Diversity, inclusion and social justice

When we consider the world we’re in and the world we want to create, there is no doubt that advancing social justice and building solidarity across difference are fundamental requirements of movement leadership.

The challenge of building diverse and inclusive organizations


Having good values and working for social change doesn’t automatically equal effectively handling the challenges of building diverse and inclusive organizations.    The challenges are all too familiar:

  •  A hard time recruiting or holding on to diverse staff;
  • Leadership that doesn’t reflect the staff, membership, or the communities we work in;
  • Unconscious oppressive, biased or exclusive practices;
  • Internal tensions that take on greater significance when they break across familiar divides;
  • Lack of deep strategic relationships across boundaries like race, class, and age.

Our experience is that being stuck in these patterns is very rarely about underlying values or intentions.    It is more often the unconscious influence of broader societal patterns and power dynamics that play out in our work and become embedded in the structure, practices, and norms of our organizations.  Even among those committed to ending oppression and injustice there can be a false polarity that places preserving unity on the one side, and recognizing and addressing these issues as they occur inside our organizations on the other.  In fact, you can’t have one without the other.

There is little in our education that prepares us to effectively navigate the broad diversity that exists in our society.  It helps to have a combination of cross-cultural life experiences, self-awareness as a practice, and courage as a conviction.  Even then, there is no reason to expect you should be able to navigate difficult challenges without help.  The following are ways that we have supported leaders and organizations in building competency and organizations in this critical area.

Working with leaders and teams to develop new awareness, knowledge, and skills

  • Learn to understand the experiences and impact of identities different than your own and the organizational implications of these;
  • Understand unconscious bias and learn to value differences;
  • Develop the multi-cultural competency to see, recruit, and develop talent different than the majority, and to collaborate, communicate, and manage conflict across cultural divides;
  • Understand our individual role in perpetuating and benefiting from oppression, and taking responsibility for the well-being of the whole.

Working to integrate diversity, inclusion and social justice within the whole system

  •  Create leadership development programs that have building solidarity across difference as a central principle of leadership.
  • Champion organizational change initiatives to build diversity, inclusion and social justice goals and tools into the culture and personnel practices;
  • Approach strategy and planning to make diversity, inclusion and social justice a core strategy and principle of your work.


Adams, M., Bell, L.A., & Griffin, P, Eds (2007).  Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (2nd Edition).

Caver, K., Thomas, D.A., Ely, R.J., Hewlett, S.A., Buck Luce, C., West, C., Livers, A.B. (2009).  Required Reading for White Executives, 2nd Edition (Harvard Business Review Article Collection).  Harvard Business Review.

Cox, Jr., T., and R.L. Beale (1997).  Developing Competency to Manage Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Activities. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.: San Francisco.

DeRosa, Patti.  (2001).  “Social Change or Status Quo?  Approaches to Diversity Training.”   Dowloaded on August 7, 2011 from http://www.changeworksconsulting.org/articles.html.