Representation in nonprofits has been on my mind recently…but mostly because I’ve been working on a C2E2 panel on female representation in Doctor Who. (As well as other various projects – check out my personal blog post with my personal and professional activities)
I grew up during the “classic” era of Who, and I can honestly say that Doctor Who had a huge influence on who I am, how I behave, and my attitudes…attitudes which served me well in my past professional life with nonprofits. But it took time for me to adjust to working with some nonprofits.
Mostly, I was “fortunate” to work in the mental health/chemical dependency field, where I had to learn how to work with a diverse workforce and clientele. (And sadly, mental health issues affect people of color disproportionately, often resulting in greater difficulty). But for many other nonprofits, there is a serious lack of representation within their staff.
But wait, some of you may be asking, nonprofits actively help the community! You’re not being fair! And besides, aren’t you just sowing dissension and making trouble?
(It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve faced criticism for this blog; I was once criticized by Facebook message for suggesting that gatekeeping occurred in the nonprofit space. But having these conversations, especially in current times, is necessary and warranted. Plus, it’s easy to stay afraid, especially since fear makes companions of us all.)
Much of my thinking has been influenced by Helen Kim Ho’s recent piece on “tokenism” in nonprofits. What struck me about the piece – and which started me thinking about this in relation to my C2E2 panel – was her comments about establishing leadership within organizations, as well as having a diverse group shape and deliver their messaging.
In the history of Doctor Who, there’s only been a handful of female writers and directors. During the classic series, there have only been four female directors and three female writers. (Two other citations besides those three are dubious: one is a pseudonym for a male writer and another is a co-writing credit with no supporting evidence). Since 2005, there have only been six directors and four writers…and with many female television writers openly discussing a “glass ceiling”, that becomes critical, especially with a woman playing the role.
For nonprofits, especially those working with underserved populations in Chicago, this becomes extremely critical. Especially since critics (both of diversity within Doctor Who and nonprofits) tend to advocate against it in three distinctive ways:
- Aren’t you being a bit segregationalist? After all, you’re saying that only women can write for women, people of color for themselves, etc.
- You’re advocating for the “superiority” of a particular gender or race, and you’re not being inclusive
- Nonprofits, by their very nature, are inclusive and person-centered; why are you making trouble?
But these criticisms miss the point: inclusion is a necessary aspect of providing social good. Most of these arguments on the Doctor Who side are usually by white males (with some women) who believe that the show has “lost its way”. (Kind of like criticisms from viewers who claim that Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Trek: Discovery have “too much diversity”…and for those in the LGTBQIA community, well, Google search “Russell T Davies” and “gay agenda”). It’s a perceived loss of power rather than a welcoming attitude to bring more diverse voices to our popular culture.
Now, I am not saying that nonprofits are that toxic…and this is more of a think piece than actual criticism. But in these times when many are feeling under siege, unsure of their future, having more inclusive policies in their marketing efforts and board leadership becomes critical. Shaping messaging that includes diverse voices frequently means more effective efforts that truly represent the communities that nonprofits are hoping to reach.
Admittedly, this is more of an effort to spark consideration and conversation rather than suggest particular actions…but I think I’ve started in a positive direction.
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And as always, thanks for reading!