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Philanthropy can learn from Silicon Valley on diversity data

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This piece by D5 Director Kelly Brown was originally published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy on July 13, 2014. You can access the article here

Just last month we witnessed a sea change as tech companies released data that pulled back the curtain on the diversity of their work forces. Yahoo was the latest to do so, disclosing that only 37 percent of its global work force is made up of women. When looking at its U.S. work force, only 4 percent of its employees are Latino and only 2 percent are African-American.

The makeup of Yahoo’s work force is not too different from that of Google and LinkedIn, which preceded Yahoo by a few weeks in their move toward transparency. Latinos make up 3 percent of Google’s U.S. work force, while African-Americans make up 2 percent. At LinkedIn, it’s 4 and 2 percent, respectively.

As alarming as this information is, it actually represents an important step forward for technology companies. As Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president for people operations, said, “It’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly and with the facts.”

These companies should be applauded for their forthright admission of the problem and the conversations that honesty will spur.

Many in philanthropy can learn from their example. By releasing data on their diversity, they have set a benchmark against which they can measure progress and hold themselves accountable. As a whole, the field of philanthropy lacks a similar marker.

We can’t tell definitively if philanthropy is ahead or behind of demographic trends because many foundations do not report on the demographic makeup of their organizations or what groups receive philanthropic dollars. Only by improving data collection, reporting, and transparency throughout philanthropy as a whole can we answer key questions about whether our work is truly serving our constituencies. To do so, we must set an expectation that data will not be used for shaming or reprisal but to discuss, learn, and act.

The data that are currently available on foundations suggest that philanthropy is ahead in some areas and behind in others. Fifty-four percent of foundation CEOs are women. But only 3 percent are African-American and 2 percent are Latino, while 92 percent are white. And while people of color are 37 percent of the U.S. population, only 10 percent of grant dollars are devoted to nonprofit projects that serve them.

For foundation leaders who struggle to find the best way to advance efforts to include diverse perspectives and serve diverse populations, there are great examples of individual foundations that report data on diversity and equity—and reap the benefits of sharing this information. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation publishes on its website data on the gender and racial and ethnic makeup of its staff and leadership. It also lists the grants it provides to organizations or programs serving ethnically diverse populations. The foundation prepares a data dashboard on staff diversity for its quarterly board meetings and schedules a board discussion on the issue once a year.

Compiling and sharing these data help foundations catalyze change. Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s data helped identify a lack of diversity in its hiring pool. This led the foundation to change the way it searches for candidates, eschewing search firms when possible and instead tapping the networks of its diverse staff and board members. To ensure that its grant dollars are reaching the full range of people within the constituency it serves, the foundation codes every proposal for target populations—such as LGBT youths, homeless adults, and immigrant families—and now asks applicants how they serve those targets.

The Rockefeller Foundation is another excellent example of a philanthropic organization taking steps to institute diversity as a central value.  Recognizing that a diverse, inclusive work force is the key to excellence, Rockefeller shares detailed data about the makeup of its staff and board, which it says “is an important way to be transparent about our progress and hold ourselves accountable for realizing our goals.”

The Meyer Memorial Trust, a private foundation that makes grants in the Pacific Northwest,is also exploring data as a solution to the challenge of measuring progress. As the trust works toward “a flourishing and equitable Oregon,” the organization’s CEO, Doug Stamm, acknowledges that to measure progress, “we need to be more diligent and intentional about measuring the impact of our grant funds.”

Based on research conducted among organizations that seek applicants, the trust started a pilot project in fall 2013 to collect demographic data from applicants on the racial and ethnic makeup of their boards, staff, and the people the organization serves. And in a great show of leadership, the trust disclosed its own diversity data first. Meyer will soon post the results of the pilot and plans to continue the work.

After collecting and sharing data to establish where a foundation is and where it needs to be to achieve its goals, resources abound to help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Google turned to an organization that can help businesspeople and philanthropists alike: the Kapor Center for Social Impact. Google is collaborating with the Kapor Center to address issues that may interfere with its recruiting pipeline. Mitch Kapor said, “The best entrepreneurs see big problems and create new solutions. … By not proactively embracing diverse talent, (the technology industry) is leaving out entire markets that could yield untapped revenue.”

Compiling and sharing data allow an organization to hold itself accountable to its mission and track progress toward achieving its goals. For tech companies, that might mean new markets and greater revenue. For philanthropy, it could mean more effectively advancing the common good and helping people who need it most.

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