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From the Top Down: Cultivating DEIA Advancement Through C-Suite Commitment

Our friends at Hunt Scanlon recently tossed some intriguing questions our way about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) in nonprofit leadership, recruitment, and retention. Kris McFeely, our Managing Director, and the Executive Search team put on their thinking caps and reflected on the trends – encouraging and less so – that they have seen in the field. Drawing inspiration from that Q&A, we’re eager to share Kris’s thoughts on how organizations can step up their game in attracting and retaining diverse, talented leaders. 

From the Top Down

You’ve probably heard the saying, “a fish rots from the head.” Well, the reverse is also true: when leadership is committed and actively engages in initiatives that enhance the organization, positive outcomes can flow from the top down. In the realm of DEIA, this commitment must come from the C-suite. At Campbell & Company, we believe that for DEIA to truly take root, leaders must not just endorse it but visibly champion it through authentic actions. It’s about more than lip service; it’s about making DEIA an integral part of our organizational identity. 

We’ve come to understand that DEIA isn’t a luxury or a side project to attend to when time permits. To realize the transformative benefits of a truly diverse and inclusive organization, organizations must invest time and effort consistently. Some questions organizations can ask themselves include: are DEIA goals deeply embedded in our overarching measures of success? If not, how can we seamlessly integrate them? How can we incorporate principles that drive DEIA into the daily activities of our staff? Setting realistic expectations, providing robust support during onboarding, and ensuring leadership accountability and ongoing training are pivotal for recruitment and retention of diverse leaders. Much like maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires consistent actions every day, turning DEIA efforts from sporadic initiatives into ingrained norms is essential for sustainable change. DEIA should seamlessly weave into standard operating procedures, reflecting the organization’s mission, vision, and values. 

Red and Green Flags in Talent Recruitment

Reflecting on recent leadership placements we’ve completed across the US, common themes emerge: top candidates seek organizations that genuinely embrace inclusivity and equity. They aspire to work for organizations that value and respect them, regardless of their background. Red flags for candidates include a lack of diversity in leadership roles, reports of discrimination, or a company culture that neglects equal opportunities for growth. Positive indicators include robust diversity training, employee resource groups, mentorship opportunities, and a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination. Candidates want transparent hiring processes, equitable compensation practices, and clear pathways for career growth. 

However, it’s crucial to recognize that organizational communication must align with and reflect employees’ lived experience. Platforms like Glassdoor and LinkedIn provide employees a space to share their experiences of company culture. Nonprofit leaders must ensure that DEIA efforts are authentically and consistently practiced where all levels of the workforce can see, feel, and participate in them.  

Diverse Teams Takes a Focus on Talent Retention

Once a team member from a historically marginalized community joins an organization, the focus naturally shifts to retention. Organizations must invest in the growth and development of all staff members for talent retention. This involves actively seeking and addressing employees’ specific needs and providing genuine opportunities for professional advancement in line with individual aspirations and organizational needs. Offering a comprehensive benefits package, evaluating compensation equity, and implementing professional development programs, especially for folks from historically marginalized groups, contribute to a thriving and inclusive organizational culture. 

Considering the diversity of decision-makers extends beyond staff to include the Board of Directors. Many organizations are increasingly recognizing the advantages of diverse boards, leading to improved decision-making, governance, and innovation. While progress varies, setting specific diversity goals for boards is common. These goals often focus on achieving a particular percentage of board members from diverse backgrounds, ensuring representation from different professional spheres. Achieving these goals involves building authentic relationships within and beyond established networks, and making board membership accessible to those who may not have previously served in such capacities. 

DEIA is a fundamental aspect of successful nonprofit leadership. C-suite commitment, daily integration, transparent communication, and diversity across decision-makers are pillars supporting the cultivation of welcoming, equitable, and inclusive organizational cultures where staff want to stick around. For executive directors and Board members, embracing these principles isn’t just about doing what’s right; it’s about ensuring the long-term success and sustainability of your organization. 


Connect with us to inquire further or learn more about how Campbell & Company can help your organization align with your DEIA goals. Your questions are welcomed, and we look forward to collaborating with you.

About the Author

Kris McFeely is the Managing Director of Campbell & Company’s Executive Search practice, leading a team of executive search experts who are committed to elevating the nonprofit sector by matching talented leaders with the right opportunity. Kris has successfully partnered with over 500 clients and thousands of talented candidates. She enjoys taking special care to understand an organization’s needs, taking into account an organization’s culture, environment, and plans for the future. 

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