Per Scholas is a national nonprofit workforce development organization that opens door to technology careers for individuals from overlooked communities. 85% of our training participants are people of color and 30% are women. Our staff is diverse, too: 70% are people of color (including 65% of our leadership team) and 45% are women (including 69% of leadership team members).
But even very diverse organizations need to do everything they can to promote workplaces where everyone feels valued and secure. Starting with the conviction that diversity is our greatest organizational strength, Per Scholas set out to become a model for the achievement of this goal.
In June 2018, Per Scholas launched Inclusion by Intention, an internal platform to discuss staff experiences relevant to equity and inclusion in the workplace, and to identify and seek improvements with “patient urgency.”
The initiative debuted at our 2018 national staff retreat. Staff discussed their experiences with “covering” or concealing aspects of their identities in the workplace across axes of race, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability in both distinct and intersectional contexts. Through a combination of anonymous digital polling, small group discussions and a diverse panel of colleagues from across the organization, we were able to kickstart an important dialogue about supporting and encouraging authenticity.
88% of attendees rated the session as valuable and 82% believe Per Scholas can become a national model of inclusive excellence. The session organizers are now working with volunteers to coordinate a follow-up staff workshop on December 7, as our organization-wide observance of the Day of Understanding. Based on feedback from the first session, the next in the series will focus on the connection(s) between covering and implicit (or unconscious) bias. It will also provide resources and tools to consider and address the manifold impacts of bias in our everyday lives.
Far too often, leaders are focused on the business and cultural challenges that exist outside of our own organizations. In order to be effective change makers we need to examine the business practices and cultures we are developing alongside our own talent. By setting forward a model of reflection and introspection we are able to become empathetic and resilient leaders in our industries and across our communities, allowing us to successfully adjust to changing times.