Diversity has long been as issue in philanthropy. One of the earlier examples was the courageous African American foundation staff that decided in 1971 to propose an all Black slate of new members for the Council on Foundations board of directors in protest of the foundation world's racial exclusiveness. As a result of that act 5 African American members were added to the board and ABFE was created and became the first Council on Foundations' affinity group. This is painful work that puts individual foundation staff members at risk but also creates important change in the sector. Fast forward 37 years to the Council on Foundation's conference in DC , where the organization was having its first conference plenary session on diversity. I find it a little bit shocking that in COF's 59 year history that there has never been a time where the organization felt like the entire membership would benefit from a session on diversity but I digress.
The session was an opportunity for council members and a California congressman to debate the merits of recent legislation in California that would require a small percentage of large California foundation to report the race and gender of grantees, staff members, and board members. I'd like to start by saying that the government doesn't really have the moral high ground on this issue, given the extreme lack of diversity in public office. Foundations aren't squeaky clean on this either since most changes related to this issue have happened because of mass protest (ala ABFE) or legislation (ala the California law).
There were a variety of perspectives on the panel from "diversity improves the quality of our grantmaking" to "you can't force us to have "others" on the board". Watching the panel in action was a painful reminder that we have a long way to go until there is true equality in philanthropy and some of that journey to equality will be voluntary and a part of that journey may need to be legislated. A summary of the session is available here.
What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of legislation related to diversity? Is it needed? Is it overkill? Do foundations need diverse staff members to make grants in diverse communities?