Earlier this month, a vast majority of the nonprofit sector transitioned to mandatory remote work in line with federal mandates for social distancing. Naturally, there is growing concern about the impact of even short-term isolation on employees’ emotional well-being, health, and productivity. Prosperity Now’s report, What We Talk About Among Our Peers, shows that even in a typical operating environment, leaders of color struggle with feeling isolated in the nonprofit sector.
The report highlights the strength of Peer Learning Circles (PLCs) model. This model is designed to bring together organizations that are facing similar challenges, and that have similar opportunities, and to provide participants with space where they can craft actionable plans to address the situations and scenarios before them. We chose this strategy as an extension of the networking and convening opportunities offered through the Building High Impact Nonprofits of Color Project because the nonprofit sector has a racial leadership gap. The Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead research highlights a range of systemic biases and barriers — not individual deficits — that limit opportunity, access, and advancement for people of color who aspire to executive leadership roles in the nonprofit sector. Using the PLC model, we provided safe environments that offered leaders of color the opportunity to navigate complex social, organizational, and personal concerns that can adversely affect even the most capable leader.
During the PLC engagement, leaders were able to talk about specific challenges from a cultural aspect with others that understood the underlying context, and about why traditional solutions may not apply. The leaders were able to share their sentiments about feeling the need to be “twice as good” as their White counterparts to be deemed just as qualified, while also facing heightened scrutiny. Other leaders shared the fear of making mistakes, which leads to frustration among leaders of color who often don’t have colleagues who can offer support, or who can affirm their efforts.
Currently, there are few spaces available for leaders of color to convene. Professional groups typically have a cost barrier to entry, with few of these groups offering resources or programming tailored to leaders of color. Further, invites to convening opportunities are often shared informally within exclusive networks, and easily exclude leaders of color. These opportunities also commonly require leaders of color to stretch out of their comfort zones to be understood. The PLCs filled that void without the emotional labor that comes with networking with majority led leadership. During the sessions, they received peer feedback and often encouraged one another to choose new strategies that may have been risky, but would reap additional benefits and learning. In these circles, differences among leaders were used to embrace and empower one another, rather than to isolate.
Ultimately, our findings through the PLCs affirmed findings in Race to Lead’s research –that “the sector not only needs to address barriers to leadership for people of color but to also remove the burden of solving the problem from those who are most affected by it.”
Many nonprofit leaders – regardless of color or background – face similar challenges to those that arose during the Peer Learning Circles. However, most White leaders are not limited by the environments or resources available to help them as they mitigate their executive challenges. There needs to be a space that exists specifically for leaders of color to learn, to support one another, and to work through issues without the fear of criticism or repercussions. With proper resources, this could be expanded to allow for idea development in a way that leads to innovation and systems change.
Originally posted by Prosperity Now on 2020-03-23 19:00:00