The Inclusion Imperative: Using Pro Bono Service to Advance Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Goals

Pro bono service gets corporate D&I initiatives out of the classroom and into action!
Jun 30, 2016 2:00 PM ET
Engaging employees in pro bono service is a tool to bring D&I statements to life.

Houston, we have a problem. An equity problem. A diversity problem. And an inclusion problem. And the stats are not pretty. Fortunately, more and more companies are acknowledging the problem and are trying to do better. There has been an increase in transparency and research intended to move the diversity and inclusion (D&I) conversation forward. Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship provides a snapshot of where corporations are and what they should be thinking about regarding D&I.

What do we need to do to achieve our desired level of representation, the true inclusiveness of opinions and perspectives, and equity among all the voices at the table? We need to change ingrained biases and unconscious actions. We need to alter personal perceptions and organizational culture. And that is not easy.

Here are top challenges facing many corporate D&I initiatives:

  • Awareness and education trainings are failing to result in fairer attitudes or behaviors. In fact, Harvard Business Review talks about how they can even be counterproductive.
  • Employees don’t know how to engage with D&I. Some feel vulnerable or alienated in the conversation, which again lead to counterproductive results.
  • Companies are overly focused on hiring. A diverse representation in the workforce is important, but the retention and development of those individuals are equally important.

Effective D&I in the workplace requires both institutional and personal commitment to learning and growing.  This includes challenging deeply rooted opinions and the willingness to create new paradigms. People need to have the opportunity to build that awareness and to form and practice a new opinion through direct engagement with people and circumstances outside of his or her norm.

Pro bono service provides this very opportunity.

Here’s how pro bono can overcome common barriers to D&I:

  • Pro bono service is active. We need active learning opportunities to reinforce our D&I classroom learnings.
  • Pro bono is a positive, common-ground experience. We need environments that encourage participation in the D&I topic.
  • Pro bono is an individual growth and recognition opportunity for employees. We need to retain talent by promoting experiences that highlight the value of diversity and treat it as a corporate strength. 

Taproot has over 15 years of expertise designing and delivering pro bono programs. We know pro bono can be used as a tool that can be customized to meet specific objectives. For example, we’ve designed pro bono programs to meet employee engagement, leadership & development and talent development objectives. We’ve designed programs to meet multiple business goals at once while having targeted impact on nonprofit partners. Today, we’re starting to apply this same tool (pro bono service) to diversity & inclusion objectives. 

What can Pro Bono Service Programs do for Corporate D&I Objectives?

Internal goals:

  • Expose employees to diverse populations
  • Empower employees to support diversity initiatives
  • Recognize young diverse leaders
  • Demonstrate executive commitment to inclusion

External goals:

  • Support organizations working for equality
  • Better equip and grow the pool of diverse talent
  • Showcase diverse employee skills and leadership
  • Raise the profile of the business’s D&I initiatives

Pro bono service transforms individuals. It builds the individual empathy, exposure and education that is necessary for inclusivity to thrive. This awareness through direct exposure is exactly what we need to change ingrained biases, perceptions and ultimately behaviors. Pro bono is a solution to our current D&I challenges.

Taproot recently introduced pro bono as a D&I strategy during a webinar hosted by ACCP. Stay tuned as we’ll be releasing more information about specific examples of program models and pro bono projects that can help companies meet their D&I goals.  

About Taproot Foundation:
Taproot Foundation, a national nonprofit, connects nonprofits and social change organizations with skilled volunteers through pro bono service. Taproot is creating a world where organizations dedicated to social change have full access—through pro bono service—to the marketing, strategy, HR, and IT resources they need to be most effective. Taproot has worked with over 60 Fortune 500 companies and other organizations to develop best-in-class pro bono programs. Since 2001, Taproot’s skilled volunteers have served 4,000 social change organizations providing 1.4 million hours of work worth over $150 million in value. Taproot is located in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and is leading a network of global pro bono providers in over 23 countries around the world.