…the real reason nonprofits continue to fail at staff retention and equity initiatives is that they refuse to address their oppression.
There’s something about these organizations grounded in equity, driven by justice, and shifting power to community-rooted solutions. Does the work of dismantling oppressive systems inherently prioritize staff? In my experience, yes — and a bias for action, learning, and adaptability attract this inclination for intra-organizational alignment.
For the first time in my professional life, I can see that my response to the fear of scarcity doesn’t just harm me; it harms others. When I operate out of scarcity, I model the exact same oppressive leadership that I was taught and operated under. This model of individualism and perfectionism is seeped into all our bones but it was not until I entered a leadership role that I could see the nuance of its devastating effects.
Secrecy, exclusion, and collusions have hindered and oppressed racialized individuals in our sector. By “collusions,” I mean closed-door, non-transparent decision-making between those with power. These conversations do not include all affected parties. They maintain the status quo and cater to those in power; the results presented to those most harmed as final.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard these words spoken by folks who have been given the mantle of leadership by title: “I know enough to be dangerous.” Upon hearing this phrase, we politely chuckle or offer a waning smile. It’s just self-deprecating enough from the person using the phrase that we offer a pass and let it slide. Would we react the same if the speaker had said something more honest, like: I don’t know enough about this but I’m claiming I do.
As I reflected on my own experiences and dug into the research, I discovered that the deep sense of betrayal and rejection was not only a reaction to being laid off, but it was a symptom of codependency, something that I had struggled with in my personal relationships but had never applied the framework to my professional life.