy.
“Instead of shying away during transition, step up and give additional resources, especially when you’re welcoming executive directors of color into the role, says Audelo. “A lot of people are going to wait and see what happens, which is so incredibly harmful.”
Embrace the possibility that you will develop great leaders and they will leave. It sends a positive signal about your organization when people leave for bigger jobs or bigger organizations, the panelists say. Take pride in developing new leaders who will continue to grow elsewhere and do good things in the world. “Where people go after they leave your organization is a massive reflection of the leadership,” says Audelo.