Reflecting God’s Kingdom
Over the last two years, the United States has experienced a heightened level of pain, violence, public protest, division, and even fear about racial issues and injustices. This has brought significant focus on the diversity and inclusion work in organizations with employees having new expectations of their employers to make right, speak out, and create real workplaces that are more representative and inclusive for those historically underrepresented.
Whether you feel the focus has been too much or too little, it has been a dominant conversation for almost all organizations. Concurrently, cares about gender equality in wages and opportunities for women in leadership have persisted in the diversity conversation.
As leaders of Christian organizations, our path forward must be rooted in relationships and dialog with Christ at the center.
Employees and leaders at all levels of your organization may have varied opinions on the topic, often rooted in deeply personal, sometimes painful, experiences. As leaders of Christian organizations, our path forward must be rooted in relationships and dialog with Christ at the center. Any diversity and inclusion work must be in service to our unity in Christ while also facilitated with good practice. However, it is also an opportunity to learn from and care for one another, and for growth to mature in the fullness of the body of Christ.
I caution you now that any topic which deals with pain, power, and the past, as noted by author, Adrian Pei in The Minority Experience (IV Press, 2018), will have the potential for strain or even division.
While we still have a tremendous amount of work to be done, and each organization’s path will be different, at World Vision the following steps have been foundational for us in moving toward a more diverse and inclusive Christ-centered workplace: setting the tone from the top; creating a designated group of employees to both listen and inform; going beyond hiring; doing our homework on data; and being respectful of a range of employee reactions.
Five steps toward a more diverse and inclusive Christ-centered workplace:
- Checkpoint for success: Has your organization’s senior leadership clearly and visibly prioritized the importance of diversity and inclusion, motivated by a biblical statement of imperative?
In 2018, World Vision U.S. experienced a hallmark transition when its president of 20 years, Richard Stearns, retired. After an extensive and prayer-filled process of discernment, Edgar Sandoval Sr. was chosen to lead the organization in its next phase. It was a historic selection, making Sandoval, a bilingual Hispanic American, the first person of color in the role.
At his first Board of Directors meeting, Sandoval set out his vision for World Vision U.S. to fuel growth for the future, increase funding, and provide more aid to vulnerable children living in some of the most dangerous and complex countries around the globe. During that first speech in 2018, one of six imperatives Sandoval highlighted was his belief that increasing diversity in staff and donors is more than a workplace principle but is a “mandate from God, with diversity as our destiny.”
As Sandoval describes this mandate today: “Diversity advances us as the body of Christ, closer to the vivid picture of the kingdom of heaven in Revelation chapter 7: a ‘great multitude … from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne.’ That puts the call for diversity into even sharper perspective.” He shared these same imperatives in one of his first addresses to the entire World Vision staff.
This declaration by the organization’s senior leader prioritizing diversity and inclusion set the stage for greater intentionality and accountability around the work. By framing diversity and inclusion as a biblical mandate, it underlined the importance of the work not just as the right thing to do, but as central to World Vision’s mission and God’s vision of the world.
- Checkpoint for success: Does your workplace have designated advocates and listeners for staff to go to, and for senior leaders to gain insights from? Do such individuals or group have regular access to leadership for authentic dialog?
The volume and frequency around race-focused events can take a toll on our employees. We’ve heard over and over again that employees are not able to easily “check their burdens at the door,” and the hurts and sensitivities are present with them throughout the day. Many wonder if it is safe to expose their burdens in prayer requests, leading devotions, or casual conversation with work colleagues.
At World Vision U.S., our employee-led diversity and inclusion council, called the Corinthians Council, plays a critical role in offering a safe place for staff to share experiences...
At World Vision U.S., our employee-led diversity and inclusion council, called the Corinthians Council, plays a critical role in offering a safe place for staff to share experiences, and in offering advice to senior management on how some staff are feeling at work and how external events apply pressure in the workplace.
The Council selected 1 Corinthians 12:26 to represent its role, "And if one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if a part is honored, all the parts rejoice with it." (NASB)
The Council engages in peer-to-peer ministry while also advising senior management on opportunities for action to ensure a healthy work environment for all. Confidential and candid discussions between the Council executive sponsor and others, and the president and members of the executive team led to an external statement by Edgar Sandoval condemning race-based violence in June 2020, and prompted internal pivots of the weekly chapels to lament the same when so many staff were hurting.
- Checkpoint for success: How does regard for diversity and inclusion show up in all facets of the employee experience in your organization, from spiritual gatherings to talent management?
Some may see the bulk of diversity and inclusion efforts beginning with recruitment and increased representation in candidate slates and hiring. While a good starting place, a complete approach must go beyond that and seek to inform all the core people processes, resulting in equitable career opportunities, diversity in promotions, equitable pay practices, and more.
With the Human Resource department as designer, facilitator, and thought leader to senior leadership around these processes, it’s also essential that the HR leaders and team engage in on-going learning to identify unintended biases and improvements to processes. The HR team can look to the ample free resources in webinars, articles and professional societies for practices and approaches, but also needs to think deeply about how to adapt corporate practices to our Christian ministries, continuously reinforcing the biblical imperative for inclusion and keeping unity in Christ forefront.
The HR team at World Vision reflected on Adrian Pei’s text in small groups to gain insights while also taking practical steps to enhance use of LinkedIn to reach broader pools of more diverse prospects for jobs. The spiritual formation team partnered with the Corinthians Council to plan an annual series of heritage chapels devoted to celebrating ethnic heritages, women, and people with disabilities. External chapel speakers and employees speaking from their life experiences, combined with intentionally increasing the diversity of worship styles represented in chapel, have enriched the time for staff members and sought to expand our kingdom awareness.
- Checkpoint for success: Have you done your data homework? Does your strategy and outcomes reflect the data?
Progress towards healthier organizations that are visibly and authentically more inclusive requires strategic choices and alignment to the organization’s strategy. It’s important to resist the temptation to rush to targets and outcomes without the discipline of a baseline analysis of relevant workforce data with multiyear trends around representation, promotions, retention, and donor diversity. Understanding strengths, gaps and opportunities gives the proper landscape for setting priorities and initiatives.
Employee engagement surveys can be used to include questions around leadership support for diversity and inclusion, manager capability to create inclusive team experiences, perceived equity of career opportunity, efforts to address unconscious bias, and more. This more qualitative data is equally important. One of the more nuanced choices in any goal setting is determining what external benchmarks are most relevant for the hiring criteria used by your organization or what constitutes success by comparison.
- Checkpoint for success: Are you ready for different perspectives around diversity and inclusion efforts?
Whatever steps and cadence you determine for your organization the path is likely to elicit a range of reactions from your leaders and your staff. As a leader you can control the narrative around the “why” this is important to your organization now, “what” you wish to be different and its importance to your mission
Readiness to engage in intentional diversity and inclusion work must be rooted in relationships, curiosity, and Christ-centered dialog. In Christ we find our most important unity and any diversity and inclusion work must be in service to our unity in Christ, and our quest to mature as body in Christ. Thus, planning dialog amongst your leaders early, often, and ongoing around the importance of your diversity and inclusion work and learnings along the way creates a readiness to give account for focus in this area.
Here within Christian Leadership Alliance we have the opportunity to continue to provide leadership in this arena. We have the forums, meetings, and annual conferences to share learnings and practices. Together, we can shape a future for our organizations that reflects the diversity of the kingdom of God here on earth and foreshadows the eternal kingdom in which we will all worship the triune God we know and love.
Christine Talbot is the Senior Vice President for Human Relations for World Vision, US. Under Christine’s leadership World Vision has established its first employee diversity council, women’s development programs and enhanced the Human Resource capabilities in the areas of systems, automation and wellness. Christine is a member of the Christian Leadership Alliance board of directors.