Sunday, November 24, 2013

Intersectionality and Representation: Ingrained and Unconscious Discrimination

Every autism nonprofit organization should have some form of policy statement clearly visible on its web site and accessible to all who need see it, like this example from Richard Male and Associates:

Adopted by the Board of Directors on [ DATE ]

[ NONPROFIT ] does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, hiring and firing of staff, selection of volunteers and vendors, and provision of services. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our staff, clients, volunteers, subcontractors, vendors, and clients.

[ NONPROFIT ] is an equal opportunity employer. We will not discriminate and will take affirmative action measures to ensure against discrimination in employment, recruitment, advertisements for employment, compensation, termination, upgrading, promotions, and other conditions of employment against any employee or job applicant on the bases of race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, veteran's status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The critical nature of having this type of statement in place, particularly for nonprofits with national and global reach cannot be understated. Any board of directors must fully understand that organizations can have a culture of discrimination, producing ingrained and unconscious organizational discriminatory behavior. Institutionalized bigotry is not understood until discriminatory events are brought before the organizational board in the form of written protests, EEO complaints, or legal action against the nonprofit. At that point, general board reaction tends toward reactive damage control rather than justified remediation and introspective investigation of its own culture and how this culture might negatively impact the productivity and  success in meeting organizational goals, as well as rooting out where issues need to be resolved.

Probably the largest disappointment for me as a multicultural, and multilingual woman of color was the day I realized my belief (that organizations acting for the betterment of the human condition of any marginalized group would not discriminate against intersected members of that group) was wrong.  I was not only wrong, I was ignorant of how widely underrepresented intersected groups were within nonprofits whose mission statements scream advocacy and representation.

There has been prolific segregation in governing board membership, particularly in autism nonprofits. In addition to the unacceptable situation of having no autistic representation on governing boards of major autism nonprofits,  a red flag of segregation is evident in the hundreds of micro-charities founded by people of color and members of other underrepresented groups within the autism community just to try and carve out a voice in their own lives. The costs of this discriminatory trend are painfully clear when African American celebrities whose nonprofits eventually gravitate to a takeover or financial dependency on grant giving nonprofits end up being used as the token public lure for their racial peers. Autism Speaks is a good example of such a nonprofit. Let's look at how they measure up in representation:

Image description: infograph of the governing board distribution of Autism Speaks 

Total Board Membership = 33
1. Number of Autistic Board Members           = 0
2. Number of White Male Board Members     = 25
3. Number of White Female Board Members  = 7
4. Number of Non white Board Members       = 1 (note in reality this is a cisgender female celebrity)
5. Number of Celebrity Board Members         = 3 (5 if spouses of celebrities are considered)

See where I'm going here?
To the degree that no one in any other organization created to represent people of diverse 
neurologies, races, ethnicities, genders, national origins, ages, religions, creeds, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identities or gender expressions does so by building leadership that excludes those it claims to advocate for, this distribution is disturbing.

This is part one in a series on Intersectionality and Representation.

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