Live From NTEN: Data Enables Diversity

March 5, 2015       Mark Hrywna      

It’s a conversation often avoided because it can be awkward. Even so, five people sat in front of thousands of attendees at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC) to get the ball rolling. “We’re purposely having the conversation together,” said Nonprofit Technology Netowrk (NTEN) Chief Executive Officer Amy Sample Ward. “The conversation is coming from and rooted in NTEN’s values.”

Ward moderated “Momentum for Change: Addressing Diversity in Nonprofit Tech,” a panel discussion during this morning’s plenary session of the #15NTC, which runs through Friday at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas. The panel included Jody Mahoney, senior vice president, business development at the Anita Borge Institute and a board member of NTEN; Trish Tchume, executive director of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) National; Praan Misir, information and database management officer, at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, and Emily Phan, chief technology officer, at Stand For Children.

Tchume dismissed the idea that people have to wait for an organization to be ready to talk about diversity because that only services the status quo. “If you’re waiting for folks to be ready, you’ll be waiting a long time,” she said, advocating that people listen and look for things that feel out of alignment and listen for opportunities. “I’m often the diversity in these conversations, as a woman, a person of color, a young leader, and I would like for that to change,” she said.

“Representation is not the same as participation,” said Ward. “Just listing me on a steering committee doesn’t count,” she said.

Misir suggested that organizations “embrace the awkwardness” because it’s a necessary step for all organizations to take at some point in the lifecycle. Sharing a quote from his executive director, he said: “Don’t sweep it under the rug, but shake it out.”

Organizations cannot make change if they don’t know their data, Mahoney said. “You have to go in and measure your data because you might be doing all the right things to recruit candidates,” she said, but if they realize there’s not a place for them in the organization, they’ll leave within a few years. “You have to understand your data,” she said. “What you measure you will change.”

Mahoney pointed out that women are often described very differently than men, often with more communal language. She suggested revising LinkedIn profiles to avoid those immediate stereotypes. She also suggested using “blind resumes” so it’s unknown if a job candidate is a man or woman but evaluated on the strength of their technical skills. “All the data does is give you a starting point, a baseline set of metrics,” she said.

“Change starts small,” Mahoney said. “To have people open up this dialogue, specifically around women, and women in computing, is great.”