Five Good Ideas addressing diversity in grassroots non-profit organizations

Five Good Ideas addressing diversity in grassroots non-profit organizations


(upbeat music) – So what I wanted to do today is just talk a little bit about some of my experiences
and my learning journey to give you a sense of the context before I dived right into the five ideas. And also it was very kind of Elizabeth to describe me as an expert, but I certainly don’t see myself as such. I’m interested in doing
good, effective work. And a lot of what I’ll be talking about is also coming from just my own personal experience, and being a cisgender, heterosexual woman of colour, obviously you’re going to see even limitations around the diversity as I share with you my experiences. So I know as we move into the
conversation part of today, I’ll also be doing a
little interactive exercise to get folks moving around
a little bit after my talk. I’m really also looking
forward to hearing from you, some of your best practices and solutions, and things that you think do work, or don’t work. So, I was asked today to speak around diversity. And I’m gonna talk a little bit about sort of what got me into this work. But when we were talking
about things like diversity, I also think it’s really important to unpack that a little bit and actually talk about inclusion. So when we’re looking at diversity – yes, especially here in Canada – you know, whether it’s the melting pot, you know, all the metaphors. The melting pot, or the tossed salad. Yes, we’re diverse. But are we truly being inclusive? Do people truly feel like they have a sense of belonging in the kind of work that we’re doing? And as leaders, as leaders in this sector, how do we start to create that? How do we hold that space? How do we make that space? And also how do we support each other if we’re coming from marginalized
or vulnerable communities, it can be really challenging
also doing this work. So, wanted to started off with a little experience that I had at Newcomer Women’s Services
Toronto nine years ago. And some of my colleagues
are actually here to join me as support, so thank you. So, it’s 9:00 a.m. and my colleague and I are
running up the Danforth, hauling bags of refreshments. And on this cold morning, I’m asking myself who on earth selected a frigid
Saturday morning in December to hold a 9:00 a.m. focus group? So I’m grumbling as we’re
running up the Danforth. And then I realize, well that person was actually me. So at the time, I was
about four months into a new leadership role
as executive director and I really wanted the
members of our Saturday program to decide on our coming program, on our programs for the year. So as my colleague and
I, we arrived breathless in the board room, there were actually 30
newcomer women waiting there. And they said to us, where were you? They scolded us. They’d been waiting for about 10 minutes. And they’re very prompt. They knew they were coming
on a Saturday morning to do strategic planning, and they wanted strategic planning. So in 2009, I became the executive director of a women’s settlement agency that was undergoing a painful transition. And I spent my days living and breathing this organization and working to support
a community of women. And I find when we’re using
language to describe diversity and especially talking about diversity and inclusion for newcomers, for racialized community, for Black and Indigenous folks, our language is painfully limited. Because what I saw every day – and I’m sure many of you are also running these
programs day to day – I saw women seeking their voice, and standing in their own
power in daily workshops. I saw young self-identified women smashing oppressive stereotypes in self-defense workshops. And I saw women from over
65 different countries creating bonds of support
in our LINC ESL class as they recreated their new lives, their new pathways in Toronto. So when we’re looking at smaller
grassroots organizations, I find that the organization is actually very much like the women or program participant that we support on a daily basis. Just like them, the organization struggles
against the challenges of racism and sexism and transphobia and anti-Black racism. Just like them, an organization goes through
periods of ups and downs and has moments of crisis. It grows, expands, sometimes contracts. And just like the community
members that we work with, sometimes we need a bit of a first aid kit to identify problems and work to rebuild relationships with our community members, our staff, our funders, and consult with our
membership to rediscover their thoughts and concerns. So for me in this particular role, it meant many hours sitting in meetings not unlike this one here today chatting with our stakeholders. And at times, this was both frustrating
and exhilarating. So there were endless meetings discussing about what our organization does well, mapping out how and why we lost our way, and deciding how to move forward. It also meant hours of listening to women’s frustrations, fear, rage, tears, and their hopes, and dreaming of building a more responsive community-based organization. For myself personally, and I’m sure many of you
here can relate with this, it meant 12-hour days
of poring over budgets, cajoling donors, and writing endless grant proposals all in the hope that the
organization would stabilize and start to push boundaries. And through that, start to offer settlement programs that were really important
to newcomer women in the east end of Toronto. So because of that, it wasn’t unusual for us
to be hauling groceries on a Saturday morning so that we could start to
engage with our members around a dialogue about
their lives and needs. So because I was late, I realized I should have
definitely set my alarm earlier as our members never cease to
demonstrate their commitment, and that these are savvy and skilled women who will spend three hours discussing strategic planning in the middle of their
hard-earned weekend. So this experience of living
and breathing in agency for the last couple years really brings us to our
questions here today. So, what does it mean, what does it mean to have inclusive, collaborative leadership? And what does this look like
for smaller organizations? And what does this mean when we’re creating new systems and unpacking these really powerful ideas? Not just about diversity and inclusion, but a lot of times around exclusion. So since I’m a relatively young-ish racialized executive director, the most common reactions I
receive when people meet me is either of disbelief
or pure condescension. So I don’t really think
these reactions are a reflection on my skin-care regimen. I think it’s more of
society’s dominant attitude towards young women of colour in positions of leadership. But for myself personally, it’s inevitable that I ended
up working in this sector and doing this kind of work. So being a second generation Bengali Canadian woman, like many of us I grew up very privileged to be a part of two contrasting worlds. So being a member of the
Bengali diaspora in Canada really created a set of experiences and a foundation of values that I wanted to ground my
day to day practice in. But it’s also led to daily reminders as a racialized woman of colour that I have to work three times as hard to get maybe half as far as some of my counterparts. And I think as someone who
was a second generation woman who grew up in suburban Southern Ontario, it’s that profound
understanding of isolation, and that sense of being an other. So when we’re talking about being othered in middle class suburbs in the ’80s, it had this very sort of
quiet menacing quality to it. So there was that silent exclusion and covert hostility of your neighbours, your classmates, and your coworkers. There were rocks flying in
the air from moving cars as you walked home from school, or a textbook that’s aimed
at your head during recess. It could be the teachers who every year dutifully inquired whether
your parents can speak English. And regularly being asked if you were the new exchange student in town. So that was sort of
1980s, 1990s Newmarket. And then there’s that anonymous hiss of the word “Paki” as
you cross the street. And you know, we can’t
forget sort of the stares that we get on the bus, or being informed that
you smell like curry. So if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that racists aren’t
really too sophisticated about their food cuisine or
their geographic accuracy. But I find that this absence of actually, this absence of community, this lack of belonging, that’s what shaped my world back then. Not so much anymore, but back then. And it certainly influenced
my professional life. So what I really believed
going into this line of work is that there has to be a way. There has to be a way that even within our structures as not-for-profit organizations, as social service agencies, a place where we can build community, where folks of all
generations can come together and really create their own
intrinsic spaces of belonging and find some commonalities
across diverse relationships. And I also wonder about, especially for folks like myself who are second generation newcomers, we actually have an advantage. And I wonder about it lying in
our insider outsider status. That we’re living in these dual societies so it actually allows
us to look at the world, and actually look at our
work through multiple lenses. So for example for me, I may not be fluent in my mother tongue, but I understand my language and the cultural nuances of my community, and also the impact of migration, and the intergenerational
trauma that comes with that. So even though our peers
and the social elite may not accept us as fully Canadian, we definitely understand
those power dynamics of Canadian exclusion and how
inequities are perpetuated. So being both an insider and an outsider lends us to a certain set
of skills and experiences. So all of these years later, I find working myself at YWCA Canada and I feel like I have a sense of what is my political project. So going back to those two questions and what does diversity look like, I’d like us to think about inclusive, collaborative leadership for smaller grassroots organizations. And when we’re talking about diversity, I’m sure we hear the term
diversity thrown around a lot. I mean, the M&M’s that I had
this morning for breakfast were very diverse. They were of diverse different colours. But what does inclusion look like? And really there’s sort of three buckets I’d like us to think about. And the exercise we’ll
be doing here after, and also for those of you
who are at the office, or at home will be going through them. So the first one is around individual choices and actions. So what are some of those
individual choices we can make within our organizations? The second is actually
about creating systems. What kind of systems do we
have in our organization? Do we just kind of do things
as they’ve always been done and think, “Oh well we’ve
always done it that way, so why don’t we just sort
of keep on doing that?” And the third is all of these really
powerful, unexamined ideas. So we like to think of our organizations as being neutral and well-intentioned, and doing really, really good work for diverse community members. But what does that mean? And at the end of the day, I think we need to interrogate power. And how do the power dynamics actually play themselves out in our organization? So let me sort of dive
into the five ideas. And then during the discussion, you can tell me if you think it’s useful, or if you think it’s a load of dung, or maybe somewhere in between. I don’t know. It can go either way at this point. But these are sort of some of the things I’ve been experimenting with and we’ve had some interesting successes. And I’ll sort of give you
a few sort of mini stories along the way. So as community organizations, what’s sort of our major,
our major resource, our major asset as social service organizations? Anybody want to throw out some ideas? Sorry? People, yeah. Anything else? – [Participant] Women. – Women, yes, absolutely. I’m sure folks can also tweet at home. Any other resources or
assets that you see? – [Participant] Language. – Language, absolutely. Being able to speak or
understand multiple languages. Anything else? – [Participant] Life experience. – Yes diverse life experiences. – [Participant] Passion. – Passion, that drive you know, that gets us up in the
morning every day, yeah. Certainly not the salary
unfortunately given our funding. – [Participant] Our clients. – Yes, our clients who we
work with, our purpose. – [Participant] Ideas. – Yes, ideas. Did you have some examples
of particular ideas? – [Participant] New ways of doing things. – Yeah, new ways of doing things. Yes. – [Participant] Communication. – Communication. Communication when it goes well, and communication when
it doesn’t go so well. Well we all know what that
looks like unfortunately. So I would agree with all
of your answers absolutely, especially in our sector. 95% of our work is people. And 95% of our work is the staff work that goes to
working with other people. So what I wanted to argue is
if we start to invest in HR – which unfortunately is
very rarely funded – that we can actually start to think about inclusion and diversity
in some different ways. So for example a couple years ago, we had a number of funders come to us, and they wanted us to do work. And they were really
concerned around the issue of forced marriage in certain communities. And again, you know, as you know, many of you
I’m sure get that phone call like three days before fiscal year end. And they’re just screaming
diversity, diversity. We need to do something about this. And so it was pretty much
one of those phone calls. But we can never turn
down free money, yes? So. And what we decided to do around looking at issues of forced marriage – I can’t pretend to be an
expert on forced marriage. It’s an incredibly complex, layered, and nuanced set of circumstances cutting across many different communities, many countries, and many explanations. And when we start to
look at our service users as actual staff or consultants, there are some ways to
play with our program model that we can shift power, and shift power imbalances, but actually get some really,
really interesting results. So rather than going out and just sort of hiring one staff person to be an expert on forced marriage, and to run around I guess either screaming diversity, or recruiting a really
diverse group of faces that you know, would then be plastered
on a poster somewhere, we were also really concerned about we didn’t want to play into stereotypes of gendered Islamophobia. And especially in post 9/11, really, really problematic. We were also at the height of the Stephen Harper cuts where he was referring
to many communities – including communities
experiencing forced marriage, and communities that have
respectful arranged marriage – as barbaric. So when you have the word barbaric in an actual piece of legislation, you sort of know where you stand with a certain set of policy makers. So we hired 35 young women from different communities to essentially attend a
three-week leadership camp. And we called the camp
“Fight Like a Girl.” And we hired them as consultants. And the funder wanted us to
do a communications campaign. And unfortunately, I am not well qualified to
do a communications campaign with today’s youth. I look like this. I wear a suit. I am not Beyoncé. I don’t know what Snapchat is. So we hired them as consultants to essentially pull together
the communications campaign. But we wanted to do it in
a way that was ethical, and supportive. So we partnered with some
really great community partners, like Shameless magazine, and OCAD, and Wen Do Women’s Self Defence. And the self-identified young women, and non-binary youth, they did anti-oppression
workshops in the morning with some of our community partners. And then they did self
defence in the afternoon. By about week two, they started transitioning into developing their own communications brief, and started pulling together spoken word, and flyers, and essentially what they – This was sort of just
when Twitter had started. And they pulled together
their own communications called Use Your Voice, and actually started tweeting about different issues as they
saw them to policy makers, and politicians. And what I saw was something
really quite incredible. And you’re more than welcome to go to the Newcomer Women’s
Services Toronto website. And some of their work sort
of still lives on there. Is that the level of engagement, rather than running around
and having to worry about bringing in all of these
outcomes for funders, and doing all this outreach, we had a really engaged group of what we called them as consultants. They were thrilled because for the first time, their skills and expertise as young people were being recognized. Also, ask a group of young people and tell them that you’re gonna pay them to do social media for a week – Folks are pretty happy about that. There was no human rights complaints during that orientation session. But what I saw – you know
on a very selfish level, just as someone who was
an executive director – is not only was the quality of the work, and the quality of the program
so much more interesting, it allowed us to really, to
do the work on a deeper level, and have some more complex conversations, and start to hear about how do we talk about forced marriage? How do we define forced marriage? And also to see the young activists, or the consultants, how they grew and developed in between sort of these chunks that
we were doing with them. So for example, one of them, her friend was actually being attacked in her stepfather’s home, and actually used her Wen
Do Self Defence skills to actually intervene, and sent the attacker to the hospital. So you know, very sort of practical, practical kinds of skills. So when we’re talking
about these big things around diversity and inclusion, and stopping gender violence, what does that mean? Another issue around
diversity and inclusion that’s quite common is elder abuse. Has anybody here ever
gotten a call for proposals around stop elder abuse, just stop it? And again, some of the most challenging
issues to talk about if you’re working with community members who are experiencing elder abuse to have your own children or
grandchildren as perpetrators. The taboos around that
are simply enormous. So again, what we did is we
hired them as consultants. We know we have a lot of Aunties with incredible skills in writing and arts. And they actually, again, had that deeper conversation. So rather than me running over to you and saying, “Okay, stop elder abuse now.” “Have you stopped it?” “Great, my work is done.” “Diversity, my diversity
work is done for the day.” They wanted to really start to have those intergenerational conversations with their grandchildren because they felt like it started there, and actually started
telling traditional stories, and put together a
colouring book for them. So again, we were able to have a different kind of conversation, a very different kind of outcome. And we were tapping into
the skills and the energies of community members who really, who had a lot to share. So yeah, think about
hiring your service users as staff. Online tools. Another thing that we see a lot is sometimes, especially as we’re promoting into management or leadership positions, sometimes we don’t necessarily
have the time and money to run out and get an MBA or a management degree in Schulich. And one of the things we
started experimenting with is taking different modules
from online courses and actually doing them as a team, or assigning them to placement
students or to each other, or actually working through
a set of exercises together. So in your little handout, you have OCASI’s Learn at Work. They do amazing stuff
around gender violence. They also have an incredible – they have the Positive Spaces campaign, which looks at how to create inclusion for LGBTQ+ newcomers. And in Coursera, if you plug in things
like human resources, and financial management, you start to get some
really, really good courses that come up where you can just
literally take a section. So for example, how do we set expectations with employees? How do we start to do coaching? They’ll have a workbook, they’ll have a podcast. And when we started to go
through some of this together – we’re doing it right now at certain tables at the Y – we again started to have a really richer, different experience. And the more we invested in HR, we found a lot of those, a lot of those fires that
we’re fighting all the time as senior leaders, as employers started to shift. Acumen has amazing courses
around social impact and human-centred design around empathy. And we started to apply
some of those modules. And for example, we realized our website was
not accessible to newcomers. Some of my colleagues have
recently done that course, and we’ve redesigned
our website for the Y. So again, not all of us have corporate experience. And sometimes it’s thought
of as too business-y. But there are ways of sort of bringing in some of those skills with your management team. Has anybody here ever heard of intergenerational job sharing? So one of the things
we hear about a lot are millennials. “Oh my goodness millennials.” “They have sort of killed everything.” I was wearing my YWCA pin the other day. And one of our Young Women
of Distinction leaders came up to me and she said, “Maya, I lost my pin, I need another pin like that.” And I said, “Oh sure.” I said, “You can have mine
until we order you another one.” She said, “No, no, no Maya.” “Yours is some weird colour.” “Mine was rose gold.” And I’m like, “You millennials
and your rose gold.” So now I have to go running. Yeah Isabel, we need to get rose gold pins. Yeah, okay your phone is rose gold. We also have really
experienced baby boomers who have retired, or are retiring, or want to scale back into part-time work. And we actually started looking at jobs that could potentially be shared by different people. Now obviously this is not for everyone. You need to have a certain level of trust. You need to have a
certain personality type in a relationship. But for example with some of our youth employment worker positions, we had really great
experiences where, for example I poached a professor who was retiring from a university. And they actually job-shared
that position with a young person who actually grew up and lives, and has lived experience
in that community. So again, we weren’t necessarily
looking for having that perfect piece of paper. You know, some of us
were chatting earlier. Some of you are doing
job development work, or work with youth. And it was really interesting to see that balance because from the professor there was all of that academic experience. She was actually an executive
recruiter in the states and in England. With the young person,
they really understood what young people were experiencing in terms of systemic structural barriers. And they were able to work. They were able to work
together quite well. And for those of you having to hit Employment Ontario outcomes, you know it’s not easy. And that was sort of one
way we were able to do it while bringing in some balance. Although, the day that a former Ryerson professor called me and asked me what a poop emoji was was really not the highlight of my career. I said, “Just ask so and so.” “We shall never speak of this again.” ‘Cause apparently it was
coming up in workshops and she needed to know. After publishing 12 books, she needed to know what a poop emoji was. So similar along that line, also sometimes switching jobs. So once we did a Take Your
Colleague to Work Day. And people actually
switched jobs for the day. And especially for jobs that are devalued. For example in child care. It was really, really good to see – to have senior level managers, or staff in other departments actually experience what it means to be a child care staff running after screaming, snotty-nosed children, and have to do that
for $16 an hour, right. So what are some ways that we could also start
to exchange skills. We also scheduled a couple
of days to do peer learning and peer exchange. Isabel and I just came from
one of our retreat sessions. And one of our colleagues
is doing peer training and peer skills today. So again, sometimes we don’t get the funding to do the kind of professional development that we would like. But there’s online tools. You have skills in-house. There’s sort of a number of ways that we can build capacity internally. It was also really important for me as an executive director that all of my managers
actually be skilled up to be able to step into
my shoes after I left. So when I would leave, I would make sure that people
were actually appointed interim ED. At which point when I came back, when our head of finance was interim executive director and had to sort of help start
a new program from scratch. And when I came back, she just looked at me exhausted and said, “Maya, I would never
want to do the ED role.” She’s like, “I like my numbers.” And she started to like
hug her computer console. And absolutely, that’s okay too. Sometimes, you know, to find out there’s things
that we don’t want to do. But I think especially for newcomers where there’s still so many internal
barriers in our sector. When I go out there and work
with other organizations, I don’t see senior leadership reflect the community and the programs. So that’s also one way. And just to sort of wrap up before we do the exercise, looking at ways in terms of dealing with the backlash. I find that the more we
do really, really good equality or equity work, diversity work, that there’s a backlash. And how do we deal with the backlash? Let’s not pretend that there are people who necessarily want this
work to be a success. When we do diversity
and inclusion work well, it does mean that certain
people are going to lose power. There are people who benefit
from a lack of diversity. When we start to shift power and balances, they’re not very happy. And they tend to usually
have more power than us. I also think it’s okay
to state things like Trump has now made it okay to be racist. We’re starting to see that. We’ve seen that ripple effect policy-wise, politically across different countries. And so as community members
in spaces like this, I think it’s really important
for us to a)organize, and excuse me, and b) actually talk to each other about what we’re
experiencing on the ground. And how do we support each other at work? If you’re a colleague who’s
experiencing anti-Black racism, what does it mean to have
support in your workplace, or outside of your workplace? YWCA USA – so we’re YWCA Canada – the American version. I’m really proud of my sister organization’s work in the states. They have been at the forefront of being against Trump at a time
when it wasn’t necessarily politically sexy to talk about separation of families, and denying rights of
asylum seekers to families. And were very quick to organize. And so I think it’s okay, especially as larger organizations. Whereas sometimes it’s hard
for us to talk about diversity. I think it’s okay to take risks. A couple of weeks after I started, the hate rally, the
Neo-Nazi rally happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. And I started monitoring it
on Twitter online Friday night and sort of watched it
throughout the weekend. And I Googled the community because I’ve never been to Virginia. And I saw that there
were actually three YWCAs within driving distance, and 11 YMCAs. And so first thing Monday
morning, I called them. And they didn’t have a CEO. Alejandra hadn’t started at the time. And staff were terrified. They’re like, “We don’t know what to do.” “They’ve applied for
paperwork to do a permit to do another neo-Nazi
rally the following week.” “We don’t know if we should
keep our daycare open.” “We really don’t know what to do.” I said, “Well what do you
need? We’ll send buses.” You know, I talked
about the countermarches that were happening here in Canada. And so, no in that moment, we couldn’t stop it. But I think it was important for them that they felt heard and that there were folks
reaching out from other countries who are following this
and watching it closely. And we actually issued
a solidarity statement that was shared over 14,000 times. And it’s really interesting
when I’m visiting YWCAs in really small towns and I have working-class white women coming up to me with tears in their eyes saying, “I felt so proud when I saw that.” “Because I can’t stop
what Trump is saying.” “I can’t stop what happened.” “But I felt proud to
work for an organization that would actually stand up and be on the right side of history.” And of course, some of you might remember, there was sort of that
weird 72-hour period where Trump hadn’t actually denounced. You know, and then like Campbell’s Soup issued like a scathing condemnation and Trump’s business council like dissolved itself over that. So I think it’s okay
as bigger institutions when you’re experiencing
pushback from a manager or CEO. Organizations especially today, we need to stand for something. It’s not just about being on
the right side of history. But community members, donors, funders – they want to know that you
stand up for something. You know, having a charitable status is an enormous privilege. The American Civil Liberties Union, when Trump dropped the
paperwork around the Muslim ban, ACLU just simply tweeted out, “We’ll see you in court.” Do you know how much they raised over a single weekend? $10 million in a single weekend. They weren’t scared of Trump. The weren’t scared of a very
favourable climate for him. I remember one donor, if there’s any Star Wars fans here. I remember one donor writing
in to ACLU on Twitter saying, “I love you.” And ACLU tweeted back to
him and said, “I know.” So you know, how you engage with activists as donors, as members, it starts to build a
different relationship. So there you go – diversity work. There was – I’ll just leave you with a final quote. At the end of that meeting, I had sort of started talking about me and my colleague
running up the Danforth at 9 in the morning. And when we had finished
our session that day, one of the youth came over to me. She was around 12 at the time
and in our Saturday program. And she just said to me, “You know what, I know there’s nothing
that we cannot overcome.” And I thought those were good
words to end on, you know. Speaking truth to power. So, thank you very much. (light music)

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