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Diversity and Inclusion: Hiring and Retention of Staff at Non-Profits

It is easy to philosophically commit to building a diverse and inclusive culture. But what does it take to actualize that commitment? Hiring and retaining a diverse and inclusive workforce is fundamental to building that culture. Here are some tips to building a solid foundation for diverse and inclusive practices for hiring and retaining talent.

By Cynthia Woolbright

Before considering a deep dive into being a diverse and inclusive organization, we must ask ourselves, “are we serious about it?” Yes, we can hire staff of diverse backgrounds; however, we don’t reach our full potential because we have not “integrate(d) diversity and inclusion into our philosophy and mission.” (Diversity Primer, September 29, 2009). And, most likely, we have not acted accordingly. We say we are, yet we do not engage our teams effectively. We are not transforming our organization and its people; hence, we are not as innovative, bold and successful---we are staying within the four corners.

To truly become a transformative organization, diversity and inclusion must be embedded within all of an organization’s policies, practices, and training according to international management consulting firm Korn Ferry. Are you reducing bias and barriers to develop and significantly expand staff productivity and contributions?

To begin, we can commit, learn, and engage to expand and deepen our organization in this transformation and appreciating diversity and inclusion. This will require top leadership to be highly engaged and serve as role models of their own growth and that of the organization. Guaranteed, your organization will be different. Conversations may be challenging. Learning may be uncomfortable. But the results will be transformative.

While not exhaustive, here are some recommendations to get your started.

Organizational Commitment

Depending upon your organization, you may hire a consultant to work with the team to develop your philosophy of diversity and inclusion. Should you be lucky enough to have such organizational training strength in your Human Resources team, talk with them.

Integrating diversity and inclusion into your mission, vision and priorities with staff fully engaged is essential. It’s also critical to include diversity and inclusion in performance plans and reviews to formalize accountability and measure progress.

Committing to on-going orientation, education, and assessment on a regular basis will strengthen your organization and it will help in your retention of all staff.

Developing and designing your diversity and inclusion plan with accountability assigned across the organization is fundamental. Dig deep on how it might be improved within the team. Engage your stakeholders in the process.

Recruit to Bring Added Value to Your Team

First and foremost, assess the open position and what the priorities are, both individually and organizationally. What are the attributes you are seeking? What are the challenges? Be transparent. Think seriously about the words you use in the posting. And be sure you’re not creating systemic bias in the skills and experience you are requiring for the position.

Scan the environment for more non-traditional recruitment strategies. Do it now so you will be ready to act when positions become available. While it won’t change much of what is you currently do, look for opportunities to be creative and bold. Ask people outside of your organization for their suggestions. Follow up, then follow up again.

Establish an annual on-boarding plan that includes a mentor with whom the new hire will meet with regularly. It should not be their supervisor. It should be someone that can serve as a confident and colleague that can commit to meeting with the employee.

Prepare your team for who they will be interviewing. There are plenty of resources to suggest questions that will provide insight into their judgement, values, character, mindset, etc. Gather your team prior to the interview to review the process and questions. And be sure to allow time to debrief after the interview to share impressions.

Focus on “culture add” not “cultural fit” to the overall workplace. What can a candidate bring to the table to further your mission and priorities? What are we missing and may gain in this hire? Challenge participants to look for how differences may add to your bench, rather than seeking someone who simply mirrors members already on the team. This should be central to the preparation for the interviews.

How to Retain Talent

In a series of surveys on retention, the resounding results - regardless of sector -include effective and on-going communication with supervisors, continued interest for staff members’ career and professional growth, and providing engagement opportunities that allow for everyone’s voice to be heard. While it sounds basic, most of us can improve in each of these areas with our teams.

Effective, diverse mentoring programs will boost retention and advancement---with a critical component being mentor-mentee match. Peer-mentoring programs can be equally effective. In whatever program you select, there must be established goals and outcomes. Other aspects include, but are not limited to, providing an orientation for the mentor-mentee, exposing new staff to senior management in a structured way, encouraging networking and setting up introductions, and establishing measurements. Be sure to establish an evaluation and assessment mechanism. And be flexible and remember to engage the mentees in both the planning and evaluation of the program.

Establish a career and succession plan. What opportunities exist now? How to you communicate to employees about the talent you seek? Remember that people are the most important resource for a successful and effective organization. Help them help themselves to advance and expand their skills and knowledge. Retaining them will increase organizational opportunities for growth and innovation.

Provide opportunities to increase ownership that allows staff to identify what they want to accomplish and support. Build trust and transparency.

Build in social time for building and furthering relationships throughout the organization.


Recruitment and retention can be relatively easy. However, it happens only when the entire organization is committed to diversity and inclusion and to staff development and growth to advance your mission.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues in your field to learn what they are doing to advance a diverse and inclusive culture in their organizations.

I’ll leave you with three critical questions:

  1. Are you serious about a transformational organization that recognizes the importance of a diverse and inclusive in your team? Commit.
  2. Have you integrated diversity and inclusion in our philosophy into our mission? Align.
  3. Are you taking substantive and meaningful actions to advance diversity and inclusion in your organization? Act.

Commit, Align, Act. And take your organization to new heights of performance!




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