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How to Make Your Nonprofit's Employee Handbook More Equitable

Nonprofit organizations of all sizes and types are exploring what diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) mean to their missions, staff, and programs. This journey is unique for each nonprofit based on the organization’s history, the people it serves, its sector, and even the individuals within it.

Often this journey begins with taking stock of a group’s demographics and committing to increasing diversity within the staff to reflect the community it serves. This important first step is filled with nuances and challenges.

Recruitment and hiring efforts must be coupled with examining internal policies and practices to ensure that employees stay with the organization once they are hired. Creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace not only ensures employees are valued but also boosts overall employee performance and retention. Research repeatedly demonstrates that employees primarily leave their jobs for new opportunities because they feel undervalued.

The employee handbook is foundational to the employee-employer relationship. It lays out employee benefits, conflict management, rules of engagement, and other sensitive topics that need to be handled thoughtfully and fairly. As such, the organization’s values and DEI goals should be evident throughout the handbook.

Employee Handbook Sections The employee handbook should include:

  • Mission, Vision, and Values

  • DEI Mission and Equity Statements

  • Equal Opportunity Employment

  • Harassment and Discrimination Policies

  • Organizational Structure

  • Political Activity Rights and Limits

  • Hiring Policies and Procedures

  • Employee Status Definitions

  • Time and Attendance Policies

  • Overtime Eligibility

  • Paid Time Off Benefits

  • Unpaid Time Off Options

  • Health Insurance Benefits

  • Retirement Benefits

  • Standards of Conduct

  • Conflicts of Interest

  • Travel Procedures

  • Background Checks

  • Safety Procedures

  • Performance Reviews

  • Progressive Discipline

  • Employee Termination

  • Document Retention

  • Reimbursements and Expenses

  • Personal Technology

  • Social Media Policies

  • Any State-Specific Requirements

That’s a lot of potential topics, but each section is important to address through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Themes Organizations should consider two major themes when reviewing a current handbook or writing a new one.

The first is supporting a diversity of perspectives. Organizations hire unique people with rich skill sets and perspectives to help fulfill their mission. Personal experience is what enables staff to apply wisdom and expertise to their jobs and needs to be valued when writing employee policies, as well. Management should welcome new ideas and new approaches to fulfilling both the mission of the organization and the operation itself. The system's policies, practices, and procedures were built by a set of people who did things a certain way. Bringing in new perspectives means rethinking the system and introducing new policies, practices, and procedures to support an evolving workforce. The second is protecting the personal time and finances of employees. Nonprofit organizations are rightfully prudent with their spending. However, being too penny-wise and pound-foolish can harm organizations in the long run. Nonprofits should not expect employees to subsidize the organization’s operation. Not only is it generally unfair to the staff, but it disproportionately affects women and people of color who historically have been paid less for the same jobs, are in more junior positions, and face institutional barriers to wealth accumulation.

Specific Tips Here are some key ways that organizations can address diversity, equity, and inclusion within their employee handbooks.

1. Use a Hiring Rubric A hiring rubric is a tool for evaluating job candidates based on a set of criteria. It lists the experiences, certifications, abilities, and other attributes that organizations must have, want to have, and would like to have in their new hire. Creating this guide will help the hiring manager crystalize what is important to prioritize in interviews, shape the actual questions that are asked, and help managers reduce the chance of bias, which often leads them to prefer candidates similar to them based on gut instinct. To use a rubric, give each interviewer a blank copy and ask them to take notes and score each candidate based on the criteria. Then the hiring committee can compare scores to assess how well each candidate fulfills the hiring criteria. Engaging a hiring committee of people from different backgrounds, management levels, and roles will help ensure the hiring rubric meets its full potential.

2. Systematize Salaries A salary band system establishes the salary ranges for each position. It may have different levels for each position. It will articulate the criteria for being placed in each band, such as levels of responsibility, length of service, or certifications. The purpose of a salary band system is to equalize compensation decisions by minimizing bias. It also helps staff understand their future potential with the employer and the path to achieving different salary levels. Salary levels should be published on job postings so potential candidates know what to expect. Publishing salary ranges reduces the time candidates spend applying for jobs they would never accept. It also attracts candidates who are looking for pay within the published range. Having a more honed candidate pool benefits employers, as well!

3. Separate Sick and Vacation Time It may seem beneficial to employees to give them one bank of time they can use for all needs, but it disadvantages women and people of color. In the U.S, these are groups who historically carried the burden of dependent and family care. They also are less likely to have resources to turn to when a child or other family member needs care. As a result, they are using their potential vacation time caring for others while those without dependent care needs can dedicate more of their paid time off bank for vacation. Also, staff who have one combined bank are more likely to come to work sick so they don’t need to use potential vacation days. Sick employees at work may infect coworkers or clients. Finally, they may not be working at their best.

4. Equalize Bathrooms If an organization has single-stall bathrooms, they should be gender-neutral to support all gender identities. An added benefit over single-gender bathrooms is shorter waits if one stall is occupied. Each bathroom, regardless of if it is designated as single-gender or gender-neutral, should be stocked with free menstrual supplies. Finally, bathrooms should be equipped with diaper-changing stations if visitors will be coming to use the facilities.

5. Pay for Technology Nonprofit organizations are always watching their budget. This doesn’t mean employees should shoulder the burden of funding mission-critical resources. Organizations should reimburse staff for using their own computers, mobile devices, cars, and other personal resources that they subsidize. These personally paid expenses disproportionately affect lower-income staff who can less easily absorb the cost. Reimbursement may come in the form of direct expenses such as mileage tracking, or it may be a nontaxable monthly stipend. Mileage reimbursement rates should be updated each year with the federal mileage rate.

6. Define Lanes Defining job responsibilities is a great advantage to organizational effectiveness and employee retention. If each staff member, board member, and volunteer knows what is expected of them and who to contact for different activities, then everyone can better focus on the mission. Use tools like a “RACI model” or “job charter” to describe the general areas of responsibility and specify decision-making authority, accountabilities, and shared duties.

If an organization is diversifying its staff to be reflective of our growing and ever-changing communities, then establishing these kinds of practices will help people fulfill their roles and keep others from overstepping. A good practice is to revisit the employee handbook annually to assess policies and procedures and make adjustments where needed. Be intentional about creating the best culture possible for you and your employees.

Courtnee Carrigan, CEO and Trainer, Raising the Bar Performance Group, contributed to this article. By Jodi Segal Jodi is the Founder and Principal at Big Change Consulting.

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