Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here. Amir, thank you for your kind remarks. I too enjoyed the very special dinner last night. In particular, it was wonderful to meet Rose Mays who is a special community treasure that you have here.
When Amir called me about participating in this event, he said, “We are thinking about doing a workshop/community meeting on foundations and diversity, and you’ve written a lot about that. Would you be willing to provide some opening remarks?”
I must confess that my immediate response was not positive. It wasn’t positive because I have spent the past 30 years of my professional career in philanthropy talking and thinking about foundations and diversity. Or better said, talking and thinking about foundations and the lack of diversity.
I thought about it some more and said, “Well, ok, I guess so,” because when the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy calls, I’ve answered the call for a very long time. I also want to acknowledge my good friend Gene Tempel in the back of the room.
In preparing these remarks, I re-read the last thing I wrote on foundations and diversity in Wit and Wisdom. It read: “As I was preparing to write this essay my mind went to a definition of crazy that I have heard over the years: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It is with some degree of frustration that I suggest that this definition has relevance to one of the central issues of this text - foundations, diversity and inclusiveness.” I wrote that sentence about seven years ago.
Why would I agree to go through this exercise again? I was left with two compelling reasons. One, Rosa Parks was not the first person to sit at the front of the bus. I had an opportunity to meet Ms. Parks once, and she said, “I expected that what would happen to me was what had always happened to everyone else.”
She said that she believed “I might be struck by the driver, the police would come and arrest me, and someone in my family would come and pay the fine, and the next day I would be back at work. But on that day, I wasn’t going to sit at the back of the bus.”
We all know and celebrate that on that day something different did happen from what Ms. Parks expected and that the nation was transformed as a result.
I believe we can make this day a ‘Rosa Parks’ kind of day. Because we are here at this school, something different might happen than what has happened all those other times, and in all those other places, where people of good faith have all tried to gather to crack this very difficult problem of increasing the board and staffing diversity at foundations. So that’s our opportunity.
Second, I concluded that for this to happen, I had to start by thinking differently. I had to challenge myself to consider that perhaps the diversity discussion has not moved as far as it might have, in part, because of how I have framed the issues. So I‘ve challenged myself to frame the issues somewhat differently than I have in the past, hoping to get a different result than I have in the past.
Are you with me so far? I am going to surprise some and disappoint others, but a double-sided knife cuts both ways. Today I am in a place of scholarship. And, I am in a place that feels like I am home. I’m home at Indiana University. I was part of the School of Philanthropy, the Center of Philanthropy when it was an idea. I was there. I was part of it. I have seen it in each of its incarnations.
Each and every time, I was there. And now I am in the Madame C.J. Walker Theatre Center where Madam Walker had her business, had her home and became a symbol of excellence as an entrepreneur and as a philanthropist. So I am at home here.
I am going to speak as authentically as I can about the things that challenged me in re-thinking my ideas about foundations and diversity, hoping that, in turn, I might challenge all of you to create a different outcome. In doing so, let there be no misunderstandings: I am a champion and an advocate for diversity and inclusion. I am a product and a beneficiary of people who have supported diversity and inclusion. So don’t mistake my scholarly inquiry for a lack of commitment or intensity that we must bring to these issues.
I want to do three things. First, I want to talk about the foundation field as a whole in the context of diversity. Second, I want to compare and contrast foundations as a whole with Silicon Valley Community Foundation. I want to do this to underscore to you that this rock can be cracked. I also don’t think I should stand in front of you and critique the lack of diversity in the foundation field without having some of you ask, “Well, it is easy to throw stones, but what are you doing in your own house?”
Lastly, I want to ask five thought questions. I do not have answers to these questions, but I think they are the kinds of questions that can challenge and help push foundations to a new understanding about the importance of diversity and inclusion. These questions also will require a place of scholarship, such as the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, to struggle with and to help foundations sort out the answers.
Looking at the foundation field as a whole based on the Council of Foundations data from 2010 (the most recent data available), 13 percent were people of color at the board level, with 517 foundations reporting. At Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 56 percent of board members are people of color. Women in the Council on Foundations’ study represent 38 percent of all board members.
At Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 50 percent of our board members are women. If you look at foundation executive teams in the Council study, 17 percent of their executive teams were people of color. At Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 47 percent of my executive team are people of color. In the Council on Foundations’ survey, 63 percent of executive teams were women. For Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 53 percent of my executive team are women, a difference of 10 percentage points; however, my direct reports are 75 percent women.
With that as a backdrop of where the field as a whole stands, and where we stand at Silicon Valley, I say to you that diversity and inclusion among foundation boards and staff are achievable. It can be done. It is possible.
This leads to my first thought question: Why do we want board and staff diversity at foundations in the first place? Why do we want it? What is the argument we use to get people to move from where the foundation field is with minimum diversity to where the foundation field looks more representative of the country?
For me, the most compelling argument, and the one I am convinced that we give too little attention to, is that greater foundation diversity is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do in a democratic society. To move to having an integrated baseball team was the right thing to do.
It wasn’t done because someone thought the world was going to change, although it did. It was the right thing to do to have Jackie Robinson. It was the right thing to do because it was consistent with American values. And we didn’t do it expecting that everything else was going to change as a result.
Some things did change, but the initial effort was not driven with changing the world in the first instance. It was done because it was consistent with the values of American democracy, to provide opportunity for all. As we think about foundation diversity, I think we have to lead far more with the value proposition that it is the right thing to do.
So what are some of the other reasons we use to promote diversity and inclusion and how do they stand up to critical thinking? There is a widespread hypothesis that greater diversity may lead to better outcomes. Amir referenced this in his remarks. This is a research question to be determined.
All races have some smart people and all races have some not so smart people. Depending on who you hire, individuals with specific backgrounds may or may not have better grantmaking results working with their specific diverse community. Today, we cannot verify that this is true.
Once we have conducted research and proven this is true, it may be a reason to hire diverse staff, but we cannot assert that today. However, promoting diversity is still the right thing to do no matter if a particular individual is found to be more capable or have more empathy around a funding decision.
A related value proposition for diversity in philanthropy is that if a foundation has a more diverse staff it will change the flow of philanthropic dollars to underrepresented communities. I see no evidence of this, and I will come back to this in a minute. Again, the more compelling argument is that it’s the right thing to do.
Foundations as a whole are entrusted with $52 billion in annual giving. Philanthropy exists as a result of government regulations that allow for private money for public good. Therefore, the public can ask institutions that have power and influence to reflect the public. I think that is a reasonable argument.
The second thought question that is raised when thinking about foundation diversity is who do we actually want to hire and recruit to the board and why? Is all diversity the same? I don’t think all diversity is the same, because if it is, then diversity has no meaning.
For example, consider a board with 28 to 30 people. Can I accommodate all diversity within a community with 30 board positions? Can I get a young person, an older person, people of different religions, people with different life experiences, and people with disabilities all in a limited number of board slots? And, even if I could get every single diversity characteristic represented, is every African American the same in their ideology and perspective? Of course not. For example, while HUD Secretary Benjamin Carson (no relation) and I share the same last name and we are both African American, we do not share a similar world view.
Let’s consider the LGBTQ community, about which I know just a little. What I do know is that being transgender is different than being lesbian. They are not the same and do not bring the same perspectives to a conversation. Moreover, two gay people will not share the same perspectives or outlook.
I also know that I cannot know a person’s sexual orientation by looking, I have to be told. I do know that every morning when I wake up that everyone knows that I am African American. So I don’t think being a person of color or being female is the same as other diversity characteristics.
This is not to say different groups don’t face discrimination or have not been excluded. It is not to say that. I don’t want you to walk out and say, Emmett’s not in favor of diversity when it comes to this group or that group. He didn’t say that. Emmett said diversity and inclusiveness and how it affects different communities is not the same for different groups for historical reasons, for cultural reasons and in how that diversity is manifested.
So if your goal is to construct a diverse group and all diversity is treated the same, then I think you start to dilute the very concept of diversity. If this is true, then to engage in the pursuit of diversity requires intentionality about why a specific diversity characteristic is important and to specify what it is intended to achieve. If diversity becomes everything, it becomes nothing.
Let me add one other point. As an employer, I cannot ask you your sexual orientation on the employment form. And yet, advocates of diversity often want me to measure and track something that is intensely private that I have no way of getting at unless someone volunteers that information to me.
It’s the same as wanting to increase diversity of those who are married. If you choose on that day not to wear a ring, or you don’t ever wear a ring, I can’t get that information. It is not legal for me to ask questions about marital status. These are the hard questions we have to struggle with to have an honest conversation about diversity.
The third thought question we must posit is: What is the evidence that greater diversity and inclusiveness lead to better decisions or more diversified funding? As I alluded to earlier, the causal evidence is not good.
If I go back to the Council on Foundations’ survey, 38 percent of board members are women. The same data show that 56 percent of foundation CEOs are women. Now let’s ask, how much funding goes to women’s causes? The data show only $1.6 billion, or 7 percent, goes to women’s causes based on giving by the largest foundations.
This data presents us with a quandary. If we think having women in positions of leadership on the board and in the C-suite should result in more funding for women’s and girls’ issues, you’d think that a lot more than 7 percent would be directed to women’s and girls’ causes.
So, either we don’t have a lot more funding because those men sitting on the board are impeding the efforts of those women to get money out the door, or the “right” women aren’t being hired who would re-direct more funding to this area. I see no evidence that the women I meet who are CEOs and board members are cowed by any man on the board.
I am left with thinking that perhaps these women feel the same way that I do as an African American CEO of a foundation. Once they assume a position of authority for an institution, they strive to be the CEO in the best interest of the mission of the institution.
I am an African American through and through, but the resources of Silicon Valley Community Foundation are to be focused on the best interests of the entire Silicon Valley community. This doesn’t mean that I don’t do things on the margin. I certainly do things on the margin.
I think I can help an African American community that I understand and identify with. But just as President Obama was not the African American president, he was the American president, I think an African American CEO of a foundation is a CEO of a foundation, and he or she balances the desire for diversity with the broader responsibilities of the office. In fact, rather than be disappointed, we should expect and want such behavior of all leaders of diverse institutions.
If a Latino person becomes a foundation president and funding shifts to Latino issues, is that how we want foundations to operate? I hope not. I can tell you that in my hometown of Chicago, for a long period of time, if you were not Italian you couldn’t be in the fire department and if you weren’t Irish you couldn’t be in the police force.
American democracy is about being both part of a smaller group and part of the larger society. I‘m part of my racial group and I’m part of the larger society. So be very careful if our argument is going to be “if I get diversity that means my particular diverse group is going to get more resources.”
If so, every other group is going to say, “When do I get my turn to get something for my unique group?” We don’t want foundations to divvy up the kind of power and influence that they have with such a narrow view of diversity. Yes, we want greater insight and approachability, but we should be careful as to not to suggest some kind of quid pro quo.
The fourth thought question is: Why has increasing board diversity been so hard? I want to start by suggesting that achieving board diversity is rather easy, whereas achieving staff diversity is complex. Why do I say that? You get to choose who you want on your board - you actually get to choose.
Boards get to choose affirmatively who they want; across race, gender, disability, age, religion, orientation and perspective, and there are a lot of people who have the desired skill sets with specific diversity characteristics. Whatever skill set you come up with, I can find a variety of diverse people to put in that slot. So if you have all white men on your board that was a conscious decision that was made. It wasn’t a skill set choice. It was a value choice.
On the other hand, staff diversity is a complicated choice. I have one staff slot to fill for a particular set of skills, so I have to depend on a pool of people who come in at a particular point in time to apply for the job. I have to weigh who applies, their relative business skills and their diversity characteristics against the needs of the organization to fill the position in a specific timeframe.
I like to describe this as a “chicken soup” process. Sometimes you get a lot of broth, sometimes you get a lot of noodles and sometimes you get a lot of chicken. I cannot keep dipping the ladle until I get the right mix. I can do it at home, but I cannot do that in a restaurant. As a result, there is some randomness that makes the employment process difficult in achieving diversity, but not impossible.
So, back to why this is so hard. Unlike community foundations that have to raise money from multiple donors, private foundations have no external market pressures. They are islands onto themselves. They do not have to respond to anybody.
I suspect a few of them think, “We decide the grant guidelines, we self-select our board members, we hire our staff and we live on our island and everything is just right.” Gilligan is happy.
Community foundations have to interact outside of a closed ecosystem for their success. If I want to reach out to a particular community, I need to have individuals who can connect to those communities. In the case of SVCF, in the Indian community and other communities, I have to be credible in those communities to do the work of the community foundation.
There are external pressures that I must respond to. I cannot raise financial resources if I cannot do that. I can’t do effective grantmaking if I cannot do that. Private foundations don’t have the same external market forces.
Even more so than just external pressures, I want to suggest to you that foundation boards lack commitment on the diversity issue. The Council on Foundations’ 2,000-plus members have not collected data on board and staff diversity since 2010. And when they collected the data, only 517 members volunteered to participate.
The Foundation Center launched a project called Glass Pockets as an effort to increase transparency among the 86,000-plus foundations in the United States. As part of Glass Pockets you had to provide information about your board and staff diversity. If you go to the Glass Pockets website, since 2010, out of 86,000 foundations that could have participated, only 86 foundations have participated. There is no commitment on the part of most of these institutions to increase board and staff diversity on their own. There is no evidence of it.
My fifth and last thought question to you is this: What do we do? Where does the external pressure come from to encourage more foundations to want to have diverse boards and staff?
I think this question leads us back to the critical role that the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy can uniquely play on this issue. I think you are outside of the inner circle of foundations which enables you to raise challenging and difficult questions. You have the opportunity and responsibility to hold the feet of foundations to the proverbial fire.
Foundation giving is private money for public good. To call out foundations as an industry and also by name that are not making any efforts towards diversity, as well as those that are champions of diversity, will be essential to creating change.
In fact, you are one of the few institutions that can bring scholarship and reasoning to challenge these institutions about the importance of diversity. It is not going to come from within the philanthropic sector.
We have shown our inability to do this over decades. Some of you will remember Ambassador James Joseph. As CEO of the Council on Foundations he tried mightily, year after year, after year to get the field to embrace diversity and inclusiveness. And still we are where we are today.
The Lilly School of Philanthropy can provide the external pressure based on research. You can write the reports. You can talk about the difficult questions imbedded in diversity; however, you must do it in an honest and authentic way.
I implore you to not view all diversity as being the same. This is not to say that every aspect or characteristic of diversity doesn’t have value to be studied and understood. If you can do this, you have the opportunity to make a real and lasting difference where there has been decades of foundation inaction and intransigence. We need focused and targeted language that will work on calling out institutions that have not done what they have had the opportunity to do over time.
In closing, I don’t think that you ever get diversity right. It’s a continuous process and there is always some group that is under-represented. It is an ongoing set of musical chairs. My plea, my call to action, is that we don’t make this yet another meeting to talk about why we don’t have more foundation diversity and what we should do, but rather to commit that the new Mays Institute will challenge the foundation field to have a Rosa Parks moment to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.