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I was shocked and pleasantly surprised when 150 corporate CEOs established the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion earlier in June. Despite unprecedented levels of pressure from shareholders and activists for higher stock returns, greater competition from unexpected sources and other pressures, they stepped forward to publicly support diversity and inclusion.  

This group is committed to working toward fostering an environment in their organizations where diversity and inclusion conversations can occur. They also agreed to implement and expand unconscious bias education and share practices that worked, as well as those that were unsuccessful. The group’s steering committee meets in November.   

As I turned my attention to the nonprofit sector, I reviewed the Building Movement Project’s recently issued report: Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap, which stated that “the percentage of people of color in the executive director/CEO role has remained under 20% for the last 15 years, even as the country becomes more diverse.” More than a decade ago, several reports predicted the current outcome if more action was not taken. Moreover, during the past 15 years, numerous groups worked countless hours issuing reports, developing strategies, facilitating discussions and taking other actions to advance diversity and inclusion in the nonprofit sector.  

Now is the time for nonprofit CEOs to step forward to play a greater leadership role in increasing diversity and inclusion in the sector. These CEOs are one of our most underutilized resources. They have unique power, influence and responsibility to accelerate change. A few actions they can take include:

  1. Lead the adoption and implementation of diversity and inclusion strategies for their organizations with a focus on concrete measures and results.
  2. Take advantage of the diversity and inclusion resources available for the nonprofit sector. There are groups producing excellent resources, but CEOs can help ensure that these resources are utilized.   
  3. If you do not know what to do, ask your board or your employees. Another option is to engage external resources for help.  

Failure to demonstrate commitment to diversity and inclusion of the nonprofit sector will erode our ability to attract and retain talent. We cannot take comfort that our missions alone will be enough to attract the caliber and diversity of talent nonprofit organizations will need to achieve their respective missions during a time of significant uncertainty.

Tim Ryan, U.S. Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, initiated the meetings and phone calls that resulted in CEO Action for Inclusion & Inclusion. After he witnessed the impact of the African-Americans who were shot in Minnesota and Louisiana and the five police officers who were shot in Dallas on his organization’s employees, he took the initiative to bring other CEOs together.      

The nonprofit sector has many CEOs who deeply care about diversity and inclusion, but they would have more impact and increase the rate of change if they worked together. It is time for someone to step forward and start bringing other CEOs together. We cannot achieve the desired outcome for the sector without the will, commitment and leadership of the sector’s CEOs.  

Michael Watson is the former Senior Vice President, Talent and Culture, for the National 4-H Council. He remains involved in groups and task forces that work to advance diversity and inclusion in the nonprofit sector. Michael serves on the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps Board of Directors and the Manhattanville College Board of Trustees. He is also an advisor for Equity in the Center and is on the Advisory Committee for Fund the People.  

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