June 25, 2019

Two Ways to Align Talent Development with Your Equity Goals

If inclusion and equity are important to you, your talent development practices should reflect these values. 

By: Meera Chary

Many nonprofit leaders agree—now more than ever—that having a culture that reflects their organizations' values of equity and inclusion is critical. But culture isn’t a “thing” in and of itself. You can’t press a button to change your organizational culture. Rather, it’s a product of people and how their behavior and values shape your organization every day. Talent development, and how the people in your organization manage and support one another, is a key driver of culture. If inclusion and equity are important to you, your talent development practices should reflect these values.

Visit our Racial Equity in Philanthropy Special Collection for more information about dismantling the persistent and substantial barriers leaders of color face in securing philanthropic funding as well as a letter from our co-founder detailing Bridgespan's own ongoing equity journey.

One way to ensure this happens is by weaving equity and inclusion through the set of competencies you use as a foundation for talent development. Competencies are the set of skills, knowledge, and mindsets that your leaders need in order to drive your organizational goals. Having a competency-based approach to development can be powerful because it aligns all of your leaders on what “good” looks like, and it makes what might have previously been implicit, explicit. If having a culture of equity and inclusion is your goal, then you need to bake it into your competency framework so that you appropriately help your current and emerging leaders develop the necessary skills.

So how can you make sure your competency framework reflects your values around equity and inclusion? There are two ways to approach this challenge:

  1. Identify a set of specific competencies that focus on equity-centered behaviors—such as “demonstrates cultural humility,” “brings an equity lens to the work,” or “values and prioritizes inclusivity.” It's important to remember that competencies aren’t binary, where “you have them or you don’t.” Rather, a leader can learn to be more proficient in competencies over time. For this reason, it’s helpful to outline scaled definitions for each of your competencies. (For examples, download this set of sample competencies.) These scaled definitions provide a roadmap so that all your leaders can see a pathway to developing and improving their competencies.
  2. Another approach, which can complement these equity-specific competencies, is to infuse equity and inclusion across all of your competencies, including competencies like “communication,” “decision making,” and “critical thinking.” You might, for example, note that equitable decision making should incorporate input from diverse perspectives and stakeholders, including staff and clients.

ProInspire, which helps social sector leaders build the competencies they need to excel at leadership, has discovered “widespread confusion” surrounding the role of equity in building competencies and is launching an initiative focused on this second approach. Their initiative will take a critical look at the importance of creating a shared terminology around equity and inclusion. It will also examine the importance of including this lens across all competencies, not just those that pertain to leadership or explicit “equity” skills.  For example, if you’re examining “what does it mean to be a ‘strategic thinker?” you also should consider if your definition of "strategic thinking" was influenced by the dominant culture—often guided by white and western ideals. (Read more about ProInspire's Competency Model for Social Impact.)

Crafting competencies is just one part of creating inclusive talent practices. To read about a broader set of practices, see our article on inclusive talent development.

If you’re interested in putting powerful talent development practices into place in your organization, consider participating in our Investing in Future Leaders program. Sessions start in September 2019 and January 2020. Visit our website or email us for more information.

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