In my previous article for TheBodyPro, I was critical of how tokenism and other forms of racism show up in HIV service organizations. And while some saw it as a call out, for me, it was a call in to HIV service organizations on the need to be intentional when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Acknowledging intersectionality -- the reality that we live within a system of overlapping and interdependent privileges and disadvantages -- is a first step toward truly addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion at HIV service organizations. But how can we make acknowledging intersectionality not just a conversation, but use it to implement a practice of equality and justice? We can start by making relatively simple changes that center our work at the intersections of race, gender, sexual orientation, ableism, and implicit bias. Here are some practical ideas to begin:
Make Diversity and Inclusion a Priority
The Race to Lead survey found that many nonprofit employees applaud their nonprofit's commitment to diversity. However, the majority of those surveyed felt that leaders often let diversity and inclusion initiatives wither on the vine. The employees reported that inclusion efforts were touted, but not funded. Or, if they were funded, they were funded at embarrassingly low levels. If inclusion is a priority, it must be supported -- and funded -- as such.
Start With Systems, Not Individual Responsibility
At a recent event focused on racial inclusion in HIV service organizations, a person of color living with HIV asked a white woman panelist how we can make HIV service organizations more accessible. The speaker smiled and replied, "Just do it! We all just have to try hard! It's up to us!" While she may have intended to motivate the crowd, her response ignored the facts that some organizations are not accessible to people of color, many people of color have a well-founded historical fear of going to HIV service organizations, and that economic and social barriers have been built to keep some at a disadvantage. When we place the responsibility on marginalized people to "just do it," we ignore the systems of oppression that have created barriers to accessibility.
When we evaluate our events, programs, or organizations as a whole, it is important to ask what barriers might keep people away, rather than assuming positive intent is enough to make spaces inclusive.
Create a Diversity and Inclusion Committee
For any initiative to succeed, someone must take the lead. While someone may take key responsibility for the efforts, the committee approach allows HIV organizations to receive input from employees and stakeholders from all backgrounds. The committee should have a clear charge, demonstrate impact on strategic goals, and build the overall capacity of the organization.
Set Clear Goals and Timelines
No organization would begin the year without a clear fundraising goal. Similarly, no organization would set a fundraising goal without it being tied to a date. HIV service organizations should treat diversity and inclusion the same as other goals. They should create goals, timelines, metrics for tracking progress. This process creates accountability and makes it clear to people at every level of the organization how they should contribute to the inclusion goals. Addressing the diversity and inclusion vacuum at HIV service organizations is the work of those in positions of power. If the board of directors, executive director, and executive leadership team are not conscious of the dynamics of oppression operating within their organization and committed to making change, even well-meaning efforts are bound to fail. This commitment sends a clear message that diversity and inclusion are a priority within the organization.
Get Help If You Need It
At times, an organization's diversity and inclusion efforts may seem to stall. If this happens, you may need additional help. Today, more nonprofits are creating permanent equity, diversity, and inclusion positions. However, many HIV/AIDS service organizations cannot afford a new employee, so hiring from within the organization may be more practical. Many HIV service organizations begin the journey toward diversity and inclusion by doing this, and the staff person in the position finds themself with little authority and little training. It is important for the organization to empower those in diversity and inclusion positions who are doing crucial and necessary work. Doing so not only shows employees and others that your organization takes diversity and inclusion seriously, but it also gives you valuable feedback and assistance in navigating an area that can be challenging.
I acknowledge that the journey toward greater diversity and inclusion has no fixed endpoint. The milestones on the path we are traveling together, however, are tangible. Creating diverse and inclusive HIV/AIDS service organizations can be demanding, but the many rewards of diversity and inclusion outweigh any difficulties. Let this be an invitation to lead the way.